The Green Wave started the game with a 28-7 run and shot 56.5 percent for the game, while holding JSU to just 17 percent (5-of-30). The Green Wave owned the paint, out-scoring the Tigers 56-16 inside and holding a 52-38 edge in rebounds. Tulane (26-6) along with Montana (26-3) are the first teams with 25 or more wins and six or fewer losses to play in the NIT after not receiving an NCAA bid.
The Green Wave overall record in the regular season is a school record for wins and their first outright C-USA regular season title. It also helped earn Tulane coach Lisa Stockton the 2006-07 Conference USA Coach of the Year award. In her 13th season at Tulane, C-USA's winningest coach has a 266-126 record and a lifetime record of 329-153 in 16 seasons as a head coach.
Stockton's recipe for success begins with three exceptional guards.
Senior guard Jami Montagnino leads Tulane with 14.4 points per game. The 5-foot 8-inch Montagnino prepped at Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge.
Montagnino was named First Team All C-USA, and is among the top 15 Tulane scorers all-time with 1,082 career points and owns Tulane's top single season and career free throw marks.
She ranks fifth in the NCAA and leads C-USA in free throw accuracy. Earlier this year, Montagnino earned All-Academic honors, Sugar Bowl Student-Athlete of the Month for January, C-USA Player of the Week on Jan. 15, and was named to both the FIU Thanksgiving Classic and Tulane DoubleTree Classic All-Tournament Teams.
D'Aundra Henry, who prepped at Ellender High School in Houma, is a 5-foot 8-inch senior guard who was named to the C-USA Third Team and All-Defensive Team. She is second on the Green Wave in scoring at an 11.9 points per game clip, including an average of 20.2 points in her final five regular season games. Her late-season surge put her over the 1,000-point mark for her career on her senior day. She is the 19th member of Tulane's 1,000-point club.
She is the school's all-time leader in steals and ranks 26th nationally in steals averaging 2.9 per game. Her 82 steals this season helped the Green Wave to seventh place nationally in that category. Earlier this season, Henry was named the MVP of the FIU Thanksgiving Classic, as she scored 26 points with six steals in leading Tulane to the tournament championship.
The sophomore jinx missed 5-foot 5-inch Ashley Langford this year. Named to the C-USA Third Team, Langford was an All-Rookie team member and Freshman All-American by the Women's Basketball News last season. As a freshman, she handed out 171 assists in 27 games. So far this year she has 202 assists in 32 games, which is ninth best nationally and second best in her conference. She is seventh on the all-time list at Tulane with 373 steals as just a sophomore.
The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native tied the single-game record at Tulane for with 14 assists (a record she set last year), and owns nine of the top 12 single game assist marks. Her 114 assists in C-USA regular season play were a conference record for sophomores. She also was named MVP of the Tulane DoubleTree Classic when she grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in the final against Texas-Arlington for her first career double-double with points and rebounds. She has four total double-doubles this season, three of the points-assists variety.
All that said, the NIT selection committee recognized the strength of the SEC and awarded Mississippi State one of their eight byes for the first-round, despite the Bulldogs finishing sixth in their conference.
The Lady Bulldogs unquestionably had a successful turnaround season. Last year head coach Sharon Fanning won her 499th career game in January but had to wait until this season to reach the 500-plateau. Fanning used last season's 6-22 record as motivation during the off-season. Her Bulldogs enter Sunday's game with a 17-13 mark. At one point this season, MSU won 12 of 16 games.
Even late into the season, Fanning said she had a young team. But at this time of the year even freshmen have a season of experience. A pair of Louisiana natives made a big impact on the MSU program this year. Also, Fanning has a couple of homegrown talents to counter the Tulane game.
Alexis Rack was a unanimous selection to the 2007 all-SEC Freshman Team, as voted on by the league's coaches. She scored 10.3 points per game, and ranks fifth in the league in three-point field goals made. She also ranks among the top 100 in the country in steals per game and three-point field goals per game. In the month of February, Rack led the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game. She also shot 81.0 percent from the free throw line and currently averages 72.6 from the charity stripe for the entire season.
The 5-foot 7-inch Rack prepped at Franklin High School in Franklin, Louisiana, where she was the 2006 Miss Basketball for the State of Louisiana. She has been named the SEC Freshman of the Week twice this season. Against Alabama, Rack became the first Lady Bulldog since Tan White to score in double digits in 10 consecutive games. For the season, she now has 16 double digit scoring games.
Another Louisiana native that made an impact for MSU during her freshman campaign is forward Bethany Washington. She led MSU with 211 rebounds this season – a 7.0 rebound per game average. As a point of comparison, Alendra Brown leads Tulane with 146 rebounds (4.6 rpg average) this season. Seven times this season, Washington had ten or more rebounds and was the MSU rebounding leader 12 times.
The 5-foot 11-inch forward prepped at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma, Louisiana. She is among the top 15 SEC rebounders, and a top-ten offensive rebounder. Washington gained 884 minutes of experience this season, second most on the team.
While Rack and Washington are from Louisiana, two Mississippi natives are also providing that something extra for this MSU team.
A year ago Imesia Jackson was at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Today she leads MSU in scoring with a 12.4 point per game average, which places her among the SEC scoring leaders. Jackson started all 30 games this season for the Maroon and White, averaging 28 minutes per game. Her presence in the post caused problems for many teams this season.
The 6-foot 1-inch forward from Crawford, Mississippi scored in double digits 15 times this season, with ten of those games as the scoring leader. Her career high came against Florida State when she netted 30 points. She had two double-doubles and was the top MSU rebounder four times.
Another MSU weapon is Marneshia Richard who leads the Bulldogs with 112 assists and 71 steals. The 5-foot 8-inch sophomore, who prepped at Ashland High School in Lamar, Mississippi is the second leading scorer on the team, averaging 10.3 points per game but has one more point on the season than does Rack. Richard is the only player to have logged over 1000 minutes of playing time this season, and the only player with a significant role to not have fouled out of a game.
The winner of Sunday's game plays either Western Kentucky or Minnesota. That game is scheduled for Monday night in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.