Former Dunbar star Rowe among Kentuckians headed to NCAA Tournament

March 17, 2014 

Former Paul Laurence Dunbar star Ebony Rowe and Middle Tennessee drew a matchup with Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Rowe, a 6-foot-1 senior forward who was named Conference USA Player of the Year after averaging 21.7 points and 11.7 rebounds this season, scored 23 in a win against Southern Mississippi in the conference tournament finals to help the Blue Raiders lock up their NCAA bid.

China Dow, a freshman out of Louisville Christian who averaged 4.1 points and 2.5 rebounds this season, had 11 points off the bench in the tournament finals.

It was quite a show from one of the conference's newest schools. The Blue Raiders (29-4) said they felt underappreciated early in the season, and that win put all that talk behind, Rowe said.

"I would say so," said Rowe, who has 25 double-doubles this season. "But it was rightfully so. We were the newcomers in the conference, so we knew we had to prove ourselves just like any other team would have to. I think this (win) just kind of put the icing on the cake and really got the respect we deserved in this conference."

Middle Tennessee, which previously played in the Sun Belt Conference, secured a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in 11 years by winning its first C-USA title.

"I feel like Middle Tennessee is one of the top 20 programs in the country," Blue Raiders Coach Rick Insell said. "We're not the best program in the country, but we're in the top 20, and we're there every year.

Louisville

Louisville, one of the four regional hosts for the women's tournament, earned a No. 3 seed and will face Idaho in the first round at Iowa City, Iowa.

The Cardinals (30-4) are led by senior guard Shoni Schimmel, one of the top players in the nation. She scored 20 points in the American Athletic Conference finals against No. 1 Connecticut in a 72-52 loss.

Schimmel leads the Cardinals in scoring (17.0) and assists (3.8).

■ Louisville's roster includes three former Kentucky high school standouts — Sara Hammond (Rockcastle County), Tia Gibbs (Butler) and Antonita Slaughter (Louisville Christian).

Hammond, a junior who was Miss Basketball in 2011, is second on the team in scoring (10.9) and rebounding (6.2). Gibbs, a senior who was Miss Basketball in 2008, and Slaughter both average 8.0 points per game.

■ Coach Jeff Walz attended Northern Kentucky on a basketball scholarship.

Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky, which closed on an 18-4 run to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament finals 61-60 against Arkansas State, earned a No. 15 seed and will play at second-seed Baylor in Waco, Texas, in the first round.

It's the first NCAA Tournament appearance for WKU since the 2007-08 season.

Chastity Gooch, a former Franklin-Simpson standout who had 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the finals, was the Sun Belt Tournament's MVP.

"We stuck together and got the win," Gooch said late Saturday night.

Former Perry County Central star Kendall Noble added 12 points in the finals for Western Kentucky (24-8).

"We never stopped and we never gave up," WKU Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said Saturday night. "That was the biggest thing that I was talking to them about. We were going to just keep fighting until the end, and that's what we did."

Gooch led WKU with 18.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Noble and Micah Jones (Green County) averages 10.7 and 10.3 points, respectively.

Western has had to play much of the season without its other star, conference pre-season player of the year Alexis Govan. She averaged 16.5 points and 4.6 rebounds before having to sit out with stress fracture in her left leg.

■ Before becoming Western's head coach, Clark-Heard starred as a player at Atherton and WKU and was an assistant at Louisville and head coach at Kentucky State.

The Lady Toppers' assistants include Margaret Richards (Central), Candyce Bingham (Fern Creek, U of L) and Laura Terry (Rose Hill, U of L).

Elsewhere

Here's some other players and coaches in the tournament with ties to Kentucky:

■ Tennessee's coaching staff includes former Oldham County star Kyra Elzy as an assistant. Elzy, who played for the Lady Vols, was also an assistant coach for UK and Western Kentucky.

Former UK standout Amber Smith is a graduate assistant for the Lady Vols.

■ Chattanooga freshman guard Chesley Shumpert, a former Paducah Tilghman standout, is her team's fourth-leading scorer at 7.1 points per game. Freshman Whitney Hartlage (Mercy) averages 2.3 points.

■ April Wilson, a sophomore guard who starred at Manual, averages 10.1 points and a team-high 4.6 assists per game for Purdue.

■ Averee Fields, a junior forward out of Calloway County, has started 32 of 33 games for West Virginia and averages 7.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

■ Former Harrison County and Western Kentucky star Camryn Whitaker is an assistant coach at Dayton.

■ Kentucky's first round opponent, Wright State, includes former Ryle star Abby Jump. The junior guard averages 3.5 points.

■ Oklahoma's Portia Durrett, a senior out of Seneca, averages 2.4 points.

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