Southeast overcomes initial disappointment

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Southeast Missouri State women's basketball team was down after losing in the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament March 7.

That defeat to Eastern Illinois denied the Redhawks a shot at their third straight NCAA tournament berth.

But time has helped the Redhawks bounce back, and they say they're excited about competing in the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

"It was hard because we lost, but every time we have a downfall, we always get back up," senior center Missy Whitney said.

Added senior guard Ashley Lovelady: "I think we're over it, and I think we're going to use that and get as far as we can get in this WNIT."

Southeast will make the program's first WNIT appearance today with an opening-round game against the University of Evansville.

Tipoff at the University of Southern Indiana's PAC Arena is set for 7:35 p.m. The contest could not be played on Evansville's home court, Roberts Stadium, because of a conflict with the facility. Division II Southern Indiana also is located in Evansville, Ind.

"We're looking forward to going there and playing," Lovelady said.

The Redhawks (23-8) and Purple Aces (20-11) both are coming off strong regular seasons that ended with losses in the semifinals of their conference tournaments.

Southeast captured its third straight OVC regular-season title, but missed out on claiming its third consecutive conference tournament crown.

The Redhawks set an OVC record for most conference victories by going 17-3.

"We had a great season, a lot to be proud of," Southeast coach John Ishee said.

Evansville was part of a three-way tie for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title at 13-5.

Southeast and Evansville both received automatic WNIT berths for being the highest-finishing squad from their conferences that did not make the NCAA field.

"They've had a very good season, like we have, and both teams were rewarded for that by getting to play in the WNIT," Ishee said. "Most of the teams in the country are done playing right now. We're one of the teams still playing, and we're excited about that."

Ishee said he is impressed by the way Evansville's Tricia Cullop, the MVC coach of the year, has built the Aces' program.

Cullop, in her eighth season at Evansville, led the Aces to the third-highest victory total in school history this year.

"She has done a great job there," Ishee said.

Evansville, second in the MVC in scoring at 70.2 points per game, features a balanced offensive attack led by two-time all-MVC first-team selection Rebekah Parker.

Parker, a 5-foot-10 senior guard/forward, is the MVC's fifth-leading scorer at 14.4 points per game. She also ranks among the top 10 in the league in assists and steals.

Also averaging in double figures for the Aces are 6-1 junior center Shannon Novosel (11 ppg) and 5-8 senior guard Courtney Felke (10.3 ppg).

Novosel, second-team all-MVC this year, is the Aces' top rebounder with a 6.1 average.

Felke leads the MVC in 3-pointers made with 68, while shooting 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.

"They've got a great shooter in Felke, and Parker is a very good player," Ishee said. "They've got a very nice team, and they play extremely hard.

"They're going to be a handful, but I think we match up well with them."

Lovelady said she saw Evansville play on television during its MVC tournament semifinal loss to Drake, and came away impressed.

"They have a tough team. I think it will be a good game," she said.

Ishee also looks for a close, competitive contest, even though the Redhawks are banged up.

Junior point guard Tarina Nixon, a three-year starter, has played the past few weeks with a torn ligament in a knuckle of her right (shooting) hand.

Nixon will start tonight, but she has been hampered by the injury during recent games.

Junior backup guard Szandra Pal has a stress fracture that has forced her to miss recent practices and is questionable for tonight.

Evansville is 12-1 at home this season -- although all those games were at Roberts Stadium -- while Southeast went 10-0 in OVC road contests.

"We've been a very good road team," Ishee said.

Tonight's winner advances in the 48-team WNIT and will play at the Big 12 Conference's Kansas on Monday in a second-round game. The loser's season ends.

"We want to win and see how far we can go," Whitney said. "We're not ready for the season to end."

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