ISU Heads to West Lafayette For NCAA Tournament
Senior Lashawn Johnson
Senior Lashawn Johnson

March 20, 2008

NORMAL, Ill. - This weekend, the best teams in women's college basketball will be taking part in the NCAA Tournament all across the country and for the first time in three years, the Illinois State Redbirds are a part of that group. ISU will stay in the Midwest, needing to drive less than three hours to Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., for its fifth all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The 13th-seeded Redbirds (26-6, 13-5 MVC) take on 4th-seeded Oklahoma (21.8, 11-5 Big 12) in a first round matchup on Sunday, March 23, at 11 a.m. CDT. The game will be shown on ESPN 2, as a part of the network's roving coverage of the first round, and WJBC-AM 1230 will broadcast all of the action live.

"We are really excited to be a part of the NCAA Tournament," said head coach Robin Pingeton. "Winning the Valley Tournament last weekend was a great thrill and this is just another fantastic experience for this team. We had a great practice after a couple of days off and we are going to continue to work on our approach before we face Oklahoma on Sunday. We are going to face a really good team with a lot of tradition. (Oklahoma junior center) Courtney Paris is among the elite players in the nation and it will be fun to see how we can stack up against them."

Illinois State is making its fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament. The `Birds are 1-4 in the Big Dance, with their only win coming in 1989. All four teams that the Redbirds have lost to have advanced to the regional final, including Louisiana Tech, the national runner-up in 1983, and Baylor, the 2005 National Champion. ISU's No. 13 seed this season is its highest since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994. ISU has never won consecutive postseason games.

Two of the teams that Illinois State played in the regular season also made the NCAA Tournament field. Miami (Ohio) won the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship to earn its first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament. The RedHawks (23-10) are seeded 13th in the Greensboro Region and face fourth-seeded Louisville (24-9) in the first round on Sunday in Bridgeport, Conn. DePaul (20-11) received an at-large bid and is also in the Greensboro Region. The 10th-seeded Blue Demons take on seventh-seeded Marist on Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.



Illinois State and Oklahoma have met twice in women's basketball, with the Sooners claiming both matchups. The postseason was the setting of the first matchup, a 67-65 Oklahoma victory in the WNIT. The next meeting came in the opening round of the George Washington Classic in 1993. Oklahoma won that game, 69-56. Oklahoma is one of eight teams that Illinois State has played more than once and never beaten.

For the second time-ever, Illinois State won the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Women's Basketball Tournament. The Redbirds averaged 71.2 ppg and outscored their opponents by an average of 9.3 ppg over the three-game stretch. It was ISU's fourth conference tournament title after winning the MVC Tournament title in 2005 and Gateway Conference Tournament crowns in 1983 and 1989. The Redbirds became the 15th top-seeded team in the 24-year history of the Valley Tournament to win the championship.

For their performances during the MVC Tournament, junior guard Kristi Cirone, sophomore forward Ashleen Bracey and sophomore guard Maggie Krick were named to the all-tournament team. Cirone was the tournament's MVP after averaging 18.7 ppg, including a season-high tying 27 points against Southern Illinois. Bracey set the MVC Tournament record with 37 rebounds in the three games and posted back-to-back 14-point, 16-rebound double-doubles. Krick averaged 14.3 ppg.