2009 Women's NCAA Tourney: Hanley and Austin Peay primed for the big show

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By Mike Farner

MOUNT WASHINGTON – When the brackets for the 2009 Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament are announced on Monday night on ESPN, former Bullitt East standout Whitney Hanley and her Austin Peay State teammates will be glued to a television to hear their names called.

It has become a Dream Season for the Lady Governors as they turned a number five seed entering the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament into a magical run that was capped with a 69-65 victory over Eastern Illinois in double overtime a week ago Saturday in the tournament finals in Nashville. Austin Peay had lost twice to Eastern Illinois during the regular season.

In fact, Austin Peay had a losing record entering tournament play and had lost five of its six previous games. The three-game tournament winning streak left them with a 17-15 mark heading to the NCAA Tournament where they will play either Saturday or Sunday.

Austin Peay defeated Morehead State 78-74 at Morehead in the first round of the OVC Tournament and then had to face Murray State and Eastern Illinois in back-to-back games. The Lady Governors had a 0-4 record this season against those two teams.

First, Austin Peay rolled past Murray State 90-84 in the Sommet Center in Nashville. The next day it took two overtimes before they turned back Eastern Illinois to earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004.

Austin Peay has played in five previous NCAA tournaments including four straight from 2001 to 2004. The 2004 team lost in the first round to LSU 83-66. The year before they fell to North Carolina 72-70 in an opening round game.

The success this season was a surprise. Austin Peay had only won six games last season and twice since 2005 had not even qualified for the OVC tournament.

Leading the resurgence has been Hanley. She moved into the Lady Governors’ starting line-up midway through the season when they went with a three guard-two forward attack. Three times during conference play Hanley was named the OVC Freshman of the Week.

During the week of the OVC tournament, Hanley was named to the conference’s All-Newcomer team (a squad for freshmen, redshirt-freshmen and transfers). The 5-10 Hanley is now averaging 9.0 points a game along with 3.4 rebounds and she has made 39 percent of her field goals.

Hanley opened the OVC slate impressively, averaging 11.8 points a game in the first nine conference outings. In that surge, she scored 24 oints against Tennessee Martin and had back-to-back 19-point outings against Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State.

The only Austin Peay player on the All-Ohio Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Team was senior April Thomas who was part of the second team.

Still, Austin Peay was not considered a threat to make a big post-season run after struggling down the stretch, losing five straight before closing out the season with an 80-74 victory at home against Southeast Missouri in overtime.

In the first game of the OVC tourney, Austin Peay had to travel to Morehead State where they pulled out a 78-74 win over the fourth-seeded team in the event. Hanley played 23 minutes in that game and she made four of her six shots as she scored ten points and had three rebounds.

That moved the team to the four-team Championship Weekend in Nashville where the team had to face regular season conference champion Murray State. The Lad Governors’ played a near flawless game and won 90-84. Hanley was one of five starters for Austin Peay who played over 36 minutes in that game. The freshman finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Less than 24-hours later they had to take on Eastern Illinois (24-9), the tournament’s number two seeds. It took two overtimes before Austin Peay pulled out the 69-65 victory.

Hanley struggled some in this game, but still played 24 minutes. She missed on all eight of her shots and did not score, finishing with one rebound and one assist.

Austin Peay won when freshman point guard Emily Pollack came off the bench and scored 11 of her 13 points in the second overtime.

Austin Peay may get a lot of mentions on Monday’s ESPN bracket show. Because of their average record, they are being projected as a number 15- or 16-seed so they will be facing one of the national powers in the first round.

Local fans should be hoping for an Austin Peay-University of Louisville first-round game in Bowling Green.

Austin Peay played two national powers this season. In the second game of the season, the Lady Governors lost to Louisville 72-42 and back on Dec. 30 the team traveled to North Carolina and lost to the Lady Tar Heels 93-61.