March 23, 2009

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - David Letterman hasn't called. Not yet anyway.

If upstart Ball State keeps winning, it's most famous gap-toothed alum just might.

The 12th-seeded Cardinals (26-8) woke up Monday to find themselves the story of the opening weekend of the tournament after knocking off two-time defending champion Tennessee in the first round.

The giddy celebration gave way to a mostly sleepless night of congratulatory e-mails, texts and phone calls and a seemingly endless loop of "SportsCenter" highlights.

"It's a shame we can't live in the moment a little longer," said bleary-eyed coach Kelly Packard. "But our work is not done."

Not by a long shot for this long shot.

Ball State faces fourth-seeded Iowa State (25-8) in the second round of the Berkeley Regional on Tuesday in a matchup that few outside the Cardinals' locker room predicted.

"We went from everyone thought that we'd have to compete against the queen, now we've got to beat Cinderella," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly.

The Cardinals certainly didn't look like postseason newcomers Sunday night as they emphatically ended Tennessee's 27-year run through the first weekend of the tournament.

Ball State controlled the second half, pulling away from the Lady Vols behind the speed of guards Porchia Green and Kiley Jarrett and the kind of poise teams with exactly zero NCAA tournament wins aren't supposed to have against a women's basketball dynasty.

"I think they have the leadership, the talent," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "I think they have the toughness and the competitiveness."

It's heady territory for a program that has just 11 winning seasons in its history and spent long stretches of the last 34 years as one of the worst teams in the Mid-American Conference.

Finding sustained success hasn't been easy. Tracy Roller led the Cardinals to three 20-win seasons in seven years before abruptly leaving the program 10 games into last season.

Packard took over last May after spending a few years in women's professional basketball. Her hopes were modest. She admits thinking in November that with a little luck, she might be able to coax the Cardinals to 20 victories.

Her quickly maturing club has given her much more than that.

Ball State enters Tuesday night's game among the hottest teams in the country, winning 12 straight games and its first MAC tournament title over the last six weeks.

And that confidence is impossible to miss.

Green, who scored a game-high 23 points against the Lady Vols, and a teammate have put together a Youtube-worthy copy of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" dance.

Television cameras caught the Cardinals getting down moments before tip-off in the biggest game in school history. Expect an encore Tuesday.

"That's become our little tradition," Green said with a laugh.

The Cyclones, however, have a tradition of their own. Iowa State has became a perennial NCAA team under Fennelly, though making it to the second weekend of the tournament has been difficult the last few seasons.

Iowa State has lost in the second round in each of the past two years and hasn't advanced to the regional semifinals since 2001. Both of those losses came against teams with a national presence - Georgia and Rutgers.

Now the Cyclones find themselves in an unfamiliar role: the favorite and potential villain in one of the feel-good stories of the tournament.

What matters to Iowa State is playing next weekend. For a senior class that's won 90 games over the last four years, it's time to take the next step.

"I don't think there's any more or less pressure," forward Nicky Wieben said. "There is always pressure when you get this late in the tournament. Ball State is a great team."

The upset didn't surprise Fennelly, who spent seven seasons at Toledo and polished his resume by dominating the Cardinals. He went 14-1 against Ball State during his tenure, though the only resemblance between the program then and now is the uniforms.

"That game last night was not a fluke," Fennelly said. "That team played very, very well and did all the things you expect a good team to do this time of year."

That's why Fennelly had plenty of videotape on the Cardinals at the ready, even though opponents were 0-for-forever against Tennessee in the tournament's opening weekend.

"It was a late night, but it's fun to work late this time of year," he said.

The Cyclones and Cardinals both agree on that.