Southeast on quest for respect, ninth straight win tonight

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Southeast wants to continue proving the preseason prognosticators wrong.

All along, the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball players believed they had not been given proper respect from the rest of the Ohio Valley Conference.

After winning OVC regular-season and tournament titles last year, the Redhawks were picked just fifth in the league's preseason poll and had no players selected to the all-OVC preseason first or second teams.

Sure, the Redhawks lost most of their key players from a year ago, which made the preseason slights at least a bit understandable.

Still, that didn't mean the Redhawks had to agree with the prognosticators, who in this case consisted of the OVC's head women's basketball coaches and sports information directors.

"To get picked fifth, and not have anybody picked [preseason] all-conference ... we definitely felt disrespected," said sophomore point guard Tarina Nixon, the only returning starter from last season.

Added junior guard Ashley Lovelady, who wasn't even a member of that squad: "A lot of people probably didn't expect us to be that good this year. We haven't gotten the respect we should have."

But the Redhawks have surely earned some respect now. They have won eight straight games for the nation's 11th-longest current winning streak.

Southeast is in second place in the OVC, one-half game behind Murray State, although the teams are tied in the loss column.

"People will have to talk about us now," Lovelady, a junior college transfer, said with a smile.

The Redhawks (11-4, 6-1) will look to build on their strong start in league play today when they visit Austin Peay (5-11, 4-3) for a 5:15 p.m. tipoff in Clarksville, Tenn.

Southeast is coming off Monday's 67-61 win at Murray State, which featured the OVC's preseason player of the year and another player picked to the preseason all-league second team.

Murray State had beaten its first six conference opponents by an average of 24 points per game and boasted some of the nation's best offensive statistics -- yet the defensive-minded Redhawks shut the Racers down and handed them their first OVC loss.

"They had two players picked [preseason] all-conference; we didn't have any," Nixon said. "It felt really good to win that game."

Murray State bounced back to win 64-63 at Austin Peay on Thursday night, putting the Racers ahead of Southeast, although the Redhawks would move back into a first-place tie by winning today.

The Redhawks know they can't rest on those laurels because Austin Peay is having a solid OVC season so far and doesn't figure to be easy pickings for Southeast.

"We know we can't overlook anybody," Southeast senior center Lachelle Lyles said. "We have to take it one game at a time."

Austin Peay averages just 57.8 points per game, and its leading scorers -- 6-foot-2 sophomore center Kellea Reeves and 5-6 junior guard Ashlee McGee -- average only 8.3 points per game.

But that lack of offense hasn't stopped the Govs from winning three of their last four OVC contests, the lone loss during that stretch being Thursday's one-point decision against Murray State, as the Racers made two free throws with 10 seconds remaining.

The Govs are tied for fourth place in the conference.

"Austin Peay is very athletic, and they're big," Southeast acting head coach John Ishee said. "I expect a tough game, but we've got a nice winning streak and hopefully we can keep it going."

While continuing to earn respect along the way.

Noteworthy

* Lyles continues to lead the nation in rebounding with an average of 16.6 per game -- Oklahoma's Courtney Paris is second at 15.5 per game -- and the Redhawks rank high nationally as a team in two categories.

Southeast is 10th in rebounding margin at 10.8 and 22nd in 3-point field-goal percentage at 37.8.

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