Dynamic duo powers Florida against MWC tourney champs

Mark Pawlak

The ISU women’s basketball team relies heavily on the `Big Three’ of Angie Welle, Lindsey Wilson and Tracy Gahan to lead it to success.

Before BYU can think about facing the `Big Three’ or Temple, they must deal with a dynamic duo from Florida.

The sixth-seeded Lady Gators (18-10) will bring a potent inside-outside combination to Ames to face the eleventh-seeded Cougars (22-8) to start first round NCAA Tournament play Friday at 6:06 p.m. in Hilton Coliseum.

The BYU/Florida winner will face the Iowa State/Temple winner.

The Cougars’ fate in the contest will be determined on how they fare against Lady Gator standouts Vanessa Hayden and Brandi McCain.

Inside Florida relies on the play of Hayden, a 6-foot, 4-inch, first-team All-Southeastern conference center. Hayden is the team leader in scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounds (12.0 rpg). Nationally, she ranks first in blocked shots with 124 and is fourth in rebounding.

McCain, a 5’3″ point guard, mans the perimeter for the Lady Gators.

McCain averages 15.4 points and 5.0 assists per game. She can also shoot from the outside, leading Florida in three-pointers made (77) and three-point shooting percentage (33 percent).

McCain is not shy to put it up as she holds the NCAA tournament record for three-pointers attempted by shooting 26 in a second round loss to Washington last year.

“[McCain’s] been very solid for us in terms of running the club and in terms of scoring,” Florida head coach Carol Ross said. “Her most underrated area is her defensive ability.

“Of course you always want to complement good outside play with a big presence on the inside. Vanessa Hayden gives us a very strong inside presence on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.”

Ross has a good one-two punch, but knows that success hinges on a team effort.

“That’s big [having McCain and Hayden], but to be a five-on-five game we have to get everybody clicking,” she said.

Monique Cardenas and Courtney Cooper also contribute to Florida’s attack from their starting forward positions. Cardenas is an excellent defender and averages 10.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

Cooper adds 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

As the Mountain West Conference Tournament champions, BYU has a potent offense and three-point shooting attack for the Lady Gators to combat.

The Cougars rank third nationally in three-point shooting percentage (41 percent) and fifth in three-pointers made per game (8.3).

Erin Thorn leads BYU and is one of the nation’s top shooters from behind the arc, shooting 42 percent (97-231). Thorn is the team’s leading scorer with a 17.0 average and a first-team All-Mountain West selection.

“We have probably one of the best shooters in the country in Erin Thorn,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said.

The Cougars can do more than just shoot the ball from the outside.

“The thing that I’m so proud of the team this year is when that shot’s not going down, we attack the basket and we’ve gone inside,” Judkins said. “That’s where we have improved over the last month, not to just die on that three-point shot.”

Stacy Jensen teams with Thorn to give BYU a strong backcourt. Jensen is the team’s floor general and leads BYU with 4.4 assists per game.

Jennifer Leitner gives the Cougars a presence in the paint by being the team’s second leading scorer (12.1 ppg) and top rebounder (8.6 rpg).

“I think we’re probably playing as good as we’ve played all year right now. Part of it is things have just come together and we’re a lot more healthy than we were early in the year,” Judkins said.

Florida will have an advantage in athleticism and in the paint, yet, the game’s key match-up will be at the point guard position.

“Stacy Jensen is one of our best defenders and she’s our leader. She’s a captain. She’s played a lot of good players in her career and done really good with that,” Judkins said. “Florida’s point guard is their best player and she’s a senior, she’s been through a lot, too. I think both of them have their strengths. it will be a great matchup.”