CLEVELAND - Last year, the Bowling Green women's basketball team slipped into Gund Arena under the radar.
The Falcons were the Mid-American Conference Tournament's fourth seed. There were no guarantees BG would even beat Western Michigan in the quarterfinals, much less compete for a title.
Bowling Green defied the expectations, advancing all the way to the championship game before losing to Eastern Michigan.
This year things are radically different as the Falcons and seven other teams prepare for this year's quarterfinals, which begin today at Gund Arena. BG is the top seed, so all eyes will be on the Falcons when they open play against eighth-seeded Miami in a contest that tips off at 1 p.m.
Bowling Green coach Curt Miller said that he and his team are not weighed down by coming into the tournament as the top seed.
"I don't feel any pressure [as the top seed], and the team doesn't either," he said. "We want to make the NCAA Tournament, and we want to win the MAC Tournament. But one loss won't make or break our season."
The Falcons enter the tournament with a 20-7 overall mark and a 13-3 record in league play. But Miller said those numbers don't mean anything at this time of the season.
"At this point you throw the regular season out," Miller said. "All eight teams here can win the tournament. It's all a matter of who can win three games in four days."
Last year the Falcons nearly won four games in eight days, winning a play-in game before taking on the guise of Cinderella at Gund Arena. Since-graduated Lindsay Austin hit back-to-back buzzer-beating shots to lift BG to one-point victories over the Broncos in the quarterfinals and Miami in the semifinals.
Miller said that late-season run had an impact on this season's success.
"It's unmeasurable what getting to Cleveland [last season] did for the program," he said. "There's a confidence that we can be successful. That air of confidence showed in our consistency this season, and that consistency allowed us to be the best team in the league."
This season Bowling Green's opponent, Miami, was denied a chance at consistency because of injuries that held back last year's regular-season champions.
"This is as healthy as they've been all year," Miller said of the RedHawks. "They get great guard play, and they're very athletic. To be successful, we can't let them turn our turnovers into points and have to limit their opportunities at the free throw line."
When: 1 p.m.
Records: Miami is 15-13, 8-8 MAC; BG is 20-7, 13-3.
Last games: Miami d. Western Michigan, 74-71; BG d.
Northern Illinois, 75-72.
Outlook: The Falcons have had more than a week to prepare
for this contest, which also means sophomore forward Ali Mann has had a week to rest her injured ankle. Still, beating the RedHawks won t be simple, because they have three scoring options in Cindi Merrill (16.9 ppg), Amanda Jackson (13.0 ppg) and Nicki Motto (11.0
ppg). Perrysburg native Laura Markwood is a presence on the
boards for Miami, ranking 20th in the league with 5.8 rebounds
per game. Bowling Green s biggest challenge will be to handle
the Miami pressure that creates an average of 11.0 steals per
game, third-best in the league. But the Falcons are used to that kind of pressure, and have committed a MAC-low 15.8 turnovers per contest. If BG can handle that pressure and the pressure of being the top seed it should be able to post the win.