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Bowling Green cherishes underdog role

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- When Ali Mann arrived at Bowling
Green four years ago, few knew much about her or the women's
basketball team.

Since then, the Falcons have dominated the Mid-American
Conference and embraced the spoiler role in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's nice to be the underdog again,'' said Mann, who helped
Bowling Green become the first MAC women's team to reach the round
of 16. "We know we're going to be the underdog the rest of the
way.''

The Falcons (31-3) knocked off second-seeded Vanderbilt on Tuesday
and play No. 3 seed Arizona State on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET) in the Greensboro
Regional.

They understand how much their tournament run means to all of
the other mid-major conferences.

"We're proving that the mid-majors are just as good,'' said
senior Amber Flynn, who scored 19 against Vanderbilt. "It's
something we talk about.''

Falcons coach Curt Miller hopes that this year's success will
lead to more than one tournament bid for the MAC and better seeds
in the future.

"I'm excited that this program can be a bench mark for the
conference,'' Miller said. "I'm not the only good coach in the
league. There's 12 good coaches in this league.''

There are some pretty good players, too.

Mann called the tournament victories over Oklahoma State and
Vanderbilt "a tribute to the amount of talent that gets
overlooked.''

She's among that group.

Mann didn't have many options coming out of high school in
Chelsea, Mich. Bowling Green was the only school showing interest.

"I just ended up here because there was a scholarship,'' she
said. "I didn't think I'd play much. I was just happy to be on the
team.''

She ended up winning the conference's freshman of the year
award, and this season was selected the MAC's co-player of the year
by averaging 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Bowling Green starts four seniors with three averaging more than
10 points. Junior Kate Achter is averaging 12.

No longer do the Falcons feel overlooked, Mann said.

"We used to feed off that my first two years here,'' she said.
"The last two years we've had a bull's eye on us in the
conference.''

Mann, the energetic leader of the team, has a knack for making
big shots. Her 3-pointer with 55 seconds left against Vanderbilt
propelled the Falcons into the Sweet 16. Her coach called it "the
biggest shot in MAC history.''

It had been a decade since a MAC team won an NCAA Tournament
game.

The Falcons have made it a season of firsts.

They're the first conference team to reach 30 wins, and Miller
became the first to earn the MAC coach of the year award in three
straight seasons.

Miller beefed up this season's schedule after consecutive
opening-round losses in the NCAA tournament, adding non-conference
games against Duke, Temple, Indiana and Notre Dame.

The games against teams from the power conferences helped
improve the Falcons' RPI rating and get them ready for the
tournament.

"That has a lot to do with our success,'' Mann said. "We know
we're a good team.''