Coppin falls in first round

In 2nd trip in row to NCAAs, Lady Eagles can't keep up first-half energy as UConn pulls away

Connecticut 77 Coppin State 54

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The players on the Coppin State women's basketball team had said they would not be intimidated by Connecticut, its five national championships or its No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Regional.

And for much of the first half of last night's NCAA tournament first-round contest here at the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State, the Eagles played with the kind of abandon and swagger that leads to upsets.

But the Huskies' pedigree - and height and sharpshooting - proved to be too much, and Coppin State eventually lost, 77-54, before 3,649.

The Huskies (30-4), 11-time Big East tournament champions, meet No. 7 seed Virginia Tech tomorrow night at 9:30. The Hokies beat No. 10 seed Missouri, 82-51, last night.

"We came into the game really confident," Lady Eagles junior guard Rashida Suber said. "It is UConn, but at the same time, we decided to play our game. We couldn't be intimidated."

Suber and sophomore guard Shalamar Oakley each scored 16 points for Coppin State (22-8), but the Lady Eagles could not match Connecticut's firepower or size.

Senior forward Barbara Turner scored a game-high 23 points and registered five rebounds and five assists as the Huskies shot 50 percent (25 of 50) from the field. Coppin State had limited opponents to a nation-low .339 shooting percentage.

"That's a little disappointing, but we came out in the first half and played pretty good defense," said Lady Eagles senior forward and two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year Sherrie Tucker, who scored just 10 points on 5-for-14 shooting. "We just have to play good defense for 40 minutes."

Connecticut also out-rebounded Coppin State 34-27 and outscored the Eagles 34-14 in the paint.

Coppin State's second straight appearance in the tournament had coincided with a 21-game winning streak and the school's second consecutive MEAC tournament crown.

But coach Derek Brown acknowledged that the team was not ready to handle the Huskies' quickness and transition offense.

"At our level, it's not as quick or fast up and down the floor," he said. "We prepared ourselves for it, but we have to prepare ourselves on a yearly basis. ... The speed got to us."

History has been quite unkind to MEAC teams, which now own a 1-15 record in the NCAA tournament. South Carolina State's 85-67 win against La Salle in 1993 is the only time a MEAC team recorded a triumph in the tournament.

Coppin State also missed out on becoming the first No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed. Since the NCAA tournament expanded its field to 64 teams in 1994, teams seeded second have gone 80-0.

The Lady Eagles' bid did not appear promising as they opened the first half with four turnovers and three missed field goals in the team's first seven possessions.

During that span, Connecticut scored eight points and seemed to be en route to an easy victory.

But Suber connected on a three-pointer and a mid-range jumper in back-to-back possessions and Oakley made two free throws to help Coppin State enjoy a 7-2 run and make the score 10-7 in the Huskies' favor.

But a fast-break layup by Oakley capped a 16-9 Lady Eagles run that gave the underdogs a 23-19 lead with 5:23 left in the first.

But the advantage was short-lived. Sophomore forward Charde Houston scored six points to spark a 17-4 Connecticut run, and the Huskies walked into their locker room at halftime with a 36-27 advantage.

Connecticut began the second half with a 20-10 burst and sealed the team's 13th consecutive trip to the second round.

Still, coach Geno Auriemma was impressed by Coppin State's perseverance. "I thought that Coppin State really ran their stuff," he said. "I think they played us as well as any teams have played us this season. But I liked the way we responded when they took the lead, and I hope that sets us up pretty well for Tuesday night."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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