Lady Raiders Prepare to Play Lady Raiders

<p>"Let me say again how proud we are to advance to the next round of the tournament," Texas Tech Lady Raider head coach Marsha Sharp said Sunday. She and the Lady Raiders have already earned a first-round win, 69-49, over UTA, and accompanied by the three junior starters among the Lady Raiders, she spoke to the press prior to a closed practice. The Lady Raiders meet Middle Tennessee State Monday night at approximately 8:30 p.m. in a game to be televised via ESPN2.

"We're looking forward to tomorrow. I hope we'll have a terrific crowd here in Dallas, both from Texas Tech and Texas fans to come in here and make it a great atmosphere," Sharp said. "Certainly Georgia and Middle Tennessee both have some (fan) contingencies from them, too, so we hope it'll be a great atmosphere for women's basketball, and we hope we'll have a lot of folks come out and watch."

Sharp's team won its opening round match over the University of Texas-Arlington Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 6,488. That advances the No. 4 seed Lady Raiders to meet Middle Tennessee State University's Lady Raiders, a possibly under-rated No. 12 seed in the NCAA preliminary rounds. MTSU beat North Carolina State Saturday night to advance, 60-58.

"We have spent the majority of the day today making sure we're ready to go tomorrow night," Sharp said. "We've certainly tried to prepare well for this second round game, and understand how important it is to do a good job of that. Our players have been really focused on trying to understand (MTSU's) offensive sets, and things that we need to do to disrupt as much as we can on that end of the floor, and trying to find some places where we feel like we can attack them going in, in the other direction."

"I think this has been a good day for us to rest a little bit, and now we'll work this afternoon," she said, "and try to get ready to go tomorrow evening, and we're excited about the chance to play."

Asked about the expected pressure on the perimeter from MTSU's defense, junior point guard Erin Grant responded, "We have a strategy to try to get ourselves open on the wings and start our offense. In the pressure situation, we're really just going to have to work a little harder to get open and get the things we like. But in the pressure situation we can really attack them, from them being out so far on us."

Added classmate Chesley Dabbs, Tech's other starting guard, "I think it's going to be a little bit like last night, and like what we kind of had dealt with against Texas A&M. We're just going to have to V-cut a lot, and back cut, try to get open as much as possible, then once we are pressured, probably just take it to the rim."

Of last year's tournament experience, Grant said, "It's motivating for me, and I know for my teammates as well. We planned on getting to the Sweet 16, like we do every year, and it was hard for us to lose out last year.

"We're excited to be in this situation again," she said, "and we want to take advantage of it."

"You never want to be the team that breaks a streak like that," Dabbs said. "So we don't want to do it again this year – that's a motivating factor for us."

"I think also we don't want to stop playing basketball anytime soon," said forward LaToya Davis, whose 26 points and 14 rebounds in the Saturday night match created the opportunity for Tech to advance after a stubborn UTA Mavericks team stayed close throughout the first half. "At least not until April – so it's a big motivating factor for us."

Having survived the first round game, Grant noted, the effort continues apace. "It's tough to win the first game and get the NCAA tournament started right. We've got that under our belt.

"But," Grant said, "we don't have any relief just yet, because we're not where we want to be. We are trying to just get prepared for this next game. We're just focused on this one."

Addressing the idea that MTSU comes to the tournament as a giant-killer, Dabbs said, "Last year they upset North Carolina, and this year they've upset NC-State, and they're ready to play. Just like anyone else, we have to match their intensity and play the best that we can play."

Queried about MTSU senior Patrice Holmes' importance to her Lady Raider squad, coach Sharp said, "I don't know if you can, probably, put importance to what she does for them."

Holmes' role has been compared to that of Grant for Tech's Lady Raiders – the glue that holds the team together.

Asked about that, Sharp said, "I respect her – I've watched quite a bit of film of them -- and certainly the things she did in their conference tournament and again last night were indicative of a great player who understands how to make the plays to keep her team alive. She did that last night in a big way.

"I was really impressed with her mentality," she said. "Not only did she step up and take the shot at the end of the game – she did that a lot of times for them at the end of shot-clock possessions – she opened the game with two threes. That really set the tone for Middle Tennessee last night, so on that end of the floor, she was spectacular.

"But you can also tell that she holds them together," Sharp said. "She's talking to her teammates and trying to make sure they understand what needs to happen. Teams that will survive, this time of year, need those kinds of players – not only someone that glues them together, but somebody that will step up and make the big plays.

"Sometimes you get that in one package, and sometimes it's two different players," she said. "I think some combination of that, usually, allows you to play longer in March. She provides that for them."

Named Preseason First-Team All-Conference, Holmes leads the Lady Raiders in scoring; the 5-9 guard, thrice named Sun Belt Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player during her career, produced the shot with 1.6 seconds remaining that sealed MTSU's win over NC-State in the first-round game.

Sharp's confidence in her own squad was evident Saturday night when she spoke of their play after the win over UT-Arlington.

"I thought Erin Grant did a great job handling the basketball and didn't turn it over very many times against that (UTA) pressure. I think Chesley (Dabbs) had some big moments, and guarded well, particularly in the second half. And of course LaToya Davis saved us tonight, there's no question. She was the difference in the game

"I am proud of her, but that's what we've come to expect out of her all year long. There's no question she took the game over for a long period of time in the second half, so we decided to jump on her back and let her carry us. I think even when she didn't get shots, she got 14 rebounds," Sharp said. "Seven of them (were) offensive, and that was a huge part of what we did. I think when you look at her rebounding, she scored off of at least for or five of them.

"She really did a good job of controlling things. After a little while, (Ashley) Bobb got into foul trouble, so we knew we wanted to go at her and take advantage of the point; she wanted to stay in the game," Sharp said. "You can sometimes pick on people a little bit in that scenario, and LaToya did a good job of recognizing that and attacking them."

The Texas Tech Lady Raiders bring a 23-7 record out of the first round of the tournament; the Middle Tennessee State Lady Raiders come to the match with a 24-8 record. Against Sun Belt Conference foes, MTSU posted 11 wins and three losses for a .786 percentage; their opponents included Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, Florida International, and Arkansas Little Rock in the East Division.

Of those teams the two Lady Raider squads had an opponent in common; Arkansas-Little Rock lost to Tech 29-69 in Lubbock on December 2, and lost to MTSU in Memphis 49-71; when MTSU's Lady Raiders traveled to Little Rock, the Trojans managed a more respectable score but still lost, 54-62.

Aside from Holmes, MTSU features a pair of seniors: Ciara Gray and Ditte Jakobsen. Gray, a 5-9 guard who tore an ACL last year, had decided to forego her senior season of play to serve as a student assistant. She returned to the squad in December after the departures of four teammates. She shot a career-high 17 points February 19 against Arkansas State, hitting seven of a dozen tries from the field; her best night beyond the arc repeated this season against Louisiana-Lafayette March 8 when three of the six she sent up fell through the rim. Before coming to Dallas for the NCAA Tournament, she had scored 10 or more points seven times in her career.

Jakobsen is a 6-2 wing. Before this tournament, her career-best game was 11 points; she has career highs of six in both rebounds and free throws made, performing perfectly from the line against Cincinnati January 29, 2004 and hitting both attempts in four games, most recently against New Orleans March 4.

Joining them as probable starters are 6-1 forward Tia Stovall, a junior who averages 13.4 points and 5.7 boards per game and Krystle Horton, a 6-2 sophomore forward averaging 11.2 points and 5.4 boards an outing. Sophomore Chrissy Givens fills out the starting lineup at guard; the 5-10 Ouachita High School graduate averaged 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds an outing in league play.

Starr Orr and Sara Nuxol, a pair of 5-8 freshmen, serve as likely backups in the guard slots; 6-1 junior Tia Stovall serves at forward or center and is the team's best rebounder. Freshman Lakira Boyd is a 6-2 backup forward, and classmate Latoya Barclay, a 5-5 guard, has come off the bench in 20 games for the Lady Raiders.

Middle Tennessee has made nine appearances in the NCAA post-season tournament; head coach Stephany Smith is in her eighth year at the reins.

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