Women hosting Midwest regional

Moments after the Northern Kentucky University Women’s Basketball team walked off the court from its first-ever game in the Bank of Kentucky Center on Nov. 8, 2008, the Norse officially christened the team’s new home.
Subsequent to falling to the University of Louisville 90-73 in the exhibition outing, the NKU women’s hoops team lifted their 2007-2008 NCAA Division II Basketball National Championship banner into the rafters of the athletics palace, suspending the priceless memento all-so-fittingly into the company of the 2000′ National Championship banner.
More than four months removed from the inaugural game, the Norse will bring something slightly different to showcase in their next contest at the BOKC, the likes of which most current NKU students have never witnessed first-hand ‘- March Madness.
The Norse traveled to Quincy, Ill., to participate in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament March 6-8 and set out on the trip as the GLVC East Division’s No. 1 seed. After posting three convincing wins in as many days, over tough conference rivals ‘- Bellarmine, Lewis and GLVC overall No.1 seed and tournament host Quincy, respectively ‘- NKU returned with its 10th GLVC crown and the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region; an honor accompanied with regional tournament hosting rights.
The Norse (28-2) will take to their home court for the first round of tournament play March 13 and will be paired against No. 8 seed Grand Valley State University (20-9) ‘- a team only three years removed from a national championship of its own (2006); a team NKU has seen quite a few times before.
The two teams have crossed paths 11 times to date, and the Norse own a 5-6 lead in the all-time series. Conversely, the Lakers have claimed the past three meetings, dating back to their championship run in 2006.
Last season, NKU traveled to Allendale, Mich., for a regular season game with GVSU Dec. 29, 2007, and the Lakers won the contest 66-55 after rallying from 40-31 defacit with a 12-1 run late in the second half. Turnovers proved to be the culprit in the teams 2006-07 meeting. The Norse commited 23 turnovers and GVSU scored 24 points off turnovers as they breezed by NKU 74-58 in the Travel America Classic Dec. 19, 2006 in Regents Hall. The regional round of the 2006 NCAA tournament ‘-‘ hosted in Springfield, MO. ‘- provided the setting for the 2005-06 meeting. The Lakers routed the Norse 91-70 and advanced to the Elite Eight round and went on to win the tournament,’ after handing NKU one of its most lopsided losses in three seasons. ‘ The Norse have only been beaten by more than twenty points on one occasion in the 95 games following the loss to GVSU ‘- Missouri S&T defeated NKU 66-42 on Jan. 25, 2008.
Quite a bit has changed around the Highland Heights campus since the aforementioned contests. Nowadays, the Norse boast the title of defending national champs and the big-game experience that comes with it.
Moreover, as a team through the 2008-09 season, NKU has tabbed a .454 shooting percentage and is outscoring its opponents by more than 14 points per game.
Of course there’s been some additions to the Norse roster as well, such as the arrival of former Morehead State University’ forward’ Brandi Rayburn, who to this point in the season has proven to be the perfect complement to her fellow former-Division I counterpart and standout senior guard Jessie Slack.
Rayburn, a junior forward who played two years with the Eagles before joining NKU, is averaging 10.9 points and 7.1 rebounds a game this season. Slack, an East Carolina University transfer who played a significant role in the Norse’s 2008 championship run, is averaging 17.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and has dished out 85 assists and collected 55 steals.
GVSU has seen a couple personnel changes of their own, namely the departure of Crystal Zick and Erin Cyplik, who combined to average more than 30 points per game in the teams last three meetings. Conversely, the Lakers’ will still feature Kim Wyngaard, who poured 20 point on the Norse in the 2007 matchup.
Then again, the Norse do have the element of home court advantage on their side and the last time NKU hosted the regional round of the tournament (2000) ‘- they won it all.