Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Local women's basketball

International imports fast becoming factors at UC, XU

Click here to e-mail Colleen Kane
For Cincinnati guard Karen Twehues and Xavier forward Aida Sarajlija, everything is bigger and faster in the United States.

The food is mostly fast. All anybody wanted to eat when Sarajlija first got to Xavier was pizza.

The meals are even faster. Twehues is always the last one left at the table at Bearcats team dinners.

The cities are bigger. You don't need a car to get everywhere in Twehues' hometown of Minusio, Switzerland.

And the game they love, it's bigger here, too.

Xavier basketball player Aida Sarajlija
"Over there, it's not that serious," Twehues said. "People are not that dedicated to basketball. I play with people who go to work all day and then come to practice, so it's not that demanding. Here, we're student-athletes. Basketball is a big part of our lives. ... There are a lot of things to memorize and to know."

But luckily for their teams, Twehues and Sarajlija catch on fast and have managed to make some big contributions in their own ways.

Twehues, a 6-foot freshman, began to learn about American basketball when she came on an exchange program and stayed with her American father's family in Ohio. She played a year of high school and AAU basketball in Tipp City and was recruited by UC.

She had to miss the first 12 games this season because she had played on a club team in Switzerland that had a professional player on it, a violation of a new NCAA rule. But since, she has averaged 10.6 points a game, including 16.7 points in the last three games. In UC's loss to Houston Friday, Twehues became just the third UC player to total six 3-pointers in a game. And in Sunday's loss to TCU, she earned her first collegiate start.

UC basketball player Karen Twehues
"She almost improves every night because she's so passionate about the game and so passionate about her skills," UC coach Laurie Pirtle said. "I like teaching her, because I feel like we teach her this skill that's a little off that day, and she comes back the next day and she's flat-out got it."

Pirtle said Twehues needs to improve on protecting the ball and defense, things XU's Sarajlija also has worked on in her time here.

Sarajlija is on the opposite end of the stick as Twehues, beginning to think about life after college basketball, including the possibility of professional basketball in Europe.

The 6-1 senior from Zenica, Bosnia, has gotten comfortable in her four years here. She has made a "new family" at XU. And she has developed into an important bench player for the Musketeers, especially in their two wins last weekend.

Against Massachusetts Friday, Sarajlija added six points to an 18-0 second-half Xavier run. She finished with nine points and added eight points in a win over Rhode Island Sunday.

"Most of the time, I do feel it's a little refreshment for the team," Sarajlija said. "It's my last year. There's nothing to lose."

Her duties have increased this year as one of two seniors on the team.

"Her experience is valuable being able to be on the court and be a calming influence and help the younger players grow," Xavier coach Kevin McGuff said.

Sarajlija will try to bring that calming quality to a big Xavier weekend, when the Musketeers play at Dayton and face Duquesne.

UC travels to face Louisville Saturday, and Twehues could see her second start this season.

The week ahead

UC: at Louisville, 7 p.m. Saturday.

XU: at Dayton, 7 p.m. Friday; vs. Duquesne, 2 p.m. Sunday.

Miami: vs. Ohio, 2 p.m. Saturday.

Ohio State: at Michigan, 7 p.m. Thursday; vs. Indiana, 2 p.m. Sunday.

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