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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, December 7, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

C-USA champs host Yow, Lady Pack

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

It’s unlikely that any of the Lady Pirates will forget their victory in the 2007 Conference USA Basketball Tournament anytime soon.

But maybe Sunday is the perfect time for a high-profile reminder of what it felt like to hoist that trophy.

Prior to tip-off in their game against North Carolina State on Sunday afternoon, the members of that women's championship team will receive a banner commemorating their March victory.

The ceremony is just one compelling reason for Pirate fans to make Saturday night’s East Carolina-N.C. State men's game just the first part of a two-day doubleheader.

Another reason is the planned pregame ceremony to honor Kay Yow, an East Carolina alumnus and longtime N.C. State head basketball coach who has battled breast cancer for years. Yow has inspired many in North Carolina and in college basketball circles across the country with her courage and her work ethic even through debilitating cancer treatments.

“I think highly of her,” said ECU women’s head coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener. “She has always been super nice, and I think what she’s doing right now is pretty incredible.”

And after all of that worthy pomp and circumstance, there will also be an actual basketball game between the 8-2 Lady Wolfpack and the 3-5 Lady Pirates squad. The last time ECU competed was a 64-53 loss to Virginia Commonwealth that left them craving the chance to make a more favorable impression, said junior Jasmine Young.

“I feel like this is definitely a big weekend for us, because we’re coming off a loss,” said Young, who is leading her team with 14.8 points per game. “We’re just pretty excited to be able to go out there and try for a win.”

There was a time last month — the Lady Pirates lost four of their first five games with several of the defeats coming to small schools like High Point and Winthrop — when Baldwin-Tener might not have been too excited to welcome an ACC opponent to town. But the last two weeks have brought encouragement in the form of more victories and better unity on the court.

“Early on I really was very disappointed, to tell you the truth,” Baldwin-Tener said. “I didn’t think our juniors and seniors were playing up to their abilities. I think early on we lost some games that maybe now we wouldn’t lose. For the last three games we’ve showed the right intensity.”

Part of the Lady Pirates’ adjustment has involved learning to live without Cherie Mills in the post. Mills, who led the team in scoring for the past two years, was the kind of player who could seemingly produce points out of nowhere when the game was on the line. In her absence, senior Nicole Days and sophomore Lauren Cochran have each staked a claim under the basket.

The team’s four freshmen — Shaundra Ashford, Tiahana Bowens, Kim Gay and Allison Spivey — are contributing more and more as the weeks go by, Baldwin-Tener said. “I’m very encouraged by what the freshmen can do,” she said.

Newcomers and veterans alike will need to show up for more than just the pregame ceremonies on Sunday, Baldwin-Tener said, especially because the Wolfpack has been ranked for much of the early part of the season. Constituting a significant outside threat is 6-1 senior Khadijah Whittington, who is leading all NCSU scorers with more than 19 points a game.

With such a challenge ahead, Young and her teammates have been encouraged by considering history — by the flash of the recent past that will be symbolized by that banner on Sunday. Last year’s Pirate squad had a rocky start as well, Young said, and they worked out the kinks in time for their slate of conference games.

Young’s one request? That their growing pains go away faster this year, so that they can enter the C-USA competition with a winning record and victories over some big schools under their belt. As Young sees it, working together seamlessly to prevail against the Wolfpack would be the perfect way to set the right tone for the remainder of the Lady Pirates’ campaign.

“We’re all great friends, but when we start becoming great teammates we’ll be able to play with big people,” she said.

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12/07/2007 02:57:45 AM

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