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Thursday, March 10, 2011 - page 2

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NCAA Preview
Women's basketball in search of different ending to familiar trip

As she stepped off the bus into the team hotel the day before the “Sweet 16” of the NCAA Tournament, senior Kelly McKeon said the words that were on the mind of every upperclassman on the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team.

Alexandra Chili
Chili scored 15 points against Brandeis in the 2009 “Sweet 16”. She has totaled 105 points in her six NCAA Tournament games.
“I’ve got this really weird feeling of déjà vu,” she said.

To which fellow senior Sheila Cook quickly responded, “Yeah, but let’s win this time.”

Two years ago, the Mules stayed in the same hotel when they played in the first “Sweet 16” in school history at Amherst.

But unlike their last trip to western Massachusetts, Muhlenberg
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will have the benefit of experience on its side when it faces the host Lord Jeffs at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner of that game will play the winner of the other sectional semifinal between Bowdoin (24-5) and Babson (29-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday with the winner earning a berth in the "Final Four".

Besides experience, Cook said another major difference this time around is heightened expectations.

“In 2009, it was the first time we had ever been there as a program, so we were so excited and happy just to be in the ‘Sweet 16,’” Cook said. “But there’s a very different feel this time because we feel like we can go in there and win.”

“Last time it was just a blessing to be there, but now it’s like, ‘We’ve been there before, let’s win this time.’”

Of course that won’t be walk in the park. The Lord Jeffs (28-1) have established themselves as one of the power programs in Division III. Boasting back-to-back trips to the "Final Four" and a 47-game home winning streak, Amherst’s only two losses during the past two seasons have come in overtime.

The Lord Jeffs are big, physical and athletic, averaging almost six blocks and forcing more than 23 turnovers per game, while also owning a plus-10 rebound edge per contest.

But while Cook said Amherst is very impressive on film, she also said she has confidence that the Mules’ persistence and tenacity will be able to cause some problems.

Kelly McKeon
McKeon had 25 points and 11 rebounds at Amherst in the 2009 “Sweet 16.”
“Of course they’re a really great team; they’re No. 2 in the country for a reason,” Cook said. “But I don’t think they’ve played a team like us, a team that sticks to their offense.

“Most teams have tried to go one-on-one against them, which is what they do. So they see it every day in practice and are used to it. So I’m interested to see how they defend against us when we’re screening and cutting and running our offense every time down the floor.”

On top of their lengthy home-court winning streak, the Lord Jeffs have outscored their opponents by an average of 29.5 points per game this season.

They breezed through their first two Tournament games, winning by a combined 80 points. In fact, only one of their 28 wins this season has come by less than 11 points.

But those overwhelming margins could actually play into the Mules’ favor, Cook said.

While Muhlenberg (23-5) has also been on the right end of its fair share of blowouts this season, the Mules have also proven they can pull out close games.

On top of 10 wins by 10 points or less this season, last weekend’s heroics from junior Alexandra Chili and McKeon that helped keep the Mules' tournament dreams alive have done nothing but fuel the team’s confidence, Cook said.

This will also not be the first time the Mules have gone up against what appeared to be almost insurmountable streaks.

The 2009 squad gave Bowdoin its first-ever postseason home loss to reach the second weekend. And just last week, Muhlenberg snapped Rochester’s streak of eight consecutive “Sweet 16s”.

So while everything leading up to the game may feel very familiar for the Mules, Cook said she and her teammates are determined to make sure the weekend has a much different ending than their 82-70 loss to Brandeis in the 2009 “Sweet 16”.

“They’ve been blowing everybody out of the water, but we’re used to close games. So hopefully if we keep it close throughout it can rattle them,” Cook said of Amherst. “We can hang in tough games, just look at the Rochester game. But at the same time, they’re blowing people out because they’re really, really good, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

“Of course we’ve done this before, so we know it’s not impossible. We’re not ready for this to end, and we would really love to break another streak.”
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