MSU Women Prepare For NCAA Tourney Opener Sunday Night

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said forward Carla Thomas is an unsung star.
In the NCAA tournament, Balcomb expects that to change.
"You only go as far as your best players," she said. "Obviously, Carla is our go-to, inside and out, and what she does on the defensive end, I think so much of it goes unnoticed. She's playing like an All-American. What I like is that she's still kind of under the radar.
"You're going to see more of what she has to do in this tournament."
Thomas will lead the second-seeded Commodores (27-5) against 15th-seeded Delaware State (20-12) in the first of four games Sunday at Michigan State's Breslin Center.
In other games, fourth-seeded Rutgers (22-8) will face 13th-seeded East Carolina (19-13); fifth-seeded Michigan State (23-8) hosts 12th-seeded Delaware (26-5) and seventh-seeded Bowling Green (29-3) plays 10th-seeded Oklahoma State (20-10).
Thomas, who leads Vanderbilt with 16.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, became the SEC tournament MVP for the second time in her career this season. Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw and Bridgette Gordon are the only other players to win the award multiple times in conference history.
The 6-foot-3 forward perhaps doesn't get the credit due because of two other seniors, guards Caroline Williams and Dee Davis, share the spotlight on a balanced team.
Vanderbilt won a NCAA tournament game last year after advancing to the round of 16 the previous two years.
"I feel very comfortable going into postseason play with all three of the seniors and the experience that they have in postseason play, and the success they've had," Balcomb said. "Not only that, but I have a lot of confidence because of their confidence.
"The best teams end up winning. Not necessarily the best talent, but I also think you have to have a combination of talent and a good team, and I think we have that."
Rutgers fits that description, too.
The Scarlet Knights are led by a Hall of Fame coach on the sideline and two-time Big East defensive player of the year Essence Carson on the court.
If Rutgers gets past East Carolina on a neutral court and Michigan State beats Delaware, the Spartans will have a home game against the Scarlet Knights.
That seemed to bother C. Vivian Stringer when the pairings were announced, but she and her players will be more upset if they allow that to affect them in the first round against East Carolina.
"We're focused on what we need to do," Rutgers forward Heather Zurich said. "If we stick to running our plays, pushing the ball in transition, rebounding, and are just doing what we do well, then we should be fine."
Rutgers had some travel problems en route to East Lansing, but nothing like Delaware State's delay.
The Lady Hornets spent Friday night at the Philadelphia airport because of bad weather.
"The most uncomfortable part was sleeping on the floor, but I have to be thankful that we were inside," forward Racquel Collier said. "So we just made the best of it."
Michigan State is hoping to make the best of having at least one game, and possibly two, on its home court.
"It's an incredible event to bring to East Lansing with all these great teams," Spartans coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We love playing in Breslin, so it's all good. We have to focus, and you certainly don't take anything for granted. There are no guarantees. But I can't think of anything better than earning more games in Breslin. Our community support really made this possible, in terms of our fans and the numbers that we put up."
A lot of Bowling Green supporters are expected to make the short trip to see the Falcons, led by Mid-American Conference co-player of the year Ali Mann.
"We have had great support and it has dramatically increased over the past four years," said Mann, who is from Chelsea, Mich. "It is going to be a great environment and a great way to do this my senior year."

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