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.''
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press