Thursday, February 11, 2016

JMU, VCU, Tech top the LadySwish rankings

Apologies for how long it's taken us to rank the state's teams. We have a good idea of the top three, but we'd be lying if we said we were positive about 4 and 5. Share your thoughts with us if you disagree.

Courtesy of The Breeze
1. James Madison (16-5)

Our preseason No. 1 is back in the top spot during a season when Kenny Brooks continues to impress us by keeping the Dukes program at a certain level despite graduation and injuries. Remember, the Dukes are without Precious Hall, who most certainly would have been the CAA's preseason pick for Player of the Year, and Ashley Perez has been sidelined since mid-January with an ankle injury, significant considering the senior was averaging 15.3 ppg at the time. The Dukes are on a nine-game win streak and Jazmon Gwathmey is playing the kind of ball Brooks always promised us she was capable of, garnering her fourth conference player of the week honor this week. Gwathmey continues to shine from the perimeter -- she's made 41 treys this season compared to knocking down 42 in her first three years -- and we see nothing stopping her from collecting POY honors.

2. VCU (17-7)

Admittedly, we underestimated the Rams, who surprised us with a nonconference win over Arizona State and continue to do good things in an Atlantic 10 that continues to eat its own. Wins over Fordham, Dayton and St. Bonaventure are noteworthy as is a four-point loss against a Duquesne team that is 22-2 (yet can't seem to grab the attention of anyone in the AP poll, but we digress . . .). The Rams might have joined George Washington, the lone A-10 team to knock off the Dukes, but a 7-of-14 effort at the line and giving up nine 3s negated their plus-nine rebounding advantage. Hoping VCU can make some noise in the A-10 tournament that's in their back yard. By the way, how good was that win over the Sun Devils? ASU has won 17 of its last 18 since.

3. Virginia Tech (15-8)

Three wins in the ACC certainly isn't what the Hokies wanted, but credit this group for breaking a string of 18 straight losses to Virginia last week, futility that dates back to 2007. With Pitt and North Carolina on tap, we're hoping the Hokies can build some momentum for the second half of the season.

4. Liberty (15-8)

Eight straight wins, Ashley Rininger is healthy again and the Lady Flames are back on track in the Big South. Kudos to Katelyn Adams, who earned her first Big South POW honor this week after back-to-back double doubles.

5. Virginia (13-11)

Five straight losses doesn't do much for the Cavs confidence. Virginia can't find an answer without Faith Randolph, out for a month a thumb injury and expect to miss 2-3 games more. If they can get her back, the Cavaliers can get back in the win column, but this isn't a year where they're going to be in the chase for the ACC.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A bunch of ODU greats and the elephant who's not in the room

Tia Lewis, Celeste Hill and Shakeva Richards
The Constant Center was full of names and faces from the past on Saturday afternoon, everyone from Anne Donovan, thrilled to be settled with "all my things in one place for a change" in Wilmington, N.C., to Allison Greene, former recruiting guru-ess who, these days, works for the Department of Defense, to Dr. Tish Lyons, now a second-year resident in Houston (she's already delivered more than 400 babies!)

It was great to see Nyree Roberts and Celeste Hill and always super cool to hug Shareese Grant and remind her of that CAA title with her name on  it (ask Tina Martin if you can't remember which one). Where you find Jen Nuzzo, there's Megan Pym, now a civil engineer in Newport News. Mom Kelly Bradley was in tow with Connor, the son she dotes on with glee, as was her former teammate Stacy Himes, easily the most stunning firefighter in Hampton Roads.

No Ticha -- a last-minute demand for the sports agent created a glitch -- but Jazz was there. The diminutive Walters admitted she spied the spot on the floor where she drained that marvelous 3 that sent ODU to the Sweet 16 -- the team's last NCAA tournament appearance all the way back in 2008.

Former Lady Monarch coaches, players, trainers and managers all congregated in the Constant Center to celebrate ODU becoming the fourth Division I program to reach the 1,000-win milestone, a feat achieved on Dec. 15 with a win over Howard. The first 1,000 fans in the doors for the afternoon's ODU/Florida International game received shirts to mark the occasion, many of them signed by the greats in the Big Blue Room afterward.

Allison Greene 
Introduced at halftime, one by one they trotted out -- the loudest applause reserved for Marianne Stanley, the architect behind ODU's three national championships, and retired athletic director Jim Jarrett, the visionary who saw the value of women's athletics long before many of his peers came to the same realization

As pleasant as it was, as many chapters of the ODU story that stood at midcourt on this day, the one missing piece was Wendy Larry, who as a player, assistant to Stanley and head coach for 24 years had a hand in 793 of those 1,000 wins.

793.

Larry hasn't set foot in the Constant Center since March 16, 2011 when the Lady Monarchs were beat in the first round of the WNIT. She did return to campus for her induction into the school's Hall of Fame last year where many of these same folks celebrated the moment with her. But her absence looms large on days like this, particularly for a program that has been unable to successfully tie its past with its present.

There is no animosity toward current coach Karen Barefoot, whose contagious enthusiasm is impossible not to admire. But those of us who remember haven't forgot. And an awful lot of players, assistant coaches and fans remember what happened when Wendy's contract was not renewed after a 20-11 season. It was a curt dismissal, a lack of appreciation for a coach who kept the Lady Monarchs nationally relevant even after the major conference supported women's basketball with budgets and resources ODU struggled to match.

Whether Wendy deserved to be let go or not has never been the sticky point; how the change in regime was handled continues to leave a sour taste, an uneasiness that prevents ODU past from getting too close to ODU present. Tennessee doesn't come to town anymore, the CAA logo has been replaced by Conference USA, and so much of what was doesn't relate to what is.

There is no Wendy Larry day at ODU. There is nothing with her name on it. Her name is almost whispered in the building, not shouted. Never cheered.

Make no mistake. Like the others, Wendy was invited, always is. Yet several of her confidants couldn't foresee her embracing what occupied 35 years of her life any time soon, if ever. The fence has never been properly mended.

Until it is, there will be an Old Dominion and a New Dominion, an elephant in the room every time the two get together in one place.

See more photos of ODU's alums on our new Instagram account





Sunday, January 17, 2016

No great "mid-major" WBB teams says AP. We disagree

GWU's Jones is projected to
be a top 5 WNBA pick.
So AP's Doug Feinberg asks, "Where have all the great mid-majors gone?"

Seriously?

First, we respect Feinberg, one of the few reporters dedicated to our sport, but we respectfully disagree with a number of his points.

We won't give a dissertation on our first point, as we've shared our sentiment before, but "mid-major" is a tiresome term that we'd like to abolish from women's basketball vernacular. Kenny Brooks, like a number of coaches, will tell you James Madison doesn't consider itself mid major, but allow us just a few words more as to why we abhor the term.

Mid-major implies there's a second tier of teams, an "everybody else" of women's basketball lumped together outside of the Power 5 conference. They are the Power 5 because of football; nobody grouped them as such having to do with anything related to women's basketball.

All the teams in the sport are playing the same sport, vying for the same trophy. But the NCAA committee and the media who vote in the poll rarely treat them as such.

Alabama, Wake Forest, Boston College, Pitt, Illinois -- are these teams better than, say, South Dakota State, James Madison, Duquesne, George Washington, Green Bay, Florida Gulf Coast or Gonzaga?

Feinberg bases much of his argument on the AP Top 25, a vehicle we have personal experience with that has busy writers covering the sport on Sunday and asked to submit a Top 25 by Sunday night. As much as we respect many of the folks who vote, we also see the tendency to stick with certain teams based on what they are projected to do later in the season rather than what they've done that week. That's why teams like Duke and Louisville and Tennessee tend to hang around in the poll despite four or five losses and teams like Duquesne and Green Bay and the Jackrabbits have a tough time breaking in.

"Majors" are excused for a night off. "Mid-majors" can't afford one.

Duquesne had won 15 straight prior to falling to GWU on Sunday afternoon (mid-major on mid-major crime). The Dukes were inching close to a national ranking and now aren't likely to get one.

No non-Power 5 team is in the national poll.

Princeton, with wins over Michigan and Marist, hasn't a prayer of reaching the Top 25 given it dropped its Ivy League opener to Penn.  One league loss in a so called "mid-major conference" is the dagger for a team trying to break into the poll, whereas "major" schools can stockpile hiccups and remain poll worthy.

This way of thinking generally spills over to the NCAA tournament. Princeton won all its games last season and should have been in a position to host, a reward for the top 16 seeds, but the committee slapped the Tigers with an 8 seed, meaning a date with Maryland  in College Park in the second round.

Chattanooga was 29-3 last year, with defeats of Stanford and Tennessee, and was given a 7 seed.

That brings us to the whole "growing the game" spiel that the NCAA spouts about women's basketball when, in fact, the powers that be prefer the game just the way it is, thank you. With the top 16 seeds hosting first and second rounds again, it's hard to see how a Gonzaga could ever host again, a shame for an elite program with ardent fan support (did we mention those Zags beat West Virginia this year?) If teams got a fair shake, we could even deal with this, but talk with Brooks at JMU or Jim Crowley at St. Bonaventure -- no "major" wants to play a home-and-home series with these folks.

No great mid-majors? We disagree. Jonquel Jones leads an impressive GWU team that should earn a national nod. South Dakota State, with wins over Arkansas (which just defeated Tennessee btw), Pitt and DePaul and an almost against Maryland, looks pretty good to us. The Bonnies have won their last 15 and VCU, which stunned Arizona State, is overachieving.

Make the field an even one -- pitting Power 5 teams vs non-Power 5 teams on a neutral court consistently -- and let's see what happens.

But the Power 5 has no incentive to do so. That's no excuse for writers to split teams into two tiers of haves and have-nots. Do that and the non-power five will be considered second class citizens despite playing first-class basketball.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hometown girl Timmons good from 45 feet for ODU win at buzzer




She made her mother cry. And her sister. And her brother.

That’s what happens when the hometown girl comes home, jacks up a 45-footer just before the buzzer of a tie game, and bingo!

Old Dominion 61, Middle Tennessee 58.

“I realized I only had two seconds; I practice that shot in practice, so I thought, ‘Why not go for it?’ “ said Timmons, whose gamewinner came in front of roughly 30 folks from her home, Columbia, Tenn., a 45-minute drive from Murfreesboro. “When I shot it, I felt like it would go in, and when it went in, it was a really good moment for me.”

Even when the refs checked to ensure Timmons launched the shot in time, the point guard knew the game was in the bag.

“I was watching the clock the whole time,” said Timmons, who finished with 5 points.

With ODU up one and the clock at 6 seconds, Blue Raider Alex Johnson connected on her first free throw but missed her second. Keyana Brown collected the rebound, handed it off to Ashley Jackson who passed to Timmons. The freshman had the poise to take three dribbles before sending it flying in front of the Lady Monarchs bench.

Dagger. It was only Middle Tennessee's sixth conference loss at home in 11 years.

The moment turned surreal after that; Timmons doesn't even remember who lifted her to celebrate.

"Really proud parent moment," said Timmons, whose mom, Vivian, bleeds blue on Twitter and was all tears when she hugged her daughter.

It's only Timmons' eighth 3 of the season, but half-court shots are part of ODU regimen, and "yesterday in shoot-around, I hit the first one I shot," she said.

"Everybody was there. My immediate family, people from church . . . "

They got to see one of the biggest shots in the Karen Barefoot era (makes us harken back to the Virgin Islands for KB's first-ever ODU win behind Becca Allison's jumper from the left elbow at 1.2 seconds -- that was ODU 77, Alabama 76 . . . and don't forget Annika Hollopainen's contested 3 vs. Louisiana Tech last February, also at the buzzer for ODU 72, La Tech 71).

But sheer distance? Big moment? Mover over Trey Freeman!


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Norfolk State's Amber Brown is awake

We know you're excited as we are to hear the news that Norfolk State's Amber Brown has come out of her coma.

A week ago the prognosis was grim for the Spartans reserve forward who spent nearly two weeks in a coma that initially was medically induced to stop seizures.

Her sister, Ebony, and mother, Coretta, continue to ask for prayers, as the road ahead is a daunting one. "But it's been so heartwarming to feel all the prayers," Ebony said. "We already feel we have our miracle."

Friday, January 8, 2016

Old Dominion building slowly...again


A lot of words accurately sum up Old Dominion's performance in Thursday's 18-point loss to Louisiana Tech. "Surprising" isn't one of them.

At least not to those familiar with the team's recent history of struggling at home during the first week of Conference USA play, - specifically in Game No. 2 of its league slate - throughout its brief C-USA stay. Consider what's gone down at the Constant Center in ODU's second conference game in each of its three C-USA seasons:

Jan. 11, 2014 - Tulane 92, Old Dominion 62

Jan. 8, 2015 - Marshall 69, Old Dominion 37

Jan. 7, 2016 - Louisiana Tech 69, Old Dominion 51

At this rate, kicking off conference play with a blowout loss at home will become as much an ODU tradition as "Ice Cream and Cake."

We're not exactly sure why the Lady Monarchs keep stumbling so badly out of the conference gate. But we do know that ODU has had three different starters from the previous season in each of these games, including three different point guards. Instead of building off the momentum of the previous year, Coach Karen Barefoot is annually reconstructing a rotation and guiding a host of different players into new/expanded roles.

Careful non-conference scheduling can mask some of the growing pains, to a degree. But conference play has exposed all.

The good news for Lady Monarchs fans is that in the past two years, ODU has eventually found its groove. The 2013-14 Lady Monarchs closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, then topped UTSA in the conference tournament before bowing to RPI Top 40 Southern Miss. ODU went on to evict Navy from the WNIT before being dismissed themselves in the second round at Auburn.

The same thing happened last year, as the Lady Monarchs went 6-2 from Feb. 22 through the conference tournament, with the only two losses coming to nationally ranked Western Kentucky. ODU then eliminated Virginia from the WNIT before suffering a second-round loss at Villanova.

Given this year's roster turnover, we weren't expecting these Lady Monarchs to play in November the way those Lady Monarchs performed in March. But we were hoping it wouldn't take until February to find consistent winning form against teams in the top half of the 344-team Division I field.

Thursday's result aside, there's still time.

The Lady Monarchs (5-9, 1-1 C-USA) will return to action Saturday at 4 p.m. against Southern Miss (8-5, 1-1) at the Constant Center. The Golden Eagles are coming off a butt-whipping of their own, an 80-59 loss at Charlotte. The result left Southern Miss 1-5 in road/neutral site games.

Old Dominion is 2-3 at the Constant Center this season.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Updated on Monday: Norfolk State's Amber Brown "awake for short periods of time"



Updated on Monday (Jan. 11): Here is our latest update on Norfolk State forward Amber Brown, who remains in Sentara Norfolk Heart Hospital. This comes from her sister, Ebony: "Amber is awake for short periods each day and responding to verbal commands. She is making remarkable progress daily. The family is asking for continuous prayers, for she is still fighting pneumonia and other infections."

UPDATED ON Friday: Here is our Friday news on Brown. These are words from her mother, Coretta:

"Your prayers are working! Her temperature is steadily coming down. Her responses to voice and touch are minor, but becoming more consistent. We need your continued prayers for her blood pressure to come down and for her temperature to be at an acceptable range. The next several days are crucial to her recovery as all medications are coming out of her system. I promise your prayers are working; please do not stop."

The gofundmepage for family expenses is approaching $6,000.

UPDATED on Thursday: Here's what we learned Thursday afternoon about Brown from talking with her aunt, Donna Jett-Fullove. These are direct words from Coretta.

"Amber's kidneys are doing their job. Getting better. Sodium levels are normal now. Keep prayers coming for her body temperature and blood pressure to improve. Your prayers have made the difference so far in her recovery. Don't stop. Keep sending well wishes. Keep believing."

Use the hashtag #PrayForAmber; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander has asked for prayers on his Instagram account.

Brown, 19, was found unconscious in her Norfolk State dorm room on Friday after coaches became concerned when she did not show up for practice. She had been on the floor for at least 12 hours and paramedics found only a faint pulse when they arrived. She coded twice in the trip to Norfolk General, suffering a seizure after the first time. Brown coded a third time at the hospital.

"After 20 minutes went by, they brought her back," Jett-Fullove said.

To prevent further seizures, Brown was put into a medically induced coma, allowing doctors to perform a cat scan the next day.

"They discovered she had had two heart attacks, three strokes and a blood clot on the brain," Jett-Fullove said.

Brown is a diabetic with Type 1 diabetes, meaning the body does produce insulin properly. The ideal glucose level for Brown is between 80 and 120.

"When they did the test on her sugar, it was 1,400," Jett-Fullove said.

High sugar levels can harm almost any part of the body and cause heart attacks and strokes. However, Brown had never had any significant health problems related to her diabetes.

Coretta, who lives in Atlanta, was initially told she had to get to Norfolk as quickly as possible to ensure she would see her daughter alive. While recovery seemed grim, Amber has surprised doctors with movement of her feet and response to sharp objects.

Her family, which includes sister Ebony, who played for NSU before graduating last year, is praying for a miracle. Jett-Fullove has worked in the medical field and said she knows, "No matter how bad it may seem, miracles happen every day.

"She's my cousin, but Amber is like my child," she said. "And she's fighting for her life."

Jett-Fullove has set up a gofundme page  for Amber and her mother, who is missing work to be at her daughter's side. A $50,000 goal has been set for the fund; a little more than $3,600 has been raised in three days.

"We're waiting for her to wake up," Jett-Fullove said.

Norfolk State dedicated Tuesday's men's game between the Spartans and Princeton to Brown. The school's only statement is that Brown has been hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.

Brown, selected to the MEAC commissioner all-academic team last season, appeared in NSU's first 10 games, starting two.

LadySwish has contributed to the fund for Coretta and Amber and we hope the women's basketball community will respond as well at this link.

We will continue to provide updates as we receive them, and we, like all in the NSU family, will pray for Amber.

Gimme Five - the state's top teams (Jan. 6)

All statistics through games of Jan. 4.

1. Virginia Tech 
(13-1, 1-0 ACC, RPI: 44)

The toughest team to score on in Division I? So far these Hokies can make a heck of a case for that title as they rank first among 344 D-I scoring in scoring defense (45.3 ppg) and second in field goal percentage defense (30.6). By the way, for you efficiency lovers, the Hokies are also first in defensive points per possession. On Sunday, Boston College became the latest team to be smothered into submission by the Hokies' D (20 percent shooting in a 58-33 loss). To be fair, Tech has only played three teams inside the RPI top 125 (BC, Georgetown and Tennessee), and 11 of the Hokies' 14 games have been at Cassell Coliseum. This is why it will be extremely interesting to see how the Hokies fare this week when they leave home for the first time in more than a month for games Thursday at Louisville (10-5, RPI 41) and Sunday at Syracuse (11-3, RPI 40). The encouraging news for Tech is that tough defense typically travels well.

Spotlight on: Australian-born senior Hannah Young, who after three years of being a merely decent 3-point shooter is now making like Steph Curry beyond the arc in her final campaign. Young hit 7 of 10 3-pointers last week in victories over Furman and Boston College and is connecting at a potent 47.7 percent clip. That's 20 percentage points higher than her best mark from deep in any of her previous three seasons (27.6 percent as a sophomore).

Next up: Thursday at Louisville (10-5, 2-0 ACC). The Cardinals dropped four of their first five games but have gone 9-1 since. The latter stretch has included victories over Michigan State and Florida State.

2. Virginia 
(11-4, 1-0 ACC, RPI: 57)

With its 76-56 demolition of Miami on Sunday in the books, Virginia has now played eight teams inside the RPI top 100. When the Cavaliers have forced 20 or more turnovers, they're 4-0, with none of their opponents shooting higher than 40.8 percent. When they've forced 19 or less, they're 0-4. The lowest opponent's shooting percentage in these games was 44.2, and the other three were 52.7, 53.7 and 56.1. Now, we understand that wins and losses involve a lot of factors and can't necessarily be tied to one statistic. But in this case, the evidence seems clear - when the Cavaliers create lots of turnovers, they've been very good. And when they don't, they've been vulnerable.

Spotlight on: Senior guard Faith Randolph, who has blossomed from scorer to playmaker/scorer. Against Miami, Randolph tied for the team high with 16 points but also dished out eight assists. "She's done an unbelievable job of finding balance in her game," Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle said. "Her giving up points here and there has made us better."

Next up: Thursday vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (13-1, 2-0 ACC). Sunday's 65-55 victory at Pittsburgh doubled as the 800th career win for Fighting Irish coach Muffet McGraw (712 in 29 seasons at Notre Dame, 88 in five seasons at Lehigh).

3. VCU 
(12-2, 1-0 Atlantic 10, RPI: 73)

The Rams rank eighth among Division I teams in scoring defense (51.3 points allowed per game) so it was encouraging to see them win a relative shootout Sunday at UMass (74-66). In addition to scoring defense, VCU also leads the A-10 and ranks among the nation's top 50 teams in steals, turnovers forced, turnover margin, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense. Other than that, they're not doing much.

Spotlight on: Senior guard Adaeze Alaeze, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the UMass victory. Now, a 22-point game is healthy production on any team but it represents a veritable scoring feast from these remarkably balanced Rams. It was the second time this season Alaeze cracked the 20-point mark; push those two performances to the side and no Ram has scored more than 17 points in any game so far.

Next up: Thursday vs. Saint Louis (10-4, 0-1 Atlantic 10). The Billikens got off to a 7-0 start but are just 3-4 since. On Saturday, George Mason won at Saint Louis in overtime.

4. William and Mary 
(10-2, 1-0 CAA, RPI: 119)

Can't say we saw William and Mary's 65-59 overtime victory over JMU on Sunday coming - the Dukes had won 10 straight in the series and romped by 42 in the 2014-15 regular-season finale. Granted, this isn't nearly that same JMU team. Still, we're attaching no asterisks to what can only be considered a milestone victory in the Tribe's rapid progression in Year 3 under coach Ed Swanson. Like Virginia Tech and VCU, William and Mary has made itself a difficult team to score on. They've also excelled at the sweet combination of forcing a lot more turnovers (19.3 per game) than they commit (14.3). Now there's plenty of season left, including a Feb. 19 trip to Harrisonburg to face a Dukes team that traditionally has had an excellent memory. So don't expect the Tribe to start talking big-picture. But that's OK, we'll do it for them. The hope used to be that the Tribe could develop into a darkhorse Colonial Athletic Association contender. After Sunday, scratch the word "darkhorse."

Sporlight on: Junior forward Alexandra Masaquel. We used to think of her as a useful player, a do-a-bit-of-everything type. We now recognize her as an impact player, a do-a-lot-of-everything type. Exhibit A came last week, when she served up two-game averages of 15 points (on 60.9 percent shooting), 12 rebounds and 3.5 steals en route to CAA Co-Player of the Week honors.

Next up: Friday at Towson (4-8, 1-0 CAA). A classic trap scenario for the Tribe as this game is sandwiched between the JMU win and Sunday's home date with Drexel, But it wasn't that long ago that W&M wasn't winning enough games to create potential traps. So, more progress!

5. JMU 
(7-5, 0-1 CAA, RPI: 93)

The Dukes shot 26.3 percent from the field against William and Mary (4 of 25 from 3) and surrendered 33 points off turnovers. Yet they still were in position to win up four with less than 45 seconds remaining in regulation. With virtually everyone on the roster still adjusting to a new and/or expanded role, consistency from game-to-game remains an issue. But this group still has a pretty high ceiling.

Spotlight on: Junior forward and Hampton Roads homegirl Da'Lishia Griffin, who grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds against the Tribe. It was the sixth-highest single-game total in program history.

Next up: Friday vs. Charleston (5-7, 0-1 CAA). The Cougars have dropped two straight games and five of their last six.

Previous rankings
Dec. 8
Nov. 30
Nov. 23
Preseason

Dribbles and bits

   - Big game on tap Wednesday night at the Robins Center as Richmond (8-6, 1-0 Atlantic 10) hosts struggling perennial A-10 power Dayton (7-5, 0-1). The Flyers have lost four of five since point guard Kelly Austria suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Dayton has also played its past two games without leading scorer Amber Deane (knee injury). Still a talented bunch, though...

   - Talk about earning one's scholarship - Malia Tate-DeFreitas leads Division I in minutes per game (39.4) and is second in shots attempted (302) for Hampton (3-11, 1-0 MEAC). As for her team, after playing Division I's toughest non-conference schedule last season, the Lady Pirates just finished 2015-16's sixth-strongest out-of-league slate with Sunday's loss at Princeton. But don't be surprised if these guys get on a roll from here - their remaining opponents have a combined record of 33-111.

   - Don't look now, but Longwood (5-9, 2-3 Big South) has won two straight - both on the road - and is 4-3 since its exam break. Last year, an injury-ravaged Longwood won just four games all season (4-26). The Lancers' latest victory came Monday night when they forced 20 turnovers and held Coastal Carolina to 25 percent shooting in a 56-48 decision. Forward Eboni Gilliam and guards Daeisha BrownDeborah Headen and Micaela Ellis all played big roles in the victory. Also, head coach Bill Reinson was quoted four times in the school website game story, so you know he must have been happy. The Lancers will try to keep it going Saturday at home against Campbell (6-7, 1-3).

   - Liberty center Catherine Kearney, given starter's minutes after an injury to Lady Flames star Ashley Rininger, responded with her third 20-point performance in four games - all victories - during Monday's win over UNC Asheville. The 6-6 redshirt senior is averaging 17.0 points during Liberty's four-game streak; Kearney was at 4.3 ppg after the Lady Flames' first 10 games. Liberty (7-7, 4-1 Big South) has also benefited from the return to form of junior forward Mickayla Sanders, who missed the first eight games with a wrist injury. Sanders is averaging 18.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in her last two games. Rininger, the Big South's Preseason Player of the Year, suffered a left knee injury on Dec. 17 against Duke. She underwent surgery and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

   - Old Dominion's Jennie Simms earned Conference USA Player of the Week honors after averaging 26.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in a pair of games last week. Simms went for 18 and 9 in Sunday's 71-49 win at Charlotte that tipped off conference play. The Lady Monarchs (5-8, 1-0 C-USA) will try to make it two in a row when they host their historical twin Louisiana Tech (5-7, 0-1) on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Constant Center.

   - George Mason (6-8, 1-0 Atlantic 10) played four overtime periods in its last five games, starting with a double OT win at Delaware on Dec. 7 and continuing through last week's overtime loss at Arizona and Saturday's stirring OT win at Saint Louis. The Patriots appear to be playing their best ball of the season, which works out well because on Thursday they'll host one of the hottest teams in the country in Duquesne (13-1, 1-0 Atlantic 10). The Dukes are riding a 12-game winning streak and are coming off Sunday's 89-58 dismantling of Dayton. That game featured a 17-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double by Dukes senior lead guard April Robinson.

   - Last week Radford (6-7, 2-2 Big South) confirmed that freshman point guard Jen Falconer does indeed need ACL surgery and will miss the rest of the season. Falconer suffered the injury on Dec. 18 at Wofford. Highlanders coach Mike McGuire might have know what he was getting in Falconer, but to us she was a revalation - a player who could not only start straight out of high school but also run a Division I team, play 30-plus minutes, guard the opposing team's top perimeter threat and hit the 3-pointer. We remember McGuire talking about how tough and competitive she was. It reminded us of that kid in gym class that, no matter what sport you were playing, you always picked them first because you knew they'd figure things out. Falconer's injury is yet another tough break for a Highlanders team that already had to absorb the loss of guards Brittany Allen and Claudia Quevedo to ACL injuries during the preseason.

   - Norfolk State forward Siobhan Beslow, a graduate transfer from La Salle, is the reigning MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Beslow leads the Spartans in scoring (11.5 ppg) and rebounding (a MEAC-leading 9.3 rpg). Despite Beslow's efforts, the Spartans (0-12, 0-2) remain one of three Division I teams still in search of a victory (Air Force, Boston University are the other two). The hunt resumes Saturday at home against Florida A&M (7-8, 1-1 MEAC).

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Richmond, VCU, Mason open A-10 play in style

Richmond's Janelle Hubbard
The Virginia wing of the Atlantic 10 is off to a rip-roaring start.

On Saturday, Richmond, VCU and George Mason all opened conference play with not just victories but road victories, which as any coach will tell you are like gold, particularly during league play.

Now, we know they don't hand out trophies for being 1-0.

But it sure beats the alternative.

The A-10's will close out its opening weekend with a nationally televised (CBS Sports Network, 1 p.m.) showcase game Sunday as Duquesne (12-1) puts its 11-game winning streak on the line against visiting perennial league power Dayton (7-4). But before we look ahead to Sunday, let's take a closer look at what the Virginia schools did Saturday:

Richmond 60, La Salle 43: Granted, the Explorers (3-10, 0-1) are really struggling these days, but spanking a league foe by 17 in its own building is still a sweet feat, especially for a Spiders team (8-6, 1-0) that had dropped four of its previous five games and is still operating without injured starters Lauren Tolson and Tuuli Menna. The day will be especially memorable for junior guard Janelle Hubbard, who raced past the career 1,000-point barrier by nailing a second-quarter jumper. We didn't see the shot, but we knew something was up when pictures of Hubbard began flooding our Twitter timeline. Welcome to the club, J-Hubb.
George Mason 73, Saint Louis 63 (OT): We remember sitting behind a computer last February and watching these same Billikens flat-out annihilate the Patriots (82-59). Evidently the Patriots (6-8, 1-0) remembered that, too, because they returned to the scene of the crime and avenged that rout in dramatic style. But here's what really blows our minds - Mason star Taylor Brown scored eight points on 1-of-9 shooting in 41 minutes. Used to be if Brown wasn't feeling it, the Patriots were toast. But Saturday, with Kara Wright notching 19 points and Reana Mohamed, Chinyere Bell and Kristi Mokube tallying 10 apiece, the Patriots thrived despite an off-night from the 2014-15 A-10 scoring champ. You know how it went from "The Supremes" to "Diana Ross and the Supremes?" Well, this bunch used to be "Taylor Brown and the Patriots." Looks like now it's simply "The Patriots."
VCU 74, UMass 66: Only twice through its first 13 games had VCU allowed more than 58 points, and the Rams lost both times. Saturday, though, a Rams team typically fueled by disruptive defense proved it could win a relative shootout as Adaeze Alaeze's 22 points (and 10 rebounds) led VCU (12-2, 1-0) to its sixth straight victory. It was also just the second of the 12 VCU wins that did not come by double digits. The other was the VCU resume's signature triumph, the 57-48 decision at nationally ranked Arizona State on Dec. 5.