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Manhattan to focus on MSU's Thomas

3/22/2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Mississippi State pep band had to
recruit some local talent for what it hopes will be an extended run
by the Lady Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament.

With LaToya Thomas in the lineup, the team has no such need.

The All-America forward is one of the best players in the
country and a big reason the Bulldogs (23-7) are the No. 3 seed in
the Midwest Regional.

She has led the SEC in scoring three straight seasons and
figures do it again with her 25.6 average this season.

"You're talking the two-time SEC player of the year that breaks
scoring records. A first or second-round WNBA pick,'' said
Manhattan coach Sal Buscaglia, whose Lady Jaspers (20-9) play the
Bulldogs in Saturday's first round. "I don't think you stop her.''

New Mexico (22-8) will play Miami (18-12) in the second game of
the first round Saturday.

With the Mississippi State men's and women's teams both in the
NCAA Tournament, the pep band had to split up. Some of the members
went with the men to the East Regional in Birmingham, the others
headed to Albuquerque.

Once here, the pep band decided it needed another drummer and
after some calls to some music stores, found local musician Matt
Remenar.

"It's going to be fun,'' the 19-year-old Remenar said Friday.
"They better keep winning.''

The Bulldogs will if Manhattan can't find a way to slow down
Thomas. She has scored 30 or more points eight times this season,
including a Preseason WNIT-record 42 against Tulsa.

"LaToya's just a blessing to work with,'' says Mississippi
State coach Sharon Fanning. "You can look at the honors that she's
accumulated, you can look at her statistics and you look at the
direction of our program. You can see the significant impact she's
had each day.''

Manhattan junior Rosalee Mason said the Lady Jaspers will all
have to help guard Thomas if the Lady Jaspers are to win an NCAA
Tournament game for the first time in school history.

"I'd be lying if I said we've played against a player like
that,'' Mason said. "She looks great on TV and on the court. But
it's exciting because we've been given the opportunity to take the
challenge on our head. We can either crumble or rise to it.''

New Mexico is in the tournament for only the third time and also
looking for its first win. The Lobos will have a huge homecourt
advantage, playing in The Pit before an expected and certainly
partisan sellout of 16,151.

The Lobos, playing before raucous crowds all season, were 15-1
at home. They beat Texas, the No. 2 seed in the West, and their
only loss was to Louisiana Tech, the fifth seed in the West.

"It's the aura of a Celine Dion concert and the chaos of a rock
concert,'' senior forward Chelsea Grear said Friday of what the
Hurricanes can expect. "It's a rocking party, whether it's good or
bad.''

Miami plays its home games in an arena that seats just more than
1,100. The biggest crowd it played in front of this season was
about 9,000 at Notre Dame. Still, Hurricanes coach Ferne Labati
can't wait to be part of the largest crowd ever for a game in the
first four rounds of the women's tournament.

"This is a great thing,'' Labati said. "This is a coach's
dream, a player's dream. This is what we wished for all these
years, to have people in the stands.''

The two winners Saturday meet in Monday's second round.