Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lady Raiders to play Mississippi State in NCAA first round

The first round of the women’s 29th NCAA tournament is only a few days away and No. 10 seed MTSU is preparing to take on No. 7 Mississippi State for the first time since 1990.

Both teams have met six times over the years, dating back to 1976, but have not met in two decades.

The Lady Raiders are making their 13th appearance in the NCAA tournament and hold an all-times series (4-2) advantage over Mississippi State. The winner of the game will play either No. 2 seed Ohio State or No. 15 seed St. Francis on Tuesday, March 23 in the second round.

This is the sixth NCAA Tournament for the Lady Bulldogs. Last year the team advanced to the second round in the tournament after knocking off Texas in the first round.

Mississippi State is packed with momentum, but MTSU has a secret weapon. Well, she’s not really a secret anymore after scoring 132 points in the Sun Belt Conference.

That’s right. The nation’s leading scorer, Alysha Clark, is a Lady Raider and averages 28.7 points per game. Clark’s presence on the floor will be important, but other players will also have to step up and knock down shots.

After her performance in the Sun Belt Conference, it's apparent that defenders can’t leave Clark open underneath the basket. For this reason, Mississippi State players will most likely have several players on Clark at all times. If the 5-foot-10 senior can’t find an opening in the paint then a win will have to come from outside shooters.

MTSU’s leading shooter and senior guard, Jackie Pickel, will be feeling her share of pressure Sunday if Clark can’t find an opening.

Earlier this month, Pickel was named the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year and selected for the all-conference second team. She also leads the Sun Belt Conference in 3-pointers and steals, averaging 14 points per game.

Other players to watch are junior guard Anne Marie Lanning, senior forward Brandi Brown and junior forward Emily Queen, all average about 7 points per game.

Senior point guard Chelsia Lymon averages 16 points per game but has been playing with a hurt shoulder since earlier on in the season.

Will these players be able to make the necessary shots to win the game? Or will the Lady Raiders fall in the first round?

I guess we’ll find out at 1:30 p.m. central Sunday, March 21. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

Image courtesy of ESPN