Roehrig rebounds could be difference vs. Baylor
INDIANAPOLIS -- Kristin Haynie had had enough. After her team's improbable yet impressive victory over Tennessee at the RCA Dome on Sunday, her teammate and roommate Kelli Roehrig got a little repetitious.
"We're playing in the national championship!" Roehrig, Michigan State's senior center, exclaimed once they had returned to their hotel room.
But after about the fifth time she said it, Haynie had to cut Roehrig off.
"Kristin told me she got it already," Roehrig said. "But I said it about 20 more times anyway. We were just really excited. We've been through so much together in the past four years and to finally be here, it's just so cool."
It is a wonderful thing to be vying for the national championship in your final collegiate game. It's also cool to be a part of history. The Spartans (33-3), who have won 17 consecutive games, are making their first appearance in a title game. Roehrig and Co. could become the first MSU women's team in any sport to win a national championship if they beat Baylor (33-2), a team they've never played before, on Tuesday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET).
And if they do so it would be on the same court that the MSU men's team won the 2000 NCAA title.
But to accomplish that goal, Roehrig, along with Liz Shimek, must first figure out a way to contain Baylor's Sophia Young and Steffanie Blackmon. In Sunday's game against LSU, Blackmon wasn't that effective on the boards, pulling down only one defensive rebound to go along with seven points. But Young picked up the slack by scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
"They're very good post players," Roehrig said when asked about the Young-Blackmon combo. "They work very well together -- as I think we work well together. It's going to be a great matchup. It should really be an interesting game in the frontcourt."
It could get real ugly, too, if Roehrig doesn't hit those boards more often. On Sunday, she had only three rebounds, four below her average. Overall, the Lady Vols won the battle of the boards 43-33.
When asked what Roehrig was going to have to do against Baylor, MSU coach Joanne P. McCallie summed it up in two words: "Get some."
"Our rebounding was horrendous against Tennessee," McCallie added. "Our team has already been informed of that fact this morning at film and it was very poor and that's unacceptable."
"Yes, she's right, that was unacceptable," said Roehrig, who averaged 7.3 rebounds this season. "We can't let that happen against Baylor. Too much is at stake. No, that can't happen again."
In fact, the Nebraska native was so upset about the rebounding differential that she lit into her teammates during the half.
"You'd probably be surprised to know that Kelli can get really mad because she's always so happy and so loose and so upbeat," Haynie said. "But she can get intense when she needs to. She let us have it Sunday night."
Added Spartans guard Lindsay Bowen: "She told us we weren't playing Michigan State basketball. She doesn't get mad often, but when she does people listen to her."
If the Lady Bears have their way, Roehrig, whom Baylor forward Abiola Wabara refers to as "the big, dangerous girl," won't see any vast improvement in her rebound stats on Tuesday.
"I think it's going to be pretty tough, but we're just going to try and do our best and block her out, keep her off the boards and as much as possible, keep her off the block," added Young.
But according to Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson, the 6-foot-4 Roehrig isn't MSU's only threat inside. There's also Shimek.
"Let's just talk about both of them," Mulkey-Robertson said. "Big body, we saw it against the Minnesota team. Just strong, never gets rattled. If you scout those players you don't leave a gym and go, 'Wow, they leap out of the gym. They get up there and I think hang on the rim.' But you leave a gym and go, 'I would like to have players like that on my team.' They know how to win and they know what to do to win."
Winning is all that Roehrig can think about right now. She can't envision what she'll do beyond Tuesday night or even discuss how it feels to be closing out this chapter in her life -- win or lose.
"I don't want to talk about feelings now," she said. "That's in the future. Right now we have the opportunity to be national champions and that's what I'm feeling. It just feels so great to be here. It hasn't even hit me yet. This is something we've been saying from Day 1 that we wanted to achieve. So we just need to go out and win this thing and then maybe I can tell you how I feel."
Miki Turner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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