By Mike Talbert
Two former Tupelo Lady Wave players have taken very different paths to their first appearance in the Women’s NCAA Tournament today.
One, guard Sonia White, is wrapping up a four-year career with a flourish at Austin Peay (21-7), which is playing at Clemson (22-7), the third seed of the Midwest Regional, at 6:20 p.m. This is not only her first NCAA appearance, it is the first NCAA appearance for the 14th-seeded Lady Governors.
“I’m very happy being here, but we wanted more than to just get here; we want to win some games here,” White said. Her team goes into the game with a school record 12-game winning streak.
Center Tamika Whitmore, on the other hand, is a freshman who is just giving her Memphis Lady Tigers a taste of her potential. She is averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds while playing only 17 minutes per game.
Her Lady Tigers (20-10) open the East Region at 5 p.m. today against Ohio State (20-10).
White, 5-5, and Whitmore, 6-2, never played on the same Lady Wave team, but both were Daily Journal All Area players, White in 1992. Whitmore was the Daily Journal girls player of the year last season.
Memphis coach Joye Lee-McNelis said that Whitmore, who was one of the top female players in Mississippi last year, has the most raw talent on the team and is one of the strongest players.
Whitmore’s role is primarily that of a sixth player. She most recently in the Conference USA championship pulled in 13 rebounds and scored 16 points in a 93-87 overtime win over DePaul to clinch the NCAA bid. She was named to the Conference USA all-freshman team.
White has been a four-year starter, but this year the Lady Governors’ team captain came into her own.
She leads the team in assists with 82, but she has taken on more of a scoring role. It is the role she had as a senior at THS in 1991-92 when she averaged 27 points and eight assists.
She is averaging 11.5 points and 3.7 rebounds, and is the top free throw shooter with an 82.4 percentage. She had 28 and 21 points in the Lady Governors’ last two regular season games to earn the top seed in the OVC tournament.
“She is the player who needed to step up and take the team on her shoulders,” Austin Peay spokesman Chris Belvin said.
White said this has been a great season for her, though it didn’t start that way. But a three-point loss to Morehead State seemed to turn things around.
“We knew we should have won that game. That was a wake-up call. We decided to come back and play. That is when our 12-game streak started,” she said.
During that streak they beat Middle Tennessee State twice, ending a 41-game domination of the series by MTSU.
“Clemson is a good defensive team with good post play. We are going to be underdogs,” White said.”I like being the underdog. We will have to play hard, but we can do it. We have surprised people all year.”