March 14, 2008
Bearcats Face Hilltoppers in NCAA Tourney
STEPHENVILLE, Texas-Northwest Missouri State, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAA) tournament champion takes on the regular season champion from the Heartland Conference in St. Edward's at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA South Central Regional Tournament.
It's the first-ever meeting for the second-seeded Northwest Bearcats (23-7) and the seventh-seeded SEU Hilltoppers (23-6), who hail from Austin, Texas. Tarleton State is the top seed of the eight-team regional and will host all seven games at Wisdom Gymnasium.
Northwest has won six in a row and 10 of its last 11 entering tournament play. The Bearcats earned an automatic bid to the regional by winning last week's MIAA tournament in Kansas City, Mo. Northwest is making its 12th NCAA appearance and its eighth in the last nine years.
The Hilltoppers had won 11 in a row and 18 of 19 before sustaining an overtime loss to St. Mary's in the semifinals of the Heartland tournament in Denton, Texas. St. Edward's was 9-1 in conference play and finished with a three-game lead over second-place Incarnate Word and St. Mary's.
St. Edward's earned an at-large bid to the regional and is making its third straight NCAA appearance. The Hilltoppers are 0-2 in NCAA play. Both Northwest and St. Edward's lost to Central Missouri in last year's tournament.
Northwest is one of three MIAA teams competing in Stephenville. The Heartland has two competing teams for the first time. St. Mary's won the Heartland tournament and is the regional's eighth-seed.
St. Edward's is led by first-team All-Heartland selections Shawn Weinstein (16.0 ppg) and Daniel Pierre (13.8 ppg). The Bearcats feature second-team All-MIAA selections Hunter Henry (13.4 ppg) and Matt Withers (9.8 ppg).
Northwest and St. Edward's have no like opponents this season, though both did well in their non-conference slates. Three of the Hilltoppers' six losses this season have come in overtime and their last two games have needed it (1-1). Two of St. Edward's losses came against Tarleton State.
The Bearcats have won their last six first-round games in the NCAA tournament. The last time Northwest competed in Stephenville was 2004, when the team won the regional and advanced to the Elite Eight.
St. Edward's is one of the nation's best long-range shooting teams. The Hilltoppers average nearly nine 3's per game and shoot 40 percent from behind the arc, which ranks 16th nationally. Weinstein, a 6-feet-1-inch senior, leads the team with 68 triples.
The Bearcats are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking third nationally in scoring defense. Northwest has allowed 58.5 points per game up to this point and has held its last six opponents to less than 57 points. The Bearcats are 16-0 this season and 94-1 since the 2000-01 campaign when holding opponents to less than 60 points.
Henry averaged 13 points and nine rebounds in three MIAA tournament games and was named the event's Most Valuable Player. Lance Sullivan, a 5-feet-11-inch sophomore, added 11 points per game and was also named to the five-person all-tournament team.
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