Senior guard Tavelyn James and sophomore guard/forward Natachia Watkins have been a winning formula for the 12th-seeded Eastern Michigan University women’s basketball team.
And don’t expect that to change.
“What I like about our chances is that she [University of South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley] plays a lot of man-to-man defense, [it’s] very aggressive,” Coach AnnMarie Gilbert said in an interview with emueagles.com. “But we’re a good team offensively when we go against man-to-man. It gives our pieces like Natachia Watkins and Tavelyn James a chance to really get their games off.”
Eastern Michigan University (23-8) will take on the fifth-seeded University of South Carolina Gamecocks (23-9, No. 25 AP) at 11:05 a.m. Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., during the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles qualified for the NCAA Tournament after senior forward, Paige Redditt made a layup with 1.5 seconds remaining in a thrilling last-second victory against Central Michigan University in the Mid-American Conference finals.
The two teams have both seen long absences from the NCAA Tournament as EMU hasn’t been invited since 2004, while South Carolina hasn’t received a bid since 2003.
“I am extremely proud of our student-athletes, coaches and staff members. Reaching the NCAA Tournament is always one of the most important goals for college athletic programs,” EMU Athletic Director Derrick Gragg said. “Our student athletes and coaches have represented themselves, the Athletic Department and the university with pride, class and excellence.”
The Eagles will need big performances from their big three scorers James (24.2 points per game), Watkins (12.3 ppg) and Redditt (10.3 ppg) in order to take down the Gamecocks.
Not playing in similar tournaments, and the distance between the two teams leaves them both unfamiliar with each other.
“Playing South Carolina is a team that we don’t know, they don’t know us … we don’t know anything about each other. I don’t even know what conference they play in,” Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, James said. “I think it’ll be more of a business trip like the MAC tournament was. We’re going to win games. That’s our objective.”
The Gamecocks will bring a stingy defense to the court and will play a physical and aggressive man-to-man defense. The Gamecocks are currently fourth in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing 50.5 ppg.
South Carolina has seen a season in which they’ve shown the ability to play well in big games.
The Gamecocks managed to defeat five nationally ranked opponents this season, three of which were in the top-20 nationally.
Leading the way for South Carolina will be senior guards La’Keisha Sutton and Markeshia Grant.
While not prolific scorers (10.6 and 10.5 ppg respectively), the guards will play tough defense for the Gamecocks and both shoot well from behind the three-point arc. Grant is tied for seventh in the Southeastern Conference in three-point field-goals made (55), and both guards are second team All-SEC.
The 11:05 a.m. tipoff will be the first game of the NCAA Tournament as well as the first time these two schools have ever met in the women’s basketball arena.
The winner will advance to play the winner of Purdue vs. South Dakota State University on March 19.