Musketeers’ Phillips and Harris display big time tourney talent


The Musketeers’ pair were too much for SDSU to handle.

It seemed there was more stacked against SDSU than just Xavier’s 13-foot tall, WNBA-quality front court.

Never mind that no 15-seed has upset a two-seed in the NCAA tournament, or that Xavier was playing on their home floor in front of over 4,000 fans, or that the Musketeers were favored by 25 points.

The fact is, Xavier post players Amber Harris and Ta’Shia Phillips are that good.

So good that Kristin Rotert, Macie Michelson and head coach Aaron Johnston could not equivocate the skill of the Musketeers’ All-American tandem of the 6-6 Phillps and 6-5 Harris.

That is, except for the male practice players they played against all season.

“For the most part, they are exact replicas of what their post players look like,” Rotert said about SDSU’s voluntary male practice players. “It’s hard to out-jump somebody who is that athletic.”

Even some Division II men’s teams lack a front-court of that size.

For a women’s team? Impressive.

No wonder they combined for 43 points, 27 rebounds and five blocks.

Even then, SDSU gave themselves a chance. With three minutes left in the first half, the Jacks trailed by two and seemed to jostle Xavier’s comfort level. But the Musketeers finished the half on a 7-0 run, running to the locker rooms with a nine-point lead and all the momentum.

“It’s not a team you’re just going to be able to get out on immediately,” said Phillips, whose 12 rebounds served to help Xavier’s plus-19 margin on the glass and solicited her head coach, Kevin McGuff, to proclaim:

“If there is a better rebounding post player in the country I would like to see her – I am biased but, she has to be the best one out there.”

Actually, McGuff has every right to proclaim Phillips the best rebounder in the country. At 12.5 rebounds a game, she leads the nation.

Not that SDSU’s 11-1 record their previous 12 games looked mediocre, but the Musketeers entered on a winning streak of their own, reeling off 18-straight wins after their only two losses of the year against Duke and Stanford. Those two teams finished the year a combined 62-5, considered by many as final four contenders.

Harris and Phillips give Xavier – who entered the tournament ranked 5th in the national polls – as much a chance as any in the tournament.

“The whole team plays hard, but Phillips just doesn’t take plays off,” said SDSU head coach Aaron Johnston. “People can talk about ‘well she’s tall, she’s strong she’s this, she’s that,’ but I think she’d be a good player if she was 5-10. She plays hard on every possession.”

The numbers for the Jacks are just as telling of the physical impact the All-American Xavier front court imposes. Post players Jennie Sunnarborg and Katie Lingle combined for 11 points, five rebounds and nine fouls. They entered averaging 19 points and nine rebounds collectively.

As good as the Jacks have recently been, Xavier entered the tournament for the fifth season in a row, earning a spot as mid-major elite.

“If we play like we did tonight against any team in our league we’d probably be successful, we’d probably win,” said Rotert. “But this is a top five team in the country, they’re going to go far and make a great tournament run.”