Allen Blumstein | Contributing Writer
When the clock strikes noon this Saturday, Feb. 18, the FIU women’s basketball team will battle it out against the No.1 ranked team in Conference USA, the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders at Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami, FL.
The last time the Lady Raiders walked into the Panthers’ home turf, they left with shattered hearts, losing 56-54 in an OT thriller.
Middle Tennessee is not a team to be taken lightly. They hold a 20-4 overall record and less than a month ago were voted into the nation’s top 25 team ranking, coming in at No.23.
In Boldyreva’s first meeting with the Panthers as a freshman, she posted 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. She’s a mismatch against an FIU team whose tallest player is 6-3 center Hope Butera. This matchup will prove to be important, as any hope of winning will have to start by slowing down Boldyreva.
Wheeler needs no further introduction. Coming off a 37-point performance against Western Kentucky, she is lethal to any defense with her solid 3-point shooting and ability to get to the free-throw line.
As for the middle-of-the-pack Panthers, who are 12-12 and coming off a 2-game skid, there is a sense of urgency enveloping this team.
The team’s leading scorer, senior guard Kaliah Henderson, has yet to cross the 30-point threshold in her college career but came closer than ever in her last two games, posting 28 and 27. She averages 15.6 points per game, providing that consistent and steady flow of offense the Panthers need night in and night out.
But it will take contributions across the board, especially from Butera, to come out on top.
For the Panthers, they’ll get a taste of the very best that C-USA has to offer. The Lady Raiders send shivers down their opponents’ spines but FIU should look no further than last year’s upset win at home against them for inspiration.
Middle Tennessee – which went on a 16-game win streak this season, kicking teams away like they were pebbles impeding the path to a championship – is a force to be reckoned with.
But there comes a time when all greats must fall and the question now is will the Panthers be the ones to take them down?
Watch the game live at 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN3.