NCAA women’s tournament: First round preview

AUSTIN, Texas – March 5 or 12 days.

In case anyone is wondering, that's how long it will have been since Marquette's last game — a 63-55 loss to Rutgers in the Big East tournament semifinals — when the Golden Eagles take the court in the first round of the NCAA tournament tomorrow.

The sixth-seeded Golden Eagles have not had this many days off between games since the break for final exams at the end of first semester.

Keeping a team fresh during a long stretch of practices is never easy, but Marquette coach Terri Mitchell is convinced her team is ready for the 1:30 p.m. tip-off against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"We are extremely excited to be playing again," said Mitchell, who will be coaching in her sixth NCAA tournament. "It seems like forever since we were playing back in the Big East tournament. And we feel like the experiences we've had the last two years in the Big East have prepared us extremely well for any opponent that we're going to see in the NCAA tournament."

A week of intense and physical practices has also kept the players sharp. The downside of such preparation is an increased risk of injuries, as Marquette was reminded.

At the end of Tuesday's practice, seniors Efueko Osagie-Landry and Christina Quaye were on opposing teams and both went up strong for a rebound.

Quaye came down with a bruised nose courtesy of an errant Osagie-Landry elbow.

"It just gives you the sample of what was going on in practice," Mitchell said, "and how hard our team was going — and needless to say our seniors were practicing — at the time that even in our last drill, the last thing, they were fighting to compete and to win."

Quaye didn't miss any practice time, but for precautionary reasons she has been sporting a Tyler Hansbrough-esque face mask on the court ever since. She tugged on the mask a couple times during today's 50-minute practice to adjust its position, but its presence did not appear to affect her game.

Who: Sixth-seeded Marquette vs. 11th-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette

What: First round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: The game is being played at the Frank Erwin Center on the University of Texas campus and can be seen live on ESPN

Ragin' Cajuns scouting report

Team making first NCAA appearance

Louisiana-Lafayette finished first in the Western Division of the Sun Belt Conference with a record of 14-4. The Ragin' Cajuns received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament — their first postseason tournament berth in program history — after losing to Eastern Division champion Middle Tennessee State 77-67 in the conference tournament final.

Middle Tennessee State received the fifth seed in the Dayton region and was ranked No. 16 in the final poll.

On the season, Louisiana-Lafayette was 25-8 overall. The program lost here to No. 25 Texas 69-59 on Nov. 13, 2006. The team also lost on the road to No. 10 Louisiana State 65-31 during nonconference play.

Jones doubly good

The Ragin' Cajuns are led by forward Yolanda Jones. The 6-foot-1 senior was named First Team All-Sun Belt conference after averaging a double-double for the season (17.9 points per game, 10.4 rpg). She has 20 double-doubles and counting this year.

However, Lousiana-Lafayette is far from one-dimensional.

"We all know about Jones and what she can do and her double-doubles," Marquette women's basketball coach Terri Mitchell said.

"But if you look at their teams and the films we've watched, at any given time they're going to try and take you one-on-one. So we have to be very aware of our closeouts and how we're approaching and how we're rotating."

Team leads with defense rebounding

The Ragin' Cajuns are co-coached by the husband and wife team of J. Kelley and Meredith Hall. When J. Kelley became head coach five years ago (Meredith is in her first season as co-head coach) the program had an all-time record of 254-522 (.327). Since then Louisiana-Lafayette has gone 86-61.

The team's success stems from superior rebounding and defense.

In 2006-'07, the Ragin' Cajuns finished seventh in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-9.8 and their match-up zone defense held opponents to a 35.4 shooting percentage, making it the 14th-best field-goal percentage defense in the country.