NCAA Tournament 2011

Final reflections

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It's Monday morning. The sun came up. Classes are resuming after spring break week. The world did not end with yesterday's loss to Florida State. We will move forward.

In the end, FSU's size proved to be too much for the Bulldogs. FSU took us out of our game and managed to score almost at will from just about everywhere on the court. It was a very physical game and just wasn't meant to be for Samford.

But, some final reflections on the great season for the Samford Bulldogs. As senior Emily London said in the post-game press conference: "It was a year to remember."

The team ended the year with the most victories in school history -- 25.

Seniors Emily London and Savannah Hill said as freshmen that their goal was to win a conference championship and go to the NCAA tournament. Mission accomplished.

The ended their careers with 93 victories. They made the conference tournament semifinals four times (in two different conferences) and finals twice.

Emily ended her career with several records, including leading scorer and most three-pointers made. Savannah ended her career as third best scorer in school history.

Emily led the nation this year in free throw percentage. First time ever for a Samford player.

Both Emily and Savannah will graduate on time in May -- Emily with a degree in public relations and Savannah with a degree in nursing -- reflecting the true importance of what they accomplished at Samford. Emily hopes some day to get into coaching or athletics administration. At the post-game press conference, Coach Morris noted what an outstanding individual she is and said that he has joked that some day he expects to be working for her.

Samford was second in the SoCon in average attendance for women's basketball. There's an old adage that says "if you win, they will come," and that apparently was true this season. For the NCAA tournament game, Samford sold more than 400 tickets through its ticket office, and several other fans bought tickets at the walk-up ticket window in Auburn. Samford obviously had the largest fan base in the arena on Sunday, and despite the loss, you've got to believe that some of those first-time fans will be back to see the Bulldogs play in future seasons.

About 100 fans, including many family members, waited outside the arena after the game and greeted each emerging player and coach with rousing applause.

New Samford athletics director Martin Newton made an overnight trip from Tampa, where he was at the NCAA men's tournament with the University of Kentucky team (his current employer), to be at the game. He was greeted warmly by Samford fans and was very present in the team locker room and post-game press conference. He'll start his new job as soon as Kentucky ends its run in the tournament.

The first-round loss can't diminish what this team accomplished. These players can go forward with the confidence that they accomplished a true first for Samford women's basketball:

 

A CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON! 

 

 

 

Wrap up

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SID Joey Mullins will have the complete game story posted shortly at www.samfordsports.com.

WVSU general manager Andy Parrish will have the post-game press conference online shortly at www.samford.edu/wvsu.

Coach Morris was gracious in his post-game comments about FSU's win. He complimented the senior leadership of Emily London and Savannah Hill.

It was a tough day for the Bulldogs against a top FSU team. But, this year's team has laid the foundation for continued success in the future.

It's over

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In a classy move, Coach Morris let seniors Savannah Hill and Emily London leave the game in the last minute to huge standing ovations from the Samford crowd.

FSU wins 76-46.

Finally

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Coach Semrau starts to clear the bench at the 2 minute mark and a 30 point lead. FSU clearly has out-matched the Bulldogs today, but you have to wonder the motivation.

A change of pace

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Coach Mike Morris typically paces the sideline during games and rarely sits. He's done very little pacing today.

FSU Coach Semrau doesn't even have a chair on the sideline and has spent the game pacing the sideline.

At the 4:30 mark, Emily hits a 3 to cut the lead to 61-36. FSU's starters are STILL in the game with a 25-point lead this late in the game.

J'Quita . . .

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. . . just fouled out and got a standing ovation from the Samford faithful.

Samford has 9 team fouls to only 6 for FSU this half. FSU has only hit 65% of their free throws for the game.

Under 8 media time out . . .

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. . . and FSU has a 57-28 lead with 7:02 left. Coach Semrau still has her starters in the game, which seems a little unusual at the stage.

Samford has hit only one 3 all game . . . and I can't remember the last time that happened.

Samford ball out of the time out.

Time out

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FSU has opened up a 52-27 lead.

Samford's shooting in the second half is an abysmal 15% and only 17% for the game. I can't remember the last time I saw a Samford team shoot so poorly.

Foul trouble

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Savannah just picked up her 4th foul, and that could mean real trouble. Coach Morris has opted to keep her in the game for now.

Count to 3

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The Samford fans just gave the officials a standing ovation for calling a lane violation on FSU, the first of the game. For some time, the Samford fans have been counting to three out loud to help the officials keep up with the amount of time FSU players are staying in the lane. You can guess why.

It's the under 12 media time out . . .

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. . . and the Bulldogs seem out of sorts. They normally can adjust to strong inside players but today just can't seem to get their shots to drop. From courtside, the frustration is starting to show on their faces.

Not sure if the Bulldogs have ever come from 19 points down to win, but that's what they have to do in the next 11:45 if they are going to the next round. FSU has opened up a 45-24 lead.

The Bulldog faithful -- 400+ strong -- have remained behind the team throughout the game. Our fan base is clearly twice as large as the group here for FSU. And, based on the Georgia and MTSU fan groups trickling into the arena, Samford clearly will have had the largest fan group here. Since we were the closest team, that makes sense.

Aren't too many locals in the stands, although many that are have on Auburn apparel. The Tiger baseball team had a home game today against Arkansas, and the spring weather may have lured potential local walk-up fans to stay outdoors instead.

FSU ball out of the time out.

 

Under 16 media time out . . .

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. . . and FSU has outscored the Bulldogs 5-1 to start the second half.

Savannah scored the first point of the game and has not scored since. Emily only has 6 points. Both of those are contributing to Samford's situation.

Samford's ball as play resumes.

It's second half . . .

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. . . and FSU gets the ball on the alternating position.

It's do-or-die time for the Bulldogs.

It's halftime . . .

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. . . and FSU leads 34-21, thanks to a 3-point shot at the buzzer. It was a near-perfect half for the Seminoles and an almost disastrous one for the Bulldogs.

Samford ended the half shooting exactly 20%, compared with FSU's 47%. FSU out-rebounded the Bulldogs 27-10, a testament to their size inside. Samford has hit 83% of its free throws -- always a strong point for this team -- and that has kept us in the game.

J'Quita Babineaux has four fouls, and Savannah Hill has 3. No other Samford players are in foul trouble, but to have our two best inside players in foul trouble will affect the team's play in the second half.

It will be interesting to see how the team regroups at halftime.

Andy Parrish will be interviewing new Samford AD Martin Newton the halftime show on the Samford Sports Network.

14 years in common

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Sue Semrau became women's basketball coach at FSU 14 years ago, the same year that Samford started its women's basketball program.

Under 4 media time out . . .

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. . . and FSU has opened up a 25-15 lead. Bulldogs can't seem to buy a layup in the paint. Their field goal percentage is up to 19%, but FSU's is still 45%. Samford has been out-rebounded 24-9.

FSU at the line out of the time out.

Under 8 media out . . .

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. . . and FSU leads 17-10. Samford is hitting a horrific 17% from the field. They can't seem to buy a basket and have missed every layoff so far this half. FSU also is out-rebounding the Bulldogs 18-8. We need to re-group --- something this team has shown it can do --- and get the Seminoles out of their game.

Samford ball out of the time out.

Under 16 media time out ...

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. . . and FSU leads 7-5. The Bulldogs have missed 4 easy lay-ups in the point, but they are playing tenacious defense.

The FSU cheerleaders are on the floor during the time out.

Samford's new AD, Martin Newton, flew in today from Tampa to be here for the game. Martin is director of operations for men's basketball at the University of Kentucky and will start his Samford duties when the men's NCAA tournament ends. He was in Tampa with the UK team this weekend for their first tournament games.

Samford ball out of the time out.

It's almost game time

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The teams are back on the floor, and it's almost game time. There is a HUGE, and I do mean HUGE Samford contingent here -- at least 400 strong -- and they went crazy when the Bulldogs took the floor.

The Samford pep band played the National Anthem, which is ironic since we use a prerecorded version for our home games. The "honor" of playing the National Anthem goes to the pep band of the lower seeded team.

It's time for the starting line-ups. Hannah, Ruth, Savannah, Emily and Paige will start for the Bulldogs, just as they have for most of the season. For the NCAA tournament, they announce the starting line-ups in alternating sequence -- first the Samford player, then the FSU player. The players are meeting at center court to shake hands.

FSU's Courtney Ward is from Montgomery, and she got a huge cheer from a large group of family and friends sitting behind the FSU bench.

The teams are ready. It's game on!

Taking the floor

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The Bulldogs just took the floor for their last pre-game shoot-around, and the greeting from the Samford contingent was loud and long. The Bulldogs are IN the house!

Let's make it 2-0 in Auburn Arena

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This is not the first time for a Samford team to play in the new Auburn Arena.

Last November, the Samford men’s basketball team played host Auburn in the first game of the first-ever tournament in their new arena. The Samford men came away with a 79-68 victory.

Hopefully the Samford women can come away with the same result in the first game of the first-ever NCAA tournament in the new arena.

 

Our Hoosiers moment

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I love the classic movie “Hoosiers.” I thought about that movie this morning as we were preparing for today’s NCAA tournament game, and I like some of the comparisons between the Hickory Huskers and our Samford Bulldogs.

Much like Milan (Ind.) High School, the real-life team that provided the inspiration for the movie, our Bulldogs have been on a big stage previously. Milan had made the state semifinals the year before they shocked the world to win the state championship depicted in the movie. Our Bulldogs have won conference tournament games and played in the SoCon tournament finals for two consecutive years. But, much like Hickory, this is the first time for them to make the “big dance.” We’re one of the smallest teams in the tournament getting ready to face one of the biggest.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the Huskers arrive at historic Hinkle Field House for their pre-game practice. Coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) points out that the court is the same length and the goals are the same height as the small gym back at Hickory High. His point: put the big stuff out of your mind and play the game you always play on the same size court you always play. By taking that approach, you can play with any other team.

That’s good advice for our team to follow today. They can play with any team on any stage. They’ve proven that repeatedly.

 

It's a Samford family reunion

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It's still 45 minutes to game time, and the Samford fans are here in full force. There are at least 150 Samford fans already in the building and others are coming in every minute.

There appear to be about 50 FSU fans behind their team bench, and their pep band and cheerleaders have yet to arrive.

The cheerleaders are being filmed by ESPN.

Samford owns the building -- at least for the moment!

Leading the Samford spirit

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The Samford pep band and cheerleaders have made the trip to Auburn for the tournament, and as always, are ready to lead the Samford spirit during the games.

Led by Dr. Jim Smisek, director of bands, and graduate assistant Jason Chapkin, the pep band members are Dominic Aliffi, Joshua Allen, Allen Branstetter, Kyle Duncan, Ben Griner, Jonathan Hill, Clayton Hurdle, Jay Jasper, Joe Lyles, Ben Massey, Matt Parker, Ashley Perez, Chris Rester, Robin Spurger, Becca Wilcox, Jordan Yeo and Steven Zehren.

The cheerleaders, coached by Samford alumna and former cheerleader Lauren Hughston, are Leah Skinner, Allison Hubbard, Heather Hall, Elizabeth Akin, Macie McMillan, Lydia Nace, Sarah Zadick and Liz Zegler. Tanner Baker is here this weekend as Spike, the bulldog mascot.

 

One hour to game time

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The doors have opened and fans are starting to arrive inside the Arena!

The Samford Pep Band, led by Dr. Jim Smisek, and the Samford cheerleaders, led by Lauren Hughston, are here and making game performance preparations.

The team is on the floor, warming up, sitting on the bench, acting very loose and yet forcused.

We're the only team with fans in the Arena already. That says a lot about the Samford spirit!

Jeff Bramer and his family just arrived. Today is Jeff's birthday, and I told him we'd celebrate with a Samford victory!

The set-up for today is slightly different than what we originally were told. The main television cameras will be behind the team benches. The Samford bench will be to the right on the TV screens. The Samford fans are directly across from the Samford bench, and the pep band and cheerleaders will be at the end of the Samford bench.

The excitement is building! It's a great day to be a Samford Bulldog!

If you can't be here in person . . .

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. . . follow the action with the Samford Sports Network broadcast team of Mike Grace and Larry Long on WVSU 91.1-FM or via the Internet at www.samford.edu/wvsu.

Or, you can watch the game on ESPN2. Another option would be to view the game on ESPN but listen to Mike and Larry.

Of course, the BEST option would be to get to Auburn Arena in time for the 4 p.m. CST tip off so you can cheer the Bulldogs in person.

 

Close to home

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Perusing the brackets and assignments of the NCAA women’s tournament provides some interesting observations.

Unlike the men’s tournament, the women’s selection committee apparently gave lots of consideration to placing teams as close to home as possible. Aside from seeded teams that are hosting first- and second-round games, most brackets included at least one other team that was close by. The Auburn site is one of the few that doesn’t have the host team in the tournament, which I’m sure was not the expectation a couple of years ago when Auburn bid for and won the hosting rights.

All four teams playing in Auburn are close enough that the teams bussed to the tournament site. Most also are close enough that they will have fairly sizeable fan contingents here, although rumor has it that Georgia returned part of their ticket allotment unsold.

A given – it’s harder for the NCAA to sell tickets to women’s tournament games at first- and second-round sites, especially with no local team in the bracket. But, watching some of the men’s games on television this weekend have revealed lots of empty seats at many venues.

It will be interesting to see how the general public supports the games in Auburn. Schools state-wide, including Auburn University, are coming off spring break week. The Auburn women’s team has been on the road playing in the WNIT. And, the weather here is spring-like, near-perfect. Samford is the closest thing to a “local team” as there is in this bracket.

 

It's game day

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The team just left the hotel for a brief shoot-around at Auburn Arena. In the lobby before boarding the bus, the team seemed loose. That, apparently has been a characteristic of the team all season.

In Saturday's news conference, Coach Mike Morris talked about the personality of this team.

"We’re a light team. That’s how it has been all year," he said.

Referring specifically to senior team leaders Emily London and Savannah Hill: "They have the great ability to laugh and cut up but also to turn it (intensity) on when needed. I don’t to do anything to change that. It’s a great sign of maturity."

That kind of leadership and experience, hopefully, will pay dividends in today's game.

Samford fans are starting to gather in Auburn. Several player families arrived yesterday, as did the Samford pep band and cheerleaders. Many others are driving in today in time for tipoff.

Interestingly, the NCAA and local committee also is housing the Florida State pep band and cheerleaders at the same hotel, although their team is at the much larger Auburn Conference Center.

Lots of preparation for lots of different people before game time. But, what a great way to spend a beautiful, spring-like day!

 

Common opponents

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Samford and Florida State are 10-0 against common opponents this season.

Samford and Florida State both played non-conference foes Alabama State and Jacksonville State. Samford beat ACC team Clemson in non-conference, while Florida State beat Clemson twice in ACC play. Florida State defeated SoCon member Western Carolina, while Samford beat the Lady Catamounts twice in SoCon play.

Florida State senior guard Courtney Ward is the only Alabama product on the FSU squad. Samford, of course, has five Alabamians on its roster -- Jaz Martin, Jaz Powers, Paige Anderson, Ruth Ketcham and Kylie Black. Both teams have two players from Georgia, the only other common state on the rosters.There are no Floridians on the Samford team, and only one Floridian on the FSU roster. Interestingly, there are three Seminoles from Ohio.

It's practice time

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The team has started its first tournament practice. They arrived at Auburn Arena about an hour ago and got set up in their locker room.

The arena is not quite double the size of Samford's Pete Hanna Center, but it is odd to see our team in this big space. They've played in big arenas, though, so it shouldn't be a problem for them.

Mike Grace is getting some video footage for future use, and Caroline Summers is doing the same with photographs. They were able to get permission to be in the arena for the full practice, and it will be great in years to come to have those visual memories of this weekend.

The ESPN crew is observing practice . . . I assume so they can talk in intelligently about the team during the game telecast.

The team has a 90-minute practice slot today. Florida State practiced just prior to our practice. The ladies seem loose and focused, if that makes sense.

The team will have a brief shoot-around Sunday morning before the game.

 

 

Hosts and Guides

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Samford has two great hosts and guides helping them navigate the tournament this weekend.

Sue Arakas, Southern Conference associate commissioner, is here to represent the conference. She does this every year for the conference, and it's nice to have a seasoned veteran as our "chaperone." Plus, Sue is a genuinely fun person to be around!

Asa Ackerman, a 2010 Samford graduate, is serving as our Auburn athletics department liaison and host. Asa, who was a member of Samford's track and field team, is now on the athetics training/sports medicine staff at Auburn. And, as many Samford women's basketball fans know, he is also the boyfriend of assistant coach Megan Wilderotter. Hopefully, we'll get to see a lot of Asa over the next few days.

 

This is the big time

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I experienced the NCAA basketball championship tournament at another institution 15 years ago, and i'd forgotten what a great job the
NCAA does in hosting a championship event. Lots of attention to detail with lots of meetings, signs and printed instructions to help you navigate your way through the tournament. Most people only see the action on the floor and aren't away of the hundreds of people and manhours necessary to make it all happen.

The folks here at Auburn also have been very gracious and helpful with information and other assistance. Just met a nice young man who is a senior at Auburn High School but is a volunteer in the media room. He wants to go into athletics administration some day. What a great experience for him. His dad attended Samford, and I'm trying to convince him that Samford would be a better choice.

Security is tight, as I'm sure it is at all the venues. All bags are being checked at entrances.

Samford fans will be sitting in sections H and G, directly across from the team bench. The pep band will be sitting on the floor near the Samford section. The Samford sports network crew will be set up directly across from the team bench and next to the ESPN announcing crew. If the camera angles are any indication, the Samford team bench will be on the left on the screen.

This definitely is the big time!

 

Relax tonight to focus tomorrow

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The team left Birmingham at 3:45 p.m. today for a pleasant and fairly quick bus ride to Auburn, led by James, the team's favorite driver this season. The Samford contingent enjoyed dinner together, but the most important activity of the evening -- at least, apparently, as far as the team was concerned -- was the Marble Slab Creamery across the street from the restaurant.

Samford is headquartered at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Opelika, about 15 minutes from the arena. The teams are assigned hotels based on seeding, which is why we're further away from the campus. The hotel and local host committee had a huge banner in the lobby welcoming Samford.

The team doesn't have to be at the arena until 11 a.m. tomorrow, so the coaching staff encouraged them to relax in their rooms, sleep late and have a leisurely, late breakfast before getting down to the serious business of the weekend.

The last huddle of the evening ended with the "word of the night" -- one that definitely defines this team this year, how far they have come, what they have achieved, and what they are for 2011.

CHAMPS!

Samford Women Make First NCAA Appearance

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The Samford women's basketball team is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament, and you can follow the team throughout the tournament at www.samford.edu. Philip Poole, Samford's executive director of marketing and communication, will be providing regular updates from behind-the-scenes on the Samford at the NCAA blog, and Joey Mullins, Samford's sports information director, will be covering the games and other news at www.samfordsports.com.

Samford is seeded 14th and their first-round game, against Florida State University, is Sunday, March 20, at 4 p.m., in the new arena at Auburn University. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast on WVSU 91.1-FM, the flagship station of the Samford Sports Network. you can also catch the play-by-play from Mike Grace, the "voice of the Bulldogs" on the Internet at www.samford.edu/wvsu.