Tournament preview

March 09, 2006|By BILL FREE

America East women

WHAT -- America East women's bas ketball tournament

WHERE -- Chase Arena at the Reich Family Pavilion, West Hartford, Conn.

WHEN -- Today through Sunday

2005 CHAMPION -- Hartford

2006 FAVORITE -- Hartford. It's hard to imagine any team other than the top-seeded and defending champion Hawks (23-3, 15-1 America East) win ning this tournament. Hartford is playing on its home court, where it went 11-0 this season.

DARK HORSE -- UMBC. Fourth-year coach Phil Stern has built the fifth-seeded Retrievers (15-12, 7-9) into a presence in this strong mid-major conference. His Princeton-style of fense with its slow tempo and back-door cuts is dangerous. UMBC has been streaky in conference play, los ing its first five, then winning six straight, before losing four of the past five. The Retrievers split with ev ery team in the conference, except Hartford, which swept both games thanks to an overtime victory at UMBC. Three-point shooter Matea Pender and Sharri Rohde are the Re trievers' top threats.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Erika Mes sam, Hartford. This senior guard hit the winning shot with 4.2 seconds left last year in the America East title game, earning tournament MVP honors. The clutch player could walk away with the conference Player of the Year award, although she is aver aging only 10.2 points. She is third in America East in assists with 3.6 a game.

OUTLOOK -- UMBC has closed the gap on the top America East teams, but there is still a distance to go to reach the talent level of Hartford.

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