Mount faces tall order tonight

March 16, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Mount St. Mary's has made huge strides on the basketball court in the past decade. Under 13-year coach Bill Sheahan, the Mountaineers have gone from a Division II women's powerhouse to a respected Division I program that produces an average of 23 victories.

Tonight, the Mountaineers take their first walk into the big time -- the Midwest Regional in the expanded, 64-team NCAA women's tournament. And when the visiting, 14th-seeded Mountaineers line up against third-seeded Iowa, they will face quite an initiation.

First of all, nearly 10,000 people are expected at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Iowa drew an average of 6,586 this year. The Mountaineers' idea of a big crowd is the school-record 825 that showed up to watch them win their second straight Northeast Conference tournament last weekend.

After Mount St. Mary's takes in the surroundings, the task gets tougher. The Hawkeyes are the nation's No. 13 team, having finished third in the Big Ten Conference. They made their first Final Four appearance last year and feature one of the country's stingiest defenses. They have more size and quickness than any opponent Mount St. Mary's has challenged.

"This is definitely the best team that Mount St. Mary's has ever played," Sheahan said. "Iowa will make us change a lot of things that we do very well. We're looking forward to gaining the experience of what it's like to play here in the NCAAs, then moving on."

The Mountaineers (25-3), winners of 21 of their past 22 games, clearly have the cards stacked against them. For starters, the Hawkeyes' starters average 6 feet. Mount St. Mary's only 6-foot starter is NEC Player of the Year Susie Rowlyk.

The Hawkeyes (20-6) lost star forward Tia Jackson to a knee injury early in the season but have still held opponents to 57.2 points per game and 39 percent shooting. They thrive on an up-tempo, pressing game that is sparked by 6-5 senior center Cathy Marx, who isn't bad at the offensive end, either. She averages 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and shoots a team-high 55.3 percent.

The team's premier player is 6-1 senior guard Necole Tunsil, an All-America candidate and first team All-Big Ten player. She leads the team in scoring (16.7) and is second in rebounding (5.8) and assists (3.1) and has been Iowa's leading scorer in 10 of its past 11 games.

Forwards Virgie Dillingham and Andrea Harmon have helped the Hawkeyes maintain a consistent edge on the boards. Iowa grabs an average of 38.4 rebounds to its opponents' 34.4, and the margin figures to be wider tonight.

"I don't think we're going to try to run with them," Rowlyk said. "Once we start concentrating on what we have to do instead of worrying abouttheir reputation and what they can do, we'll be OK."

For Rowlyk (16.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg), tonight is the toughest assignment of her career. She has five consecutive double doubles, including Saturday's 26-point, 15-rebound gem in the Mountaineers' NEC title victory over St. Francis (Pa.).

The key to the Mount's chances is point guard Amy Langville, who has not played like a freshman. In 25 starts, she has averaged 4.6 assists, 2.2 steals and only 1.2 turnovers. Not only does it need her steady ball-handling, Mount St. Mary's needs Langville (4.9 ppg) to score more.

The Mountaineers plan to depart drastically from their usual game plan. Sheahan will throw more zone defenses at Iowa than he has used all year. The Mountaineers figure to double- and triple-team Marx or whoever else catches the ball down low. They also plan to take many more three-point shots than usual, conceding Iowa's overwhelming size advantage inside. And if, as expected, the Mountaineers get whipped, Sheahan already has the loss in perspective.

"Regardless of what happens, we've had a successful season. The next step is acclimating ourselves to playing at the next level," he said. "Just being there will enhance our credibility and give us better recruiting. We might start to get some 6-3 or 6-5 players who have passed us by in the past. Wednesday night is not an end-all. It's a beginning."

MOUNT ST. MARY'S (25-3) at IOWA (20-6)

Site: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City

Time: 8:30 tonight

Radio: WQSI (820 AM)

Regional/seedings: Midwest. Mount St. Mary's, No. 14; Iowa, No. 3

What Mount St. Mary's needs to do to win: They like to work the ball inside on offense, but the Mountaineers will have to kick the ball out more to guards Nicky Schroyer (7.2 ppg) and Heather Wable (10.8 ppg), who cannot to afford open shots. Susie Rowlyk must stay out of foul trouble. And point G Amy Langville needs to take her usual excellent care of the ball, while stepping up as a scorer, something she has not attempted much this year. The Mountaineers need to slow the game down and keep it a half-court affair as much as possible.

What Iowa needs to do to win: If they play the way they have this season, the Hawkeyes should not have a problem with the Mount. Their pressing defense, which has forced 18.3 turnovers a game, is intact. They figure to work the ball inside to 6-5 C Cathy Marx, the prime low-post threat, but if the Mountaineers' zone collapses on Marx as expected, the outside shooting of players such as G Necole Tunsil becomes more important. Mostly, the Hawkeyes need to force the tempo by using their defense to create easy baskets in transition.

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