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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Vanderbilt coach takes trip down memory lane

The second she stepped foot  inside Gampel Pavilion, the memories all game rushing back into the mind of Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb.

It was 14 years ago when Balcomb was leading the Xavier program to heights it had never seen before and the Muskateers were on verge of the victories to top all victories.

It was in the second round of the 1999 NCAA tournament and Xavier was on the verge of taking down  top-seeded UConn much to the shock of the home crowd inside Gampel.

The Huskies were able to rally and advanced to the regionals on a pair of free throws with 7.9 seconds left by freshman and Ohio native Tamika Williams.

Balcomb, who has not been in Storrs since that day, couldn't help but reflect on a game that forever changed the complexion of her program.


"There are signature wins and signature losses and that was one of those obvious signature losses," Balcomb said. "I reflect back on it a lot. I didn't have to walk in the arena but that was the first thing  I thought of was that game and being in here. You see The Pavilion on TV all the time but it doesn't look like it looked to me here and probably the biggest thing I remember is how we were treated by the UConn fans. It is very similar now that I am (in) Tennessee in that they are great women's basketball fans period, they bleed UConn blue and all that great stuff but when we worked as hard as we did, played as well as we did and lost at the end and my point guard who missed the shots (Nikki Kramer) was on the ground crying on the floor and Shea Ralph picked her up and as we walked off, I looked up and people cheered for us and UConn fans cheered for us.

"As I walked in that is the last memory I had and that will always be in my mind, we had every opportunity to win that game and we lost it but we were appreciated by those fans and I got hundreds of emails from fans saying that was one of the best games ever played so it was a devastating moment for me, how I felt for that player and the program but also really rewarding afterwards to be appreciated by a fan base that appreciates quality women's basketball."

Two years later Xavier would finish what they started by knocking Tennessee out of the tournament.

"It put my program on the map and we lost. I had taken over a program that was not successful in the year before we went to the WNIT and this was our first year (in the NCAA)," Balcomb said. "We beat FIU and also we are on national TV beating UConn for most of the game and losing in the end. Everybody talked about us. We didn't become Cinderella but it put our team on the map. I don't know how else to explain it but it was a signature loss. We got attention, exposure and talked of in respectable places.

I had one senior (Kramer) and she was the one who missed the free throws and the rest were sophomores, that was their first NCAA tournament appearance and three years later when they were seniors was when we beat Tennessee in the Sweet 16. They were so hungry after that loss to revenge that loss against UConn. It didn't have to be against UConn but they wanted to beat a big-name team and felt like they should have won as sophomores and it gave them a level of confidence."


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