Coppin State shows no fear

Carrying 21-game win streak, Lady Eagles aim to soar vs. No. 2 seed UConn

March 19, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- If Sherrie Tucker is supposed to be worried, she doesn't show it.

Tucker and the rest of the No. 15 seed Coppin State women's basketball team have the unenviable task of meeting No. 2 seed and five-time national champion Connecticut in an NCAA tournament first-round game of the Bridgeport Regional at 9:30 tonight at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

Yet for a player whose team is making just its second appearance in the tournament, Tucker is unfazed.

"Everyone's on the same page," the senior forward said. "We're going to come out here and play our game and see what happens. We've seen [upsets] before, and we've watched them on the men's side."

While a significant portion of the team's confidence stems from a 21-game winning streak that helped the Lady Eagles capture back-to-back Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season titles and tournament championships, some of the team's punch can be traced to coach Derek Brown.

Brown was an assistant coach on the 1996-97 Coppin State men's squad that -- as the No. 15 seed in the East Regional -- knocked off No. 2 seed and sixth-ranked South Carolina, 78-65, in the first round.

Brown brought up that game yesterday during his team's interview session with the media and appeared defiant of a Huskies history that includes a 55-12 record in the NCAA tournament and three consecutive national titles between 2002 and 2004.

"That's in the past," he said. "I think our young ladies, they're ballplayers. ... We have enough confidence. We have a 21-game winning streak, and we're going to go play. I don't think there's going to be an intimidation factor. They're a second seed. They're not a first seed. It just makes a difference to us that they're not one of the top four teams in the country. We've gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year, and hopefully we can get the job done."

The Lady Eagles boast three double-digit scorers, including Tucker (12.8 points). Tucker also posted five rebounds and 2.1 assists a game -- numbers that netted her a second straight MEAC Player of the Year award.

Coppin State's best weapon, however, may be its defense. Opponents have connected on just 33.9 percent of their shots from the floor, which ranks No. 1 in the nation. And the 52.7 points per game surrendered by the Lady Eagles is the sixth-lowest amount in the country.

That defense will have its hands full with a Connecticut offense that has averaged 72.7 points per contest and converted 47.6 percent of its field-goal attempts. A pair of senior forwards -- Ann Strother (13.8 points and 4.9 rebounds) and Barbara Turner (11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds) -- could present match-up problems down low and on the perimeter.

Then there's history. Since the tournament expanded to a 64-team field in 1994, no No. 15 seed has upended a No. 2 seed. And teams from the MEAC are just 1-14 in the tournament, with South Carolina State's 85-67 victory over LaSalle in 1983.

But Coppin State junior guard Rashida Suber said the team remains undaunted by the obstacles.

"It's going to take a lot of confidence and no intimidation," she said. "We're just going to have to go out there and play our game the way we've been playing throughout our season."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Preview

Connecticut (29-4) vs. Coppin State (22-8)

What -- NCAA women's tournament Bridgeport Regional first-round game

When -- Tonight, 9:30

Where -- Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, Pa.

TV -- ESPN

Seeds -- Connecticut, No. 2; Coppin State, No. 15.

Key matchup -- The Lady Eagles have relied on senior forward and two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year Sherrie Tucker (12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds), and she will be counted on to do the same against a Connecticut defense that yields just 54.8 points a game. Sixteen opponents have shot less than 35 percent from the field against the Huskies.

Outlook -- Coppin State clearly has momentum on its side, but that might not be enough to stop a Connecticut juggernaut that is eager to reach the regional semifinals, which just happen to be in Bridgeport, Conn. - a stone's throw away from the school's Storrs campus. The Huskies' defense is suffocating, and on offense they can score from anywhere. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is 55-12 in the NCAA tournament, and the team hasn't lost in the first round since 1993.

Edward Lee

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