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Proud of the Lady Hawks: Lehigh 49, Auburn 85

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Mingora of the Allentown Morning Call)

When I went to Storrs, Connecticut in 1997 to watch a Lehigh team go up against women's basketball royalty, I saw a 70-point blowout win that was not in doubt at any moment - and, to top it off, some UConn fan backed into my car and took out one of my headlights, making it a very dark drive home from Gampel Pavillion.

While the scoreboard in this one also didn't give the Lady Hawks their first NCAA tournament victory this Saturday, rest assured that this team was very, very different than that hopelessly overmatched one in 1997.

Michael Blouse of the Easton Express-Times said that the difference between Lehigh and Auburn was size, strength and speed, and also saw the Lehigh women's basketball team heap praise Auburn G DeWanna Bonner, calling her "by far the best player they've seen this year." Reading those articles and the Auburn reaction, you'd think that this was over after the opening tip.

But if you were there or watched the game, you'd think differently. The scoreboard read Auburn 85, Lehigh 49, but Lehigh fought hard and represented the Brown & White with honor in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

My (hopefully) entertaining live blog of the game gives more of a blow-by-blow of the game and the atmosphere in the arena, as there is another perspective as well from the Blouse's sort-of live blog as well. But in the wake of the first-round exit, three exploits on the court stood out to me.

1. In the first half, senior G Tricia Smith fell to the floor, scrambling for a loose ball that ended up getting passed out of bounds. It was the type of pure hustle play that really demonstrated the Lady Hawks' perserverance in front of future WNBA-er G DeWanna Bonner and the rest of the Auburn Tigers.

2. Freshman F Emily Gratch, in the picture, going up against Bonner and Auburn's towers under the basket, trying to draw contact and connecting with a layup. They were big and they were athletic, but Lehigh didn't back down. (Just as senior F Claire Sullivan said in the pregame press conference, as reported by Auburn Insider.)

3. Sophomore G Erica Prosser, making a fantastic move to steal the ball away and then went right up against Auburn C KeKe Carrier, drawing the foul and going to the line. Then, on the next series, she calmly drained a 3-pointer, showing that she fears nobody and that she's the type of player that a team can depend on for great things. After that exchange, Auburn head coach Nell Fortner quietly put Bonner and the starters back into the game, sensing that Lehigh had a shot to get back in this thing early in the second half.

*****

To Auburn's credit, they clamped down on Lehigh's Cinderella chances with 9:11 to play, leaving Lehigh scoreless the rest of the way. But Lehigh still had a puncher's chance to get back into it at that time, with a raucous pro-Lehigh crowd and even a Rutgers fan or two holding up brown and white “”Go Lehigh” signs.

In 1997, hope never even entered Gampel Pavillion. But midway through the second half on Saturday, hope was still in that arena. No doubt about it.

In 1997, Lehigh had a women's basketball team without athletic scholarships who - against all odds- pulled an upset, beat "that school in Easton" for the Patriot League title and autobid, and were very much just happy to be on the same court as UConn. In 2009, Lehigh has a scholarship women's basketball team that won the regular season title, put three impressive wins together in the Patriot League tournament, and never gave up against Auburn.

That's a huge change in Mountain Hawk women's basketball, thanks to the efforts of Lehigh head women's basketball coach Sue Troyan, the hard-working efforts of all the Lady Hawks, which have allowed Lehigh to dream of a return NCAA appearance next year (from Andre Williams' wrapup from the Allentown Morning Call). (Worth seeing, too, is the postgame press conference and game highlight from Lehighsports.com's wrapup of the game.)

Congratulations to the 2009 Lady Hawks. There is a Nation of Lehigh fans that are awfully proud of you.

[UPDATE: In the "Things you don't have to worry about Lehigh women's basketball players saying in press conferences" department, this from Rebecca Lobo's ESPN blog just bears repeating:

Before the SEC championship game, [Auburn G Whitney] Boddie told [Rebecca Lobo], "It's exciting to see everything coming to fruition. Fruition -- that's Nell's word. I don't really know what it means."

Like Ms. Boddie, sometimes words fail me. But I'm pretty sure that Lehigh's players all know what it means.]

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