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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, March 3, 2011

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NCAA Preview
women’s basketball looks to extend
rollercoaster season

The Muhlenberg women’s basketball team is right where it expected to be come March. The Mules won back the Centennial Conference championship trophy and are preparing to play in the NCAA Tournament.

This wasn’t how they expected to get there.

Muhlenberg, which opens NCAA Tournament play against Williams at
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Rochester tomorrow night, went undefeated in the months of November, December and February, opening the season with an eight-game winning streak and taking another eight-game run into the NCAAs. What happened in the month of January?

“We don’t even think about that anymore,” said senior guard Alexandra Berlin.

As a memory refresher, the Mules lost four of their first
seniors with CC trophy
The women’s basketball Class of 2011 is only the fourth in College athletic history to participate in the NCAA Tournament four straight years. The others are softball Class of 1992, men’s soccer Class of 1993 and men’s soccer Class of 1998.
six games of 2011 and went 5-5 in January. Ironically, the skid coincided with the return of 2010 CC player of the year Kelly McKeon.

Starting 8-0 without the returning conference player of the year, then struggling when she returned, is part of a bizarre season that has also included a blackout in the middle of a game at Swarthmore and a forfeited game against Bryn Mawr.

“It’s definitely had its ups and downs, but more high points than low points,” said Berlin. “It was difficult to lose those games, but we built character. The losses definitely helped us. It showed us we weren’t that great and we had things to work on.

“We did, and now we’re playing great.”

Muhlenberg certainly played great at the CC tournament at Johns Hopkins over
Kelly McKeon
McKeon averaged 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists in four NCAA Tournament games in 2009 and 2010.
the weekend, winning by double-digit margins against two regionally ranked opponents. The two seniors who got late starts on the season looked like their former selves: McKeon had double-doubles in both playoff games, and Sheila Cook was named CC player of the week after averaging 21.5 points in the two games.

Now the Mules will look to carry their confidence and momentum into
Sheila Cook
Cook has scored at least 20 points in her last three postseason games. She led the Mules with 20 points in the loss to Tufts last year.
the national tournament. Their first obstacle is a Williams team that was ranked as high as No. 4 in Division III in January and is still ranked No. 25 by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

The Ephs, like the Mules, are 21-5, and all five of their losses have come to NCAA Tournament teams – three to No. 2 Amherst and one each to Bowdoin and Colby. Williams has lost four of its last six, with one of its wins coming against Tufts, the team that knocked Muhlenberg out of the NCAAs last year.

Williams is tall, with three starters over 6-0, and ranks in the top 40 in Division III in both field-goal percentage (.433) and field-goal percentage defense (.334). The Ephs are 27th in the country in three-point field-goal percentage (.358) and have four players who have made at least 22 threes (compared to one for Muhlenberg).

“We know that they’re a very strong team,” said Berlin. “They’re one of the top three-point shooting teams, and even their big people shoot threes. It’s going to be a challenge.

“Defense is going to be our biggest thing. They do a lot of one-on-one, so we’re going to have to play good team defense, getting out on their shooters and getting in their faces so they don’t make all those threes.”

So defending against long-distance shooting will be a priority for a team that will travel a long distance to play in the national tournament. The mileage doesn’t seem to bother the Mules, who enjoyed some great postseason success far away from home at Bowdoin in the 2009 NCAA Tournament and last weekend in Baltimore.

“It’s always fun to have a completely different atmosphere,” Berlin said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. We’re going to play hard, and we’re very confident we’ll do well.”

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