Monarchs await Eagles

Terri Mitchell finally let her guard down.

After spending the entire regular season preaching the importance of focusing only on the next game, Marquette women's basketball head coach finally allowed herself to look beyond the team's next opponent.

If the Golden Eagles win their first game in the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., they will likely play top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Duke on the Blue Devils' home court Tuesday.

"I would cherish that opportunity to go up against Duke because they're the best team in the land right now," Mitchell said. "That's what all the reporters are saying.

"They're picked to be in the Final Four. I want to go against that experience. I want our players to understand what it takes to be at that level."

"I think that definitely would be a great game," added senior guard Katie O'Grady. "Duke is just an awesome team. To play a team of that caliber would be great for us."

To face Duke, the ninth-seeded Golden Eagles will first have to defeat eighth-seeded Old Dominion in the opening round of the Mid-East Regional on Sunday; tip-off is at 11 a.m.

The Lady Monarchs are 26-6 on the season and in the midst of a 16-game winning streak. During that stretch they won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to earn an automatic birth in the NCAA Tournament.

In addition to their torrid play as of late, the Lady Monarchs also beat then-No. 7 Penn State, the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament, and North Carolina, the No. 4 seed in the East, early in the season.

A lot of the credit for Old Dominion's success goes to Monique Coker, a 6-foot-1 senior forward who was named to the All CAA First Team after averaging 14.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season.

"She's an inside outside post player," Marquette's assistant coach Michelle Nason said. "They wanted her to play on the perimeter and face the basket this season, but due to injury she's had to play the post. She's strong and she'll handle the ball."

Coker was joined on the All CAA First Team by teammate Max Nhassengo, who averaged 14.2 points a game. The 5-foot-10 senior guard was also named CAA Defensive Player of the Year after ranking fifth in the conference with 2.4 steals per contest.

Defense was one of the Lady Monarchs strengths during the season. They averaged 10 steals per game and forced 21 turnovers during a typical match. This allowed Old Dominion to push the ball offensively and attack the basket.

Those characteristics remind Mitchell of a familiar opponent.

"They mirror DePaul in a lot of ways except that they don't have that dominating post player that's on the block," she said. "Their dominating post player faces — and then (they have) ball penetration and they have one great shooter from the outside and selective shooters.

"When we played DePaul they had two great shooters, two great penetrators, and a dominating post player. We're using that as a comparison and obviously we had some great success against DePaul and it's the best way we can get our team ready, from a mental standpoint, of understanding what they're up against."