NKU Women Prepare for Post-Season Match-Up with McNeese State

 The Northern Kentucky University women's basketball team welcomes McNeese State to The Bank of Kentucky Center on Thursday at 7 p.m., as the Norse host the first round of the Women's Basketball Invitational for the second consecutive year.

All tickets are $5 and will be available at The Bank of Kentucky Center ticket office on game day. NKU students receive free admission.

NKU, which enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the West Region, finished the regular season with a 17-12 overall record and 13-5 mark in the Atlantic Sun Conference, both of which improved upon last season's records.

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Thurs., March 20
Highland Heights, Ky. – The Bank of Kentucky Center (9,400)
NKU (17-12 overall, 13-5 A-Sun) vs. McNeese State (19-13 overall, 10-8 Southland)
Series Record: First meeting

Atlantic Sun Postseason Notes | Game 30 Notes | Live stats | Live video | Live audio

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McNeese State, the runner up in last season's WBI tournament and the No. 6 seed, enters the contest 19-13 overall and 10-8 in the Southland Conference.  The Cowgirls advanced to the semifinals of their conference tournament after entering the event as the No. 7 seed with a 66-62 upset victory over No. 3 Central Arkansas.  No. 2 Stephen F. Austin then handed McNeese State an 80-54 loss.  Allison Baggett and Jayln Johnson each scored 12 points to lead the Cowgirls in the loss, as Baggett pulled down six rebounds and Johnson dished out four assists.

Baggett, a second-team All-Southland honoree, leads three players averaging in double figures for McNeese State.  She is scoring 17.9 points and grabbing 3.6 rebounds per game, while Cecilia Okoye adds 12.0 points and a team-leading 9.1 rebounds per contest.  Johnson is averaging 10.2 points and 4.4 assists per game, and she tops the team with 30 steals this season.

McNeese State averages 67.4 points per game while limiting its opponent to 64.9.  The Cowgirls shot 72.5 percent from the free-throw line to rank third in the Southland, and their 40.5 rebounds per game is fourth.  After only allowing the other team 39.2 boards per game, McNeese State finished the regular season with a +1.3 rebounding margin, which ranked fifth in its 14-team conference.

Links to live stats, the ASun.TV broadcast and Andrew Kappes and Steve Moeller's audio broadcast will be available at nkunorse.com.

LAST TIME IN THE WBI:  A torrid shooting performance by Alyssa Frye in the second half helped the College of Charleston end NKU's season in the first round of WBI on March 21, 2013.

Frye scored all 20 of her points in the second half, including a crucial 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining in the game, as the College of Charleston held on for a 72-70 win over NKU in The Bank of Kentucky Center. Frye buried six shots from 3-point range after halftime as the Cougars advanced to the second round.

NKU had sliced a 16-point College of Charleston lead to 67-65 on a basket by Kayla Thacker with 1:57 left. The Norse then forced a missed jumper by Afreyea Tolbert, but Jillian Brown scooped up the offensive rebound. She passed out front to a wide-open Frye, who buried her sixth trey of the game to extend the College of Charleston advantage to 70-65 with 1:31 remaining.

Rianna Gayheart countered with a 3-pointer to cut the College of Charleston lead to 70-68 with 1:17 left on the clock. The Cougars owned a 71-68 advantage with 13.7 seconds remaining, but Tiara Hopper drew a foul and made both free throws to make it a 71-70 game.

The Norse immediately fouled Brown, who made one of two free throws to extend the Cougar lead to 72-70. Thacker missed a jumper in the lane with six seconds left, and Brown grabbed the rebound to give the visitors the first-round win.

Frye's 20 points led the Cougars, who won the rebounding battle by a 52-39 count. Tolbert added 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and Latisha Harris scored 14 points. The visitors pulled down 19 offensive boards and won despite shooting 4-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Ellen Holton led NKU with 21 points and three blocked shots, while Thacker scored 15 points and added two blocks. Hopper finished with 11 points and eight rebounds for the Norse, who surpassed all expectations by earning a berth in the WBI as a first-year Division I program.

The Norse shot 41.8 percent from the field, compared to 40 percent for the Cougars. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for NKU, which posted a 9-4 record at home last season.

ABOUT THE WBI:  The Women's Basketball Invitational is a 16-team postseason tournament that takes place over two weeks with each game being played at campus sites.  The first tournament was held at the conclusion of the 2009-10 season to provide a choice for women's teams who did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.  Past winners include Appalachian State, UAB, Minnesota and last year's champion Detroit.

ATLANTIC SUN HONOREES:  A trio of NKU players were honored by the Atlantic Sun with postseason awards.  Melody Doss and Kayla Thacker were both named to the all-conference team, while Thacker and Christine Roush earned Academic All-Atlantic Sun honors as well.

Doss, who earned a spot on the All-Atlantic Sun first team, emerged as the top Norse player in several categories this season.  She averages 15.3 points per game, which ranks fourth in the Atlantic Sun, while shooting 48.3 percent from the floor to rank sixth in the conference.  She also leads the team in defensive rebounds with 144 and blocked shots with 43.  Doss is shooting 37.8 percent from behind the 3-point arc and has knocked down 86.2 percent of her free-throw attempts. She also averages 6.5 rebounds per game and scored in double digits 22 times, including the first eight games of the season.

Thacker, a second-team all-conference honoree, averages 12.6 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds per game this year.  She has also pulled down a team-high 52 offensive rebounds while connecting on a team-leading 54 3-point field goals.  Thacker earned conference player of the week honors on Feb. 3, after leading the Norse a 63-43 victory over Florida Gulf Coast.

In addition to leading the Norse with her performance on the court, Thacker has also been a leader in the classroom.  She carried a 3.829 grade point average into the spring semester in a challenging radiologic technology program.  This marks the second straight year she has been named to the academic team.

Roush, a sophomore guard from Louisville, Ky., averages 9.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game this season for NKU.  She leads the Atlantic Sun in free-throw percentage, connecting on 90.0 percent (63-for-70) of her attempts, and she ranks second in 3-point shooting at 42.5 percent.  Her 34 treys ranks second on the team as she started every game for the Norse.  As a biological sciences major, Roush held a 3.858 GPA before the spring semester began.

DEFENSIVE SUCCESS:  Defense played an important part in NKU's regular-season success this year.  The Norse rank second in the Atlantic Sun in scoring defense, holding the opposing team to just 62.8 points per game. NKU is 8-2 this season when holding the other team to  60 points or less, including 2-0 when limiting opponents to under 50.

NKU ranks fourth in blocked shots by turning away 3.8 shots per game for a total of 111.  The Norse placed two players in the top five amongst conference opponents in blocked shots.  Melody Doss led NKU with 43 rejections this season for an average of 1.5 per game to land fourth in the Atlantic Sun.  Kaitlyn Gerrety ranks fifth with 30 blocks and an average of 1.0 per contest.  She turned away a career-high five shots against Jacksonville on Feb. 15, and she added four more to her season total against East Tennessee State on March 8.

The Norse are second in turnover margin as well, forcing the other team into 17.1 miscues a game to just 14.4 of their own.  The +2.66 turnover margin follows Florida Gulf Coast's +4.45 (17.8 tpg vs. 13.3 tpg).

FROM THE LINE AND BEYOND:  NKU has led the Atlantic Sun in free-throw shooting for most of the season.  As a team, the Norse have connected on 75.5 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe, which would rank 23rd nationally if NKU was able to be included in the rankings as a reclassifying institution.  Christine Roush continues to top the individual list, shooting 90.0 percent (63-for-70) from the line, while Lauren White is tied for third at 81.8 percent (72-for-88).

NKU lands second in 3-point field goals made per game with an average of 6.9.  The Norse have knocked down 200 treys this season, led by Kayla Thacker's 54 successful attempts.  Roush has gone 34-for-80 (.425) from behind the arc to rank second in the Atlantic Sun in 3-point shooting.

UP NEXT FOR THE WINNER:  The winner of the NKU/McNeese State will face the winner of No. 2 College of Charleston or No. 7 South Carolina Upstate on either Saturday or Sunday.  The Norse have only faced the College of Charleston once, with the Cougars defeating NKU, 72-70, in the first round of the WBI last season at The Bank of Kentucky Center.  The College of Charleston enters the tournament 17-14 overall with a 9-7 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association.

NKU owns a 4-0 advantage over USC Upstate, which is 17-14 overall and went 11-7 in the Atlantic Sun.  The Norse completed the season sweep of the Spartans with a 71-58 victory at The Bank of Kentucky Center on March 6 after handing USC Upstate a 76-60 loss in Spartanburg, S.C., to begin conference play on Jan. 2.

From NKUNorse.com