Another ring for the women

Sunday, February 24, 2008
Southeast's Tarina Nixon took a first-half shot during Saturday's game against Eastern Kentucky at the Show Me Center. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

The Redhawks beat Eastern Kentucky 68-52 for their 12th straight win.

An assist earlier in the day allowed the Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team to three-peat with room to spare.

The Redhawks took the court against visiting Eastern Kentucky on Saturday night knowing Samford already had lost at Murray State, meaning a victory for the Redhawks would clinch at least a share of the OVC championship.

The Redhawks went out and held up their end of the bargain, rolling 68-52.

"Coach told us that Samford had lost before the game," junior forward Rachel Blunt said. "He said it was an opportunity to take care of business.

"It's pretty remarkable [to win three in a row]. You have that goal going into the season. You'll have ups and downs, and we've had more injuries this year. ... But this team has great chemistry."

Southeast coach John Ishee, whose squad has won 12 straight games and 17 of its last 18, said capturing a third consecutive conference crown is a special accomplishment.

"It's quite a feat. ... Very few teams are going to win three in a row," he said.

But while the Redhawks (21-6, 16-2) were pleased to know they can finish no worse than OVC co-champions, they emphasized that they are not interested in sharing.

Southeast doesn't want to share the crown with Samford, which trails the Redhawks by two games with two remaining.

A win in either of the Redhawks' final two regular-season games -- both at home, Thursday against Samford and Saturday against Jacksonville State -- would nail down the title outright.

"We don't want to share it," junior point guard Tarina Nixon said. "We're not going to share it."

Added Ishee, whose club is assured of being the No. 1 seed for the OVC tournament: "You don't play to share stuff."

The Redhawks remained red-hot on the strength of yet another dominant defensive performance.

Southeast leads the OVC and ranks 34th nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 57 points per game.

EKU (13-11, 8-9) is the OVC's highest-scoring team at more than 74 points per game.

But Southeast never let the Colonels' offense get untracked. Not only did the Redhawks hold EKU to more than 22 points below its average, they also allowed a season-low shooting percentage of 28.1 (16-of-57).

"For the most part, I thought our defense was very good," Ishee said. "You have to guard them because they've got such great guards."

Blunt led the Redhawks offensively with a season-high 19 points. She hit 8-of-12 field-goal attempts and added six rebounds.

"It was open. With their zone, there were a lot of gaps in the middle of the zone," said Blunt, who entered the contest averaging 7.4 points. "They were getting me the ball, and it helps when you're shooting the ball well."

Said Ishee: "Rachel has come leaps and bounds with her game offensively."

Senior center Missy Whitney had her third double-double of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds as she tied a career high rebounding total.

Whitney, Southeast's top scorer and rebounder, keyed the Redhawks' 49-34 advantage on the glass.

Junior guard Sonya Daugherty added 13 points and seven rebounds, while senior guard Ashley Lovelady contributed eight points and seven rebounds.

Southeast, which trailed just once all game at 2-0, led 34-21 at halftime.

The Redhawks' advantage never dipped below seven points in the second half, and they were up by double figures for virtually all of the final 10 minutes.

Nixon, who has started for all three of the championship teams, said the fact the Redhawks knew Samford already had lost didn't serve as extra motivation.

That motivation should not be lacking over the next few weeks.

Not only are the Redhawks intent on extending their winning streak, they also have the goal of capturing their third straight OVC tournament title to reach the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row. One more victory would also set an OVC record for conference victories.

Although the league only is in its third year of playing a 20-game schedule, no OVC squad ever has won more than 16 conference games. Southeast has reached that total the past three seasons.

"What these young ladies have already done is a tremendous accomplishment," Ishee said. "But we're certainly not finished yet."

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