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Published: Monday, 3/31/2014

Falcons’ experience could be factor in tournament play

BGSU hosts Rutgers as WNIT reaches quarterfinals

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

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BOWLING GREEN — The Women’s National Invitation Tournament continues to bring top women’s basketball programs to Stroh Center.

Bowling Green State University hosted Michigan on Thursday, and a 63-53 win over the Wolverines gives the Falcons an opportunity at 7 p.m. today to host Rutgers.

“Before this game there were only 36 [Division I] women’s college basketball teams playing,” BG women’s coach Jennifer Roos said after the Michigan game. “And now there’s going to be a lot less. …

“We’re fortunate to be playing at home. We’re fortunate to be playing in front of such a great crowd. And we’re fortunate to be playing well at this time.”

The Falcons, now 30-4 this season, will host the Scarlet Knights in a quarterfinal contest as Rutgers makes its first-ever WNIT appearance. The Knights are not strangers to the postseason: When they missed the postseason last year, it snapped a string of 10 straight NCAA tournament appearances.

The Scarlet Knights are 25-9 this season and finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference with a 12-6 record.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer talked about her team hoping to return home for future games when she was asked about a matchup with Bowling Green after her team’s double-overtime win over Seton Hall Thursday.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get back [home],” Stringer said. “We have to handle that.”

She asked who potential opponents could be, “If we do what we need to do [against Bowling Green],” and was told the Scarlet Knights could play fellow AAC member South Florida in the semifinals.

“I had a feeling all of this would come back,” she said.

First Rutgers will need to beat the Falcons.

The Scarlet Knights are led by All-AAC first team Kahleah Cooper, who averages 16.2 points per game. AAC freshman of the year Tyler Scaife contributes 14.2 points, while All-AAC second team Betnijah Laney averages nearly a double-double with 12.5 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds, along with 2.9 blocked shots per contest.

Falcons’ senior Jill Stein said she thinks her team has earned some respect.

“I think that getting to this point — realizing that you’ve beaten a Big Ten team for the second time in a season — helps you realize that this isn’t a fluke,” she said. “This is a legitimate, good team that is coming together at the right time.”

BG also hopes to take advantage of growing crowds after 2,403 fans were at Stroh Center for the Michigan contest.

“The only thing I can compare this to is a BG-UT game,” Stein said. “We knew this was going to be an awesome atmosphere, and it was.

“It was incredible to make a shot or get a stop and have the crowd roar. Anderson [Arena] was called, ‘The House That Roars,’ and I feel we’re getting there now.”

It also may be to Bowling Green’s advantage that it has three seniors — Stein, Jillian Halfhill, and Alexis Rogers — while Rutgers does not have a senior on the roster.

“I think most seniors at this time of the year have that sense of urgency,” Stein said.

“There’s a little slap in the face and [you realize], whoa, life is going to be very different soon.”

While the Falcons look to claim their 31st win this season, which would tie the school and Mid-American Conference single-season record, Stein said she and her teammates do not talk about that mark.

“We just go one game at a time, and when one game is passed we let it go and focus on the next one,” Stein said.

“Once we are finished with this season and have an opportunity to look back, that’s something we’re going to be very proud of.”

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.



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