JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – In a rematch of the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Carson-Newman women's basketball team plays host to sixth-ranked Columbus State Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. It will be the home opener for the Lady Eagles that sport a 40-17 record at Holt Fieldhouse since 2011-12, Carson-Newman coach Mike Mincey's first year.
It's early in the season, but it's a battle of two of the top teams in the Southeast Region looking to pad postseason resumes. Carson-Newman (3-0) has already defeated two of the top-three projected teams in the Peach Belt Conference and gets a chance to avenge last season's loss against the top projected team in the league.
"You start looking at the NCAA Tournament you are getting way ahead of yourself," Mincey said. "But obviously that is everybody's goal. You talk about championships but ultimately you want to do well enough where at the end if you don't win your conference tournament you can get an at-large bid like we did last year. Our kids understand that we play just as much for the regional record as we do for the conference record because that regional record is so important to get that at-large bid."
The last meeting took place in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament in Gaffney, S.C. when second-seeded Columbus State (2-0) used a 12-0 to extend a five-point lead to 17 points with 4:54 remaining in the game.
Carson-Newman held Columbus State to its second-lowest field goal percentage of the season at 29 percent (20-for-69) in the 58-40 loss on March 13th. The Cougars had a 51-32 rebound advantage while having a 26-9 lead on the offensive glass.
The Lady Eagles did not have a player finish in double figures as a trio of players had eight points. Senior forward Whitney Kyle had eight points and four rebounds, forward Jecca Simerly (Talbott, Tenn.) had eight points, four rebounds and two assists while forward Kaitlyn Cupples (Clinton, Tenn.) finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks.
The 2014-15 Southeast Region Player of the Year, Michelle Mitchell, led all scorers with 20 points and eight rebounds in the game. Carrie Washington, who graduated after last season, hauled in 15 rebounds including six offensive boards.
Columbus State holds a 6-3 advantage in the all-time series with the Lady Eagles last win coming on Nov. 20th, 2012 at Holt Fieldhouse 62-61. Senior Nikki James had 22 points and scored the game-winning layup with 18 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars have opened the season with a pair of easy victories over Fort Valley State, 81-41, and Albany State, 81-46, to open the year. The No. 6 team in the nation plays at King (Tenn.) Friday night before coming to Holt Fieldhouse.
"They are very athletic," Mincey said. "They are going to get out on the perimeter. Last year they gave us some issues with trapping ball screens. From what I've seen, and I haven't spent a lot of time on their film, but it looks like they are playing some form of matchup zone. With their athleticism they look like they are pretty good at it. I'll be curious to see how we stack up with them on Saturday. They are very talented and easily just as good as they were last year."
The star returner is Mitchell, a senior guard. The Eastman, Ga. native was named to the WBCA and Daktronics All-American teams after being named the Southeast Region Player of the Year. The third All-American in Columbus State history set new program records for field goals made (267) and points (644) in a single season while leading the Peach Belt Conference with 20.1 points per game, while also averaging 7.5 rebounds
The Cougars do have to replace the Peach Belt Defensive Player of the Year, Washington. Her 3.34 blocks per game ranked 5th in Division II in 2014-15, her 12.7 rebounds were fourth nationally and 5.0 offensive rebounds per night were fifth in the country.
Last season Columbus State was in the top-10 nationally in field goal percentage defense (34.2 – 7th) and in offensive rebounds per game (17 – 9th) while ranking 11th in scoring margin (15.1), 14th in rebound margin (7.7) and 15th in scoring defense (57.6).
After two games this season, the Cougars are being led in scoring by Gabby Williams who has scored 13 and 16 points in her first games in a Columbus State uniform after transferring from Florida State College at Jacksonville.
The game will be broadcast in two formats. The audio version will be at 2:45 p.m. on the Eagle Sports Network's flagship station, Mountain Country 106.3 WPFT-FM, and on cneagles.com/live with a high definition video stream being available for free on cneagles.com/live.
- CN -