Washington, SMS Advance To West Finals The Hard Way

March 26, 2001

SPOKANE, Wash. - Washington's surprising Huskies will be theoverwhelming crowd favorite Monday night against Southwest Missouri State inthe final of the NCAA women's West Regional.

Yet a fanatical few hundred fans from Springfield, Mo., surely will make farmore than their share of noise, too.

The Lady Bears and their spectacular star Jackie Stiles have one of the mostenthusiastic followings in women's college basketball. Their last five homegames drew an average of 9,000 in an arena with a listed capacity of 8,800.

About 600 of them are in Spokane. Some drove to Piscataway, N.J., for theteam's first two tournament games, then motored west to Spokane for theregional.

'It's just amazing. People just really don't understand what our fans areall about,' said point guard Melody Campbell. 'Not only are there 500 or 600of our fans here in Washington after traveling to New Jersey, but they arefanatics. They're going wild. They're on their feet constantly. You really wantto win for them.'

With Stiles, Southwest Missouri State always has a chance to win.

She has scored more points than any woman in NCAA Division I history. Afterher 41-point performance in the Lady Bears' 81-71 upset of top-seeded DukeSaturday night, she has her team one victory away from the Final Four.

'Something makes that motor run in there that she is just an unbelievablecompetitor,' Washington coach June Daugherty said. 'She takes that team anddefinitely puts it on her back and is skilled enough to put up unbelievablenumbers. I don't know that I've seen anyone who scores like that - SherylSwoopes come to mind.'

Standing in the way is the tournament's biggest surprise. Sixth-seededWashington shocked No. 2 seed Oklahoma 84-67 Saturday night.

In the stacked-deck format of the NCAA women's tournament, these twosurvivors defied the odds.

They are the only two of the eight teams still alive that did not play theirfirst two tournament games at home. The Lady Bears beat fourth-seeded Rutgersin Piscataway, while sixth-seeded Washington knocked off No. 3 seed Florida inGainesville.

The Huskies (22-9) play a tough zone defense that held Oklahoma to 35percent shooting. But with Stiles, and several other sharpshooters, the LadyBears (28-5) looked forward to facing a zone.

'I hope my shot is going to be there,' said Tara Mitchem, who scored 40 inSouthwest Missouri State's first-round victory over Toledo. 'I know Carly(Deer) will step up. Erica Vicente is a great outside shooter. Melody is ashooter, and Jackie is just incredible. So we're excited that they're playing azone.'

Washington will throw players at the Lady Bears in waves.

'Everybody contributes, not only in the starting lineup but also off thebench,' Daugherty said. 'We've had the opportunity to wear people down thisyear. That's something that's been tough for other people to match up with.We'll go 12 deep if we have to. We'll play everybody.'

And most of them can shoot from long-range.

'The number of 3-point shots that they take and have taken for the season(690) is absolutely incredible,' Lady Bears coach Cheryl Burnett said.

Washington was 8-for-24 from 3-point range against Oklahoma. Andrea Lalum, a6-4 freshman, was 3-for-4. Megan Franza missed her first five, then made threeof four, including two in a row that ignited the late rally that buried theSooners.

Except for the rabid SMS fans who have followed their team to Washington,Spokane Arena will be filled with Huskies' supporters.

If the Lady Bears win, they'll enjoy the same kind of homecourt advantage atthe Final Four in St. Louis.

Washington already has exceeded everyone's expectations, except possibly itsown.

The Huskies were 8-22 last year, lost their home opener to Connecticut thisseason 100-54 and blew a shot at an outright Pac-10 title by losing their finaltwo regular-season games at Southern California and UCLA.

'The tournament is all about who is hot. We knew to go as far as we wantedto, we were going to have to be hot,' Franza said. 'We were going to have toforget about that last weekend (in Los Angeles). We did a good job of it.'

By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer

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