By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — The frustration of not living up to expectations can cause problems within any sports team, from the coach down to the players at the end of the bench.
This weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament could be just what the Indiana State women’s basketball needs to put another interesting twist on the 2007-08 season.
After being picked third in the league and coming off a 19-11 season, the Sycamores lifted the expectations even higher for themselves by getting their first ever win against a ranked opponent on Nov. 14, defeating Vanderbilt 77-72 in overtime. The Hulman Center victory would have been just the kind of win to show off to the NCAA selection committee if the Sycamores would have put together a 23- or 24-win season this year instead of the 14-14 mark they carry into this weekend.
“Everything was set up the way it should be,” Wiedie said. “To lose to some of the teams we’ve lost to, to have the record we have now, it turned out to be a little bit of a disappointment.”
Still, optimism is high after a pair of home wins. Excitement and positive energy were abound after practice earlier this week.
“There’s a lot of energy, and hopefully we’ll come out with three wins,” the source of much of ISU’s on-court energy, Kara Schilli, said Tuesday. “Since you know, we kind of didn’t have the season we wanted to, everyone’s really looking forward to that conference tournament.”
With ISU’s senior duo of Laura Rudolphi and Angela Phillips finishing the season on an absolute tear. Phillips has hit 13 3-pointers in her last four games, and Rudolphi finished her Hulman Center career on a high note with 34 points.
It is the time of year called March Madness and Angela Phillips says the Sycamores are ready to embrace their underdog role this weekend.
“It’s just the time of year it is and being a senior and knowing this is the last shot and laying it all on the line,” she said. “It’s just who wants it more at the tournament.”
Rudolphi said Saturday the Sycamores are hitting their peak at the right time. She reiterated those thoughts Tuesday.
“We’re playing with a sense of urgency, especially us seniors, it’s our last hurrah and everything. There wasn’t much time to get our act together and we did it,” said Rudolphi, who was named to the MVC’s first team on Wednesday.
Wiedie lauded Rudolphi and Angela Phillips for improving as leaders after some rough stretches earlier in the season.
“Those two have kept the team together through some challenging moments, through some internal issues, through our poor play at times. I think they’ve done everything from a captains’ standpoint that I can ask them to do,” Wiedie said.
“Hopefully that will carry over at least three more games.”
ISU busted out to a 19-point lead against Creighton when the Sycamores were the No. 3 seed last season in the first round of the MVC Tournament at Drake. The Bluejays chipped away at that lead, sending the Sycamores home in one of the most incredible second-halve turnaround I’ve ever witnessed.
“I think everybody but [Kelsie] Cooley is back, and I think everybody learned from that loss,” Schilli said. “I can assure you we’ll play from the first minute to the last minute in this game.”
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• MVC in RPIs — The Missouri Valley Conference fell to 15th in conference RPI rankings last season, according to collegerpi.com.
The MVC women are up to ninth in those rankings this season behind Illinois State (51st according to Collegiate Basketball News), Drake (64th), Creighton (72nd) and Evansville (79th).
The MVC’s overall strength of schedule is among the top 5 in the nation as no MVC team’s schedule ranks below 136th in the nation, and the team at 136th is Illinois State, which is the top seed in the tournament.
Indiana State defeated No. 20 Vanderbilt on Nov. 14, and Creighton defeated Kansas State, who is now No. 15, in December.
Coach Jim Flanery, who has played the toughest MVC schedules almost every year this decade, also scheduled games this season at Rutgers, Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas — all losses.
Flanery’s team is sitting at 19-10, and his Bluejays are just three questionable losses away from winning the league outright and being a serious contender for an at-large bid. Creighton’s bad losses are 79-73 at Missouri State, 52-51 at Bradley and 75-74 in overtime at Southern Illinois.
If they were 22-7 with a 15-3 mark in the MVC and a win at home against Kansas State, they would have to heavily considered for a bid.
As we have said previously, Illinois State has no nonconference quality wins on its resume.
Indiana State is the only other MVC team with the kind of victory to impress the selection commitee.
• Ticket situation — Indiana State fans have bought 386 full-session tickets for this weekend’s tournament as of Tuesday.
The goal for each MVC school was to get to 400. Drake leads the way with more than 800 sold.
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4357.