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Tulane Women's Basketball To Open C-USA Play Thursday Against SMU

Green Wave puts preseason No. 1 ranking on the line when they tipoff against the Mustangs at 7 p.m. at Devlin

NEW ORLEANS – Prior to the start of the 2012-13 campaign, the Tulane University women's basketball team received high praise as the league coaches voted the Green Wave the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA regular-season crown. On Thursday night, the Wave will begin their journey to prove the prognostication accurate as Tulane will open league play against SMU at 7 p.m. in Devlin Fieldhouse.

A charter member of Conference USA dating back to the 1995-96 season, the Green Wave are 10-7 in league openers including a 5-4 record when beginning conference play at home. Tulane dropped its season opener a year ago, falling at Memphis 61-59 on Jan. 5, 2012, but won the last time it began C-USA play in New Orleans after defeating SMU 62-58 on Jan. 6, 2011.

"It's certainly a new season," Tulane head women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton said. "When you start conference play, every game counts and we really need to play well. SMU has a good team so this is going to be a big challenge to start off with.

"I think (preseason No. 1) gets teams' attention, but at this point it's anybody's conference championship. I don't think there's one team that's a lot better than another team. We've just got to go out and handle each game, and obviously the opener is important for us."

Thursday's game will be broadcast live on the radio on The Ticket, 106.1 FM, and both audio and video streaming are available on the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com to paid members of the All-Access Pass. In addition, live stats will be provided on-line for free via GameTracker.

Tulane enters Thursday's C-USA opener 11-2 on the year and riding the crest of a four-game winning streak after defeating North Texas 73-62 on Dec. 22, sweeping Eastern Michigan (71-65) and McNeese State (69-63) during the 17th Annual Tulane/DoubleTree Classic on Dec. 29-30, respectively, and downing Loyola 81-41 on Jan. 7

As a team, the Green Wave are averaging 69.5 points, 43.4 rebounds, 18.5 assists, 10.1 steals and 5.3 blocks per game. Redshirt-sophomore forward Whitney Bibbins leads the Tulane offense with 15.5 points per game while sophomore guard Danielle Blagg and senior guard Olivia Grayson follow with respective averages of 9.3 and 8.8. Sophomore forward Tiffany Dale paces the squad with 6.8 rebounds per game to go with a team-best 23 blocked shots, sophomore guard Jamie Kaplan headlines the squad with 58 assists, and Grayson spearheads the defense with 28 steals.

Tulane is connecting at a .413 clip from the field, hitting 330-of-799 shots from the floor, and 66-of-211 shots from beyond the 3-point arc (.313), while allowing opponents to shoot .379 overall (287-of-758) and .296 from 3-point land (60-of-203). Green Wave foes are averaging 59.2 points, 34.7 rebounds, 13.7 assists, 9.5 steals and 3.2 blocks so far in 2012-13.

"We've really developed," Stockton said of her team to date. "On offense, our execution is better. We've done a great job of that over this time. People are defining their roles a little better. People know what they do well and they're doing it well. I'm very happy with our rebounding. That is something that was a surprise for us. To be plus-six in the rebounding category says a lot about our guard play. I think our defense is coming around, too. We've just got to make sure that we continue to grow over the next 16 games."

SMU, meanwhile, comes to town 9-4 on the year and looking to build on the momentum of an 88-73 win over Harvard in the consolation game of the Surf 'N Slam Classic in San Diego on Dec. 30.

As a team, the Mustangs are averaging 68.8 points, 39.2 rebounds, 13.8 assists, 13.8 steals and 3.5 blocks per contest. Keena Mays, a transfer from Kansas who has played in the last five games, leads SMU with 24.6 points per game while Alisha Filmore and Akil Simpson follow with scoring averages of 12.7 and 9.9, respectively. Simpson paces the team with 7.5 rebounds per game, Filmore leads the club with 28 steals, Korina Baker headlines the squad with 49 assists and Mallory Singleton has a team-high nine blocked shots.

SMU is hitting 39.3 percent of its shots from the field, connecting on 308-of-784 attempts, including a 63-of-179 showing from beyond the 3-point line (.352) while allowing opponents to tally a 38.2 field goal percentage (283-of-740) with a 27.7 performance from 3-point land (53-of-191). Mustang foes are averaging 59.5 points, 40.2 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 7.3 steals and 4.2 blocks per game.

"Mays makes such a difference in their game," Stockton added. "She's an unbelievable scorer...she's really proven that she is for real. Her shooting percentages are good. She does it all. She's going to be a player that really changes how teams defend them. We've got to be ready to step up."

Thursday's game marks the 28th meeting between Tulane and SMU on the hardwood, and the Green Wave hold a 15-12 advantage in the all-time series. The Wave are 11-10 against the Mustangs under Stockton, including a 7-8 mark since the Mustangs joined Conference USA prior to the 2005-06 season.

The Tulane/SMU series dates back to Jan. 26, 1980, when the Green Wave won the first of three straight head-to-head meetings with a 72-62 decision in Dallas. The Green Wave are 9-4 against SMU when playing at home and have lost their last three head-to-head matchups in New Orleans. The last time Tulane lost to SMU at home was back on Jan. 22, 2009, when the Mustangs came away with a 59-56 victory.

Last season, Tulane split a pair of regular-season games with SMU, defeating the Mustangs 75-63 on Feb. 5 at then-Fogelman Arena (now Devlin Fieldhouse) before falling 54-49 on Feb. 26 at Moody Coliseum.

For tickets Thursday's game, as well as future Green Wave events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The Ticket Office is located on the first floor of the Wilson Center on Ben Weiner Drive, and tickets can be purchased in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.

COACH STOCKTON'S COMMENTS HEADING INTO THURSDAY'S GAME AGAINST SMU

Opening statement

"It's certainly a new season. When you start conference play, every game counts and we really need to play well. SMU has a good team so this is going to be a big challenge to start off with."

On if being picked No. 1 in the C-USA Preseason Poll adds any additional pressure to her student-athletes

"I think it gets teams' attention, but at this point it's anybody's conference championship. I don't think there's one team that's a lot better than another team. We've just got to go out and handle each game, and obviously the opener is important for us."

On SMU adding the talents of Kansas transfer Keena Mays

"Mays makes such a difference in their game. She's an unbelievable scorer...she's really proven that she is for real. Her shooting percentages are good. She does it all. She's going to be a player that really changes how teams defend them. We've got to be ready to step up."

On how her team has come together over the first 13 games of the 2012-13 season

"We've really developed. On offense, our execution is better. We've done a great job of that over this time. People are defining their roles a little better. People know what they do well and they're doing it well. I'm very happy with our rebounding. That is something that was a surprise for us. To be plus-six in the rebounding category says a lot about our guard play. I think our defense is coming around, too. We've just got to make sure that we continue to grow over the next 16 games."

On if there is something that has surprised her both positively and negatively during the non-conference season

"There are always things that happen. We felt that we let two games that we were in the lead and in control of get away. That's always a disappointment, but when you're sitting here at 11-2 you can't be too critical. I think the emergence of Whitney Bibbins and what she has been able to do after sitting out a season and coming back has been very impressive. We've been pleasantly surprised with Whitney."

On if the routine of Thursday and Sunday games in C-USA play helps the team settle into a routine

"I definitely think a routine helps. It helps us as coaches and it also helps us as a team. Also, I think it helps to have some familiar opponents. We've certainly had some opponents that we didn't know a lot about. The team can get excited about playing people they know, and they know that every game counts."