SWAC champs Lady Braves Minnesota-bound for NCAAs

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

LORMAN &045; Alcorn State had a right to be tired.

After three games in as many days to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Lady Braves climbed on a bus for a nine-hour ride from Birmingham, Ala., back to Lorman, where they went directly to a small reception hosted by Alcorn President Clinton Bristow where the team, coaches and university officials watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show to see where they would go.

Makes you tired just reading about it, doesn’t it?

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So it’s understandable that the team was slightly subdued as they watched and waited to see where and who they would play in the first round. Then the show dragged on as Alcorn had to wait through more than 50 minutes of bracket announcements to see Š wait for it Š No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Alcorn State.

The Lady Braves will face Big Ten champion Michigan State in Minneapolis at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

More than a few members of the team and coaching staff looked like they were ready to hit the sack for a long night of sleep before hitting the practice court today.

But senior forward Tnonealyer Powers seemed ready to play a game any moment.

&uot;I’m just excited and ready to play,&uot; Powers said. &uot;We just won the tournament and I was very excited. I woke up early this morning. Winning a championship just gives you energy, makes you ready to play.&uot;

It was the fifth SWAC tournament championship for Alcorn head coach Shirley Walker, who has coached the Lady Braves for 27 years. It will be her third trip to the NCAA Tournament.

&uot;This is a beautiful moment,&uot; Walker said. &uot;There is nothing like being there. It’s been going great for us, but you still have a job to do.&uot;

For a team that hadn’t won the SWAC championship in four years &045; meaning none of the current players had won the SWAC &045; this team doesn’t seem content to rest on its laurels.

&uot;It wasn’t exactly what I expected,&uot; senior guard LaToya Johnson said. &uot;Winning the tournament, I couldn’t help but feel good about all that, but at the same time I was thinking there’s more to it than winning the SWAC.&uot;

Beating Michigan State will be a tall task. The Lady Spartans (28-3) won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles and are on a 12-game winning streak. The Lady Spartans edged out No. 2 seed and No. 1 ranked Stanford for the top spot in the Kansas City bracket.

What does Alcorn know about its first round opponent? Just about nothing.

Walker’s last experience with Michigan State was when both teams were in the same tournament in the 2000-2001 season, but they didn’t even play each other. Alcorn has only played three games against Big Ten opponents in its history.

But Powers said she’s sure she’ll know everything she needs to by Saturday.

&uot;I know coach is going to do a good scouting report and get us prepared,&uot; Powers said.

Bristow and Walker both stressed the importance of the opportunity the members of the team have as they go to the NCAAs.

&uot;It’s a great chance for our students to experience something they wouldn’t normally get a chance to do,&uot; Bristow said.

Heading north also means something special for a few members of the team &045; their first ride in an airplane. Johnson has never been in a plane, something that should end this week.

&uot;I’ve never been in a plane,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;It’s kind of exciting.&uot;

For a team from Mississippi, there’s a special adjustment to make &045; getting ready for the weather. Though the game will obviously be indoors, the bitterly cold temperatures in Minnesota &045; Sunday’s high in Minneapolis was a frigid 23 degrees &045; will take some special measures.

&uot;I have to go home and get my coat,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;I haven’t had to wear one in a long time.&uot;

Walker said she was looking forward to the trip up north.

&uot;I love cold weather,&uot; Walker said. &uot;I’ve been to Minneapolis before for the NCAA playoffs, not to play but as a member of committees. It’s a great opportunity for the girls.&uot;