Texas Tech Lady Raiders
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REGION: Mideast SEED: 4
COACH: Marsha Sharp CONFERENCE: Big 12
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
After injuries and Jia Perkins' medical leave, the team-leader role has gone to sophomore point guard Erin Grant, a tenacious battler and good floor general who's trying to become a more consistent scorer. Freshman big guard Alesha Robertson is a natural-born scorer if there was one, but she's been heavily keyed on. Natalie Ritchie is still a 3-point threat. LaToya Davis had some strong games inside offensively and got help defensively from senior Jolee Ayers-Curry. With Chesley Dabbs and Casey Jackson providing athleticism and good boardwork, Tech managed to go 10-6 in the league. This team is still a tough out in the tournament, but it's hard for Tech fans not to be a little wistful about what might have been with Perkins and Cisti Greenwalt (broken ankle) in action.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
Some freshmen contribute from the moment they step on campus. And then some, like Robertson, can't wait until they get a chance to step into the spotlight. So after Tech's incumbent star, Jia Perkins, left the team for undisclosed medical reasons in mid-January, Robertson responded. After always dreaming of playing -- and starring -- for Texas Tech, Robertson fulfilled her vision, leading the Lady Raiders in scoring with a 12.1 average during the regular season, despite averaging just 23 minutes. The 6-foot guard also tallies just less than four rebounds while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
The misfortune for Marsha Sharp this season is gleaming. After becoming the first program since the inception of the Big 12 to earn a No. 1 ranking (in early January), the team faced some tough news. Jia Perkins, Texas Tech's leading scorer and proven senior leader, would be sidelined for the remainder of the season for undisclosed medical reasons.
Prior to her departure, she was the leading scorer in nine of 16 games. It's tough for a team to lose any player, but when it's the leading go-to, just imagine how team morale might be shaken. Fortunately for Tech players, Hall of Fame coach in Marsha Sharp reacted in the classy fashion we expect and rallied her team.
After one poor swing of luck falls your way, you certainly don't expect another, but that's exactly what happened. Junior center Cisti Greenwalt, who had been averaging eight points and six rebounds for the Lady Raiders, suffered a fractured right ankle against Missouri on Feb. 17.
Greenwalt, a big who eventually worked her way into a starting spot, is a wired scorer and feisty defender. Before the injury, she became Tech's all-time leading shot-blocker, accumulating 195 blocks over her career. Indeed, tough shoes to fill.
From a positive standpoint, when players are sidelined, other players come alive. And again, that's precisely what happened with Texas Tech. In their favor, prior to both Perkins' and Greenwalt's exodus, Sharp & Co. were generously spreading the minutes among their athletes, so it wasn't too shocking when a freshman took over the scoring reins.
Albeit a rookie, 6-foot guard Alesha Roberston is the new go-to. Roberston, like Perkins, likes to slash and pop for the mid-range sweet-spot jumper. Most important is the fact she wants the ball in her hands when the game is on the line; this shows great promise for the Lady Raider program.
Erin Grant is the player who holds it all together -- quite simply, she's known as "the boss." She has picturesque passing skills and is one of the huge reasons that Texas Tech basketball has punch.
Tech will need her leadership and passing, but the Lady Raiders will also need her to chip in eight to 12 points, especially since many teams have decided to play off her defensively because of her preference to pass the ball. Grant's scoring game has elevated through conference play, which is a big plus for Texas Tech.
Ultimately, Texas Tech needs balanced contributions from all willing and able bodies. The Lady Raiders' tightfisted defense and rebounding this season have been impressive, and must continue, especially against rivals who possess strong offensive capacity. Their biggest challenge nonetheless, will be once again battling through the adversity that has afflicted the program all season. If they can persevere through the mishaps, they can compete with anyone.