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March 18, 2004

REGIONAL: Mideast, First Round.
TIME: Saturday, 9 p.m. EST.
SITE: Dahlberg Arena; Missoula, Mont.

The last time Texas Tech played an NCAA tournament game in Missoula, a national championship was the end result.

The Lady Raiders begin their quest for a second national title when they face America East champion Maine in a first-round matchup.

Texas Tech opened the 1993 NCAA tournament with a win over Washington before advancing to the Final Four with victories over Southern California and Colorado in Missoula. The Lady Raiders then beat Vanderbilt and Ohio State in Atlanta to capture the program's only national championship.

"You always look at every positive," Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp said. "These players have heard about Missoula their whole careers and some of them their whole lives if they're West Texas kids, there were some special things that happened there. It may be an opportunity to at least start off on a positive note."

Though the Lady Raiders are still one of the nation's top teams and a No. 4 seed, there's no telling how good they could've been had they not lost two of their top players during the season.

Senior guard Jia Perkins, averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game at the time, left the team in mid-January for undisclosed medical reasons. Junior center Cisti Greenwalt, averaging 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds, fractured her right ankle against Missouri on Feb. 17 and is out for the season.

"I don't think there probably is one of the top 16 teams in the country who has fought through as much as this group has," Sharp said.

Without Perkins and Greenwalt, several players elevated their game and helped lead the Lady Raiders to their 15th straight 20-win season.

Freshman guard Alesha Robertson became the team's leading offensive threat, averaging 12.1 points despite playing just 23 minutes per game.

Though she's just a sophomore, point guard Erin Grant took over as team leader and developed into one of the nation's best at her position. Grant averaged 8.1 points and finished second in the Big 12 with 6.6 assists per game.

Since winning the national title in 1993, Tech is 21-10 in the NCAA tournament. The Lady Raiders lost to top-seed Duke in the regional finals last season.

Maine is in the NCAA tournament for the seventh time and for the first time since 2000.

The Black Bears, winners of 17 of 18, earned an automatic berth with a 68-43 victory over Boston University in the America East championship game on March 13.

"Texas Tech is an extremely athletic team, but we feel we can be very competitive," Maine coach Sharon Versyp said.

Senior forward Heather Ernest - one of three players in school history with at least 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds - will have to be on top of her game if Maine is to have any chance at an upset. Ernest ranked in the top 10 of nine statistical categories in America East, averaging team highs of 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

The winner of his game advances to face either Louisiana Tech or Montana in the second round on Monday.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Maine - F Ernest (16.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), F Julie Veilleux (7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg), F Monica Peterson (7.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), G Melissa Heon (10.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), G Kim Corbitt (6.0 ppg, 3.6 apg). Texas Tech - F Chesley Dabbs (6.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), F LaToya Davis (7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg), C Jolee Ayers-Curry (5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Grant (8.1 ppg, 6.7 apg), G Natalie Ritchie (6.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Maine - Automatic bid, America East champion. Texas Tech - At-large berth.

ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Maine - 1-6, 6 years. Texas Tech - 27-15, 16 years.

 

 

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