Friday, March 30, 2012

JMU in the WNIT: "Let's go out and win it all"

It's March 31 and James Madison is one of six NCAA teams still playing basketball.

"Unbelievable," said Dukes junior Nikki Newman. "Last year at this time we were doing postseason workouts."

James Madison (29-7) meets Oklahoma State (21-12) in the WNIT championship game at 3 p.m.  Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater. The Dukes have already made history in winning a school-record 29 games, and in this tournament alone have played their best ball of the season, defeating Wake Forest in OT, ousting Virginia in the quarterfinals, rallying to beat Syracuse in the semifinals ...

It's never been more fun to be a JMU basketball player, said Newman, whose 3 with 6.6 seconds left sent JMU's game with Wake Forest into overtime.

"That play wasn't even designed for me," she said. "I got the ball and time was ticking down and I'm thinking, 'We need a 3...' "

Newman said the Dukes watched the NCAA Selection Show together and quickly let the disappointment of  not making the field of 64 fade.

"It was definitely a bummer knowing we didn't get into the NCAAs," Newman said."But we didn't want our season to be over. We figured we'd get into the WNIT and that night we adopted the mindset of 'We're all in. Let's go out and win it all.' "

In the process they have become even bigger darlings in Harrisonburg, which has hosted all of the Dukes WNIT games. The pep band made the trip to Stillwater as did the parents of Newman, Tarik Hislop and Kirby Burkholder.

"The support we've had has been amazing," Newman said. "We had people in the upper sections.I've never played in front of crowds like that. It's been awesome being able to experience that."

 Like the rest of the Dukes, Newman is aware of the special circumstances surrounding Saturday's game for the Cowgirls. Oklahoma State coach Kurt Budke and his assistant Miranda Serna died in November when their plane went down in Arkansas when they were returning from a recruiting trip. The Cowgirls dedicated this season and this tournament to both of them.

"If Oklahoma State were playing any other team," Newman said, "I'd be rooting for them."

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