Redhawks draw No. 3 seed Oklahoma in NCAA tournament

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Southeast Missouri State's Lachelle Lyles, far right, and Sonya Daugherty celebrated with teammates Monday night as they received word they will face Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament Saturday in Austin, Texas. (Fred Lynch)

Southeast drew the 14th seed in the Dayton Regional.

It took more than half of Monday night's ESPN selection show before Southeast Missouri State finally learned the particulars of its second straight trip to the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

But senior center Lachelle Lyles said she already pretty much knew who the Redhawks would be playing.

"I thought it would be Oklahoma. I was pretty sure of it," Lyles said. "I really wanted it to be Oklahoma."

Lyles, the nation's leading rebounder, got her wish.

The Redhawks will play Oklahoma -- led by All-American Courtney Paris, the nation's No. 2 rebounder and No. 3 scorer -- at 11 a.m. Saturday in Austin, Texas.

"It's exciting to finally find out who we're playing," junior guard Ashley Lovelady said. "We've been real anxious. It's hard to focus in practice when you don't know who you're practicing for."

The Redhawks and about 250 fans got together at the Show Me Center to watch the ESPN selection show reveal the 64-team bracket.

After all the pairings for the first three regionals were announced, Southeast's name finally appeared in the last half of the Dayton Regional, about 35 minutes into the hour-long show. The Redhawks will compete in the Austin Subregional.

"It seemed like it took forever," Lovelady said with a smile.

Southeast (24-7), which earned an automatic NCAA tournament berth by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on March 3, received a No. 14 seed, which didn't surprise coach John Ishee.

"I thought that's about what we would be," said Ishee, noting that the Redhawks were also a No. 14 seed last year in their first-ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance. "The main thing is we knew we were already in.

"It was just a matter of who we would play and where we would go."

Oklahoma (26-4), ranked ninth and 10th in the two major national polls, is a No. 3 seed.

The Sooners received an automatic NCAA bid after winning the Big 12 tournament title. Oklahoma has won two consecutive Big 12 regular-season and tournament championships.

Oklahoma has developed a rich tradition after coach Sherri Coale revived what was a floundering program that almost got shut down by the administration in the mid-1990s.

The Sooners have reached the NCAA tournament each of the last eight years, which is the longest active streak in the Big 12. They lost in the 2002 national championship game.

"They're such a storied program the last decade or so," sophomore forward Rachel Blunt said.

Said Ishee: "They've got a great program, one of the best in the country."

Paris, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who averages 23.6 points and 16.2 rebounds per game, is the team's undisputed leader.

Paris, a first-team All-American as a freshman who is certain to repeat that honor, has recorded 58 consecutive games of double figure points and rebounds.

Lyles, who averages 17.2 boards per game, wanted the chance to match up with Paris in a battle of the nation's top two rebounders.

"Lachelle has talked about it all year, ever since she became No. 1 in the nation," Blunt said with a laugh.

Lyles didn't argue.

"I wanted it. I'm very excited," she said.

There was a party atmosphere at the Show Me Center to watch the selections, with the Southeast band helping fire up the crowd.

Fans screamed and hollered when Southeast finally appeared on the projection screen.

"What a great turnout," Ishee said. "The support we've had this year is tremendous."

Now the Redhawks, who will fly to Austin some time Thursday, can begin preparing for the Sooners, who have won eight straight games -- which is one short of Southeast's nine-game winning streak.

"I've seen them on TV, and we'll get some tapes of them," Ishee said. "Southeast has played them before, so that should help."

Southeast is 0-3 against the Sooners, playing at Oklahoma in the 2002-03, 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. The closest margin in those games was 22 points.

The Redhawks acknowledged that the entire country probably expects Oklahoma to post an easy first-round win, much like Stanford's 72-45 romp last year during Southeast's inaugural NCAA Division I tournament appearance in Denver.

"We've been underestimated the whole year, and we've always proved people wrong," Lovelady said. "We can do it again."

Ishee wouldn't predict that the Redhawks would still be in Austin when the second round is played Monday.

But he did predict that the Redhawks would play hard and lay it all on the line.

"It's an enormous challenge," Ishee said. "People, other than our team, will give us two chances -- slim and none.

"But we kind of have a niche for being underestimated. In a one-game deal, anything is possible. We'll just go give it our best and see what happens."

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