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Subject: It's no beauty pageant

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Date Posted: 03/21/05 5:32:44pm

MINNEAPOLIS -- They came into Williams Arena wearing green warm-ups, brushing the surprising snow from their jackets and out of their hair.

No one wore an evening gown. No one wore a tiara. No one wore a sash. There was no swimsuit competition.

But if you listen to Michigan State women's coach Joanne P. McCallie, Bert Parks should have been singing as the Spartans walked onto the court for Friday's practice. In McCallie's mind, the Spartans have been turned into a team of Miss Americas going into today's NCAA tournament game against Alcorn State.

All because Michigan State is seeded No. 1 in its region.

"It's superficial, it's for the media," McCallie said of the seeding. "It's a judging thing. They made us Miss America. The beauty pageant part of it is being judged, and that's OK. It's part of the process, but it doesn't translate into anything on the floor."

No, but it is a big step for a team that was seeded eighth or ninth in four of its previous five NCAA appearances, including each of the last two seasons.

"No, I don't feel like Miss America," Lindsay Bowen said, laughing. "Seedings don't mean anything. This doesn't feel any different than last year. It doesn't make anything easier. We have to treat every game the same. All of the 64 teams are tough teams, and you have to go out and beat them all."

In a sense, the Spartans were a surprising No. 1 seed because they have never advanced beyond the second round, and the selection committee often takes past performances into consideration when handing out seeds. Furthermore, MSU got the No. 1 seed in the Kansas City Regional instead of Stanford, the top-ranked team in the nation.

That's why McCallie compared the seeding system to a beauty pageant.

"It really does make a nice comparison for the media," McCallie said. "It puts it in perspective; it puts things into a box. These kids have accomplished a lot when you consider our RPI and our strength of schedule."

The RPI -- or Ratings Percentage Index -- takes schedule strength into account as it ranks teams. Michigan State is No. 4 under that formula.

The Spartans tied for the Big Ten regular-season title and captured their first Big Ten tournament championship.

But the players didn't seem too impressed by their accomplishments when they spoke the day before their tournament opener.

"We're not satisfied," said point guard Kristen Haynie. "We've had a successful season, but this is March, this is the tournament. This is when it all counts."

A big concern for McCallie is the way her team will respond to a 12-day layoff after winning the Big Ten title. The Spartans had a nine-day layoff before their first Big Ten tournament game and had to go into overtime to beat Illinois in the quarterfinals.

"I think what helped us a little bit was, heading into the Big Ten tournament, we had a break," McCallie said. "So we've already had this occur once, and I think we have learned from that experience. I've just noticed we have had a lot better practices. We won the Big Ten so you think things were all rosy, but I was pulling my hair out with this team. I didn't think we were ready."

The Spartans were a missed Illinois shot away from being eliminated early in that tournament, which would have meant no No. 1 seed.

"We weren't focused at all," said forward Liz Shimek. "But we are now. There are only six games left in the season."

If the Spartans (28-3) play six games, it means they will be in the national championship game in Indianapolis. But first they must get past Alcorn State (21-8), champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

McCallie said she had two game tapes of the Lady Braves, and that was enough to determine strengths and weaknesses.

"They're a very nice team with great leadership," McCallie said. "They have four seniors. They're very athletic, and they try to get you out of position because they're very athletic. They're very aggressive, and you really have to focus in on that."

But, after all, Alcorn State is only a No. 16 seed, which won't win many beauty pageants.

"You have to have the mantra: Respect all, fear none," McCallie said. "Everybody wants to do well; everyone wants to extend their season."

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