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Lady Raiders back in Big Dance, headed for Seattle

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MTSU seniors, from left, Lauren March, KeKe Stewart and Ebony Rowe (21) celebrate after winning the Conference USA tournament championship last week. Photo courtesy Bradley Lambert/MTSU media relations


The MTSU women’s basketball team headed west for its first-round game on Sunday in the Stanford Region of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The No. 8 seed Lady Raiders (29-4) face No. 9 Oregon State Sunday (March 23) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. The game will be played Alaska Airlines Arena on the campus of the University of Washington. It will be the first ever meeting between the schools.

The Lady Raiders are coming off their first ever Conference USA tournament title last week in El Paso, Texas, in which they soundly defeated Southern Miss 84-55 in the championship game on March 15.

“Our fans were excited, and we were excited to see where we got to go,” MTSU junior guard and former Siegel star Shanice Cason said. “We’re excited to see who we got to play, but we were disappointed with the seed we got. We just need to run with it, and push forward and move on.”

While the Lady Raiders are back in the tournament for the sixth consecutive season, the Beavers will be making their first appearance in the field of 64 since 1996. OSU finished the season 23-10 and had the most wins in school history since the 1982-83 campaign.

“We are sitting in situation which we are playing a team which has not been there before,” Cason said. “We have been there, but we have not gotten past the first round. That is what we are trying to accomplish here. We have the seniors and the leadership, and we are going to use that to our advantage to lead us and guide us to that next step.”

All season, MTSU has been led by the trio of senior forward Ebony Rowe, who was named C-USA Player of the Week last week. She averages 21.7 points per game and 11.7 rebounds per game.  Also leading the team is fellow senior Keke Stewart, who averages 10.2 points per game. She can shoot from long distance, even through she is listed at the center position. C-USA Freshman of the Year, forward and former Riverdale star Olivia Jones, also has been key for the Lady Raiders.

While the Beavers will counter with post player Ruth Hamblin, who is ranked fifth in the nation in blocks per game with 6.2, and a defense which is seventh in the nation in field goal percent by holding teams to 35 percent shooting from the field.

Also, OSU has a foursome who can hit from deep in Ali Gibson, Alyssa Martin, Sydney Wiese and Jamie Weiser. All four of are ranked in the top 10 of school’s career list in 3-pointers made.  Currently, OSU is 21st in the nation in made 3s with 8.2 per game, and 15th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (37 percent).

“We know they have a big girl in the post, and they got some good guards outside,” Cason said. “We just have to come in with our basic principals and contain them.”

The winner will advance to the second round on Tuesday against the winner of the No. 1 seed South Carolina and No. 16 CS Northridge game. The loser, of course, will be eliminated from the tournament.

The Lady Raiders have not won a tournament game since 2007 when they defeated Gonzaga as a No. 5 seed, 85-46, in Palo Alto, Calif. The Lady Raiders hope to reach the next round for the first time in seven years, but they know it will take a lot of work to get there.

“We just need to stay focus, and not get ahead of ourselves,” Jones said. “We just need to do the little things that are right, and play within our system.”

All of the games in the NCAA tournament will be seen on the ESPN family of networks. The 2014 Women’s Final Four will be held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on April 6 and 8.

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