HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Community College women's basketball coach Larry Slater has uncomplicated advice for his team as it prepares for Tuesday's first-round game in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I tournament at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan.
"No matter what, enjoy the experience. It's a unique experience and a wonderful opportunity for them to play in front of anywhere from probably 100 to 250 college scouts," said Slater, who's coaching the Lady Lions in his third NJCAA tournament. "You are going to have legendary women's coaches there like Van Chancellor (LSU) and Andy Landers (Georgia) and the opportunity to play against girls they are going to see on TV down the road."
No. 15 seed Wallace State plays No. 2 Vincennes Tuesday at 2 p.m. All tournament games can be watched via NJCAA TV at www.njcaa.org/tv or at psblive.com.
Wallace State (21-7) advanced to the 16-team NJCAA Division I championship after an impressive march in the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) Region 22 tournament from Feb. 27-March 2. The third-seeded Lady Lions won four games in four days, culminating with a 73-63 victory over top-seeded Chattahoochee Valley Community College on March 2. It marked the program's first state title since the 2002-03 season, the sixth all-time and vindicated a 6-4 regular-season conference record.
Wallace State's smothering defense was the catalyst behind the state crown as the team yielded an average of only 55 points per game. Offensively, sophomore point guard Bailee Robinson averaged 15 points per game, overcoming a mild concussion in the quarterfinal round to claim Tournament MVP honors.
"It was an awesome tournament for us and said a lot about the character of this team. We had our share of injuries and misfortunes and basically what happened was everyone stepped up when they had to. That's very unique in itself," Slater said. "We lost a starter (Nisha Walker) who was our second leading-rebounder and scorer, and then we lost our first post player off the bench. The bottom line is this bunch stepped up and got it done."
While Wallace State is making its third NJCAA tournament appearance, Vincennes is making its ninth trip to the event since 1993. Vincennes is paced by forward Jasmine McGhee, who averages 16.8 points per game and 9.6 rebounds.
Robinson is Wallace State's leading scorer, pouring in an average of 14.2 points per game. She is also the team leader in six more categories, including assists (73) and steals (53).
Forward Natalie Kelley is adding an average of 8.2 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Lady Lions.
Wallace State's women's basketball is the college's fourth different program to win a state championship and make a national tournament appearance during the last two academic years.
"Obviously our goal is to win the championship every year. We certainly feel that we've failed on occasions when we should have won it and didn't," Slater said. "That's what makes this year's group so special. We are not going to give up. There is no team who is going to intimidate us or keep us from playing hard for 40 minutes."
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.