Sunday, January 31, 2010

ODU, VCU, Drexel survive atop CAA

Enjoy free-flowing, pretty basketball and lots of offense? Our condolences, then, if you braved the elements and took in any of these games. We exempt JMU from this rant because the Dukes were the one team that really put it together. George Mason is excused, too because, well, Mason has trouble scoring all the time. But this was also a day where ODU and VCU barely broke 50 points, and VCU threw in 27 turnovers. Virginia Tech and Longwood didn't even reach 50. And Virginia got only one half of scoring from one of the nation's top producers. Then again, finding a way to win on days when the shots aren't falling is the mark of a good team. On this day, ODU and VCU hit the mark; Virginia and Virginia Tech fell a bit short.

Sunday's games

Old Dominion 51, Hofstra 46: No style points again. But we're actually starting to enjoy the awkward resilience of these Lady Monarchs (10-9, 8-1 CAA), the way they continually work themselves into trouble, then figure their way out. As is usually the case, today's solution involved Jasmine Parker (14 points, 4 steals), who darted out on a fastbreak and fed Carolann Cloutier for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining. Parker continues to make a lot of things happen at crunch time, most of them good. Also, we wonder what magic words Wendy Larry delivered at halftime to Tia Lewis, who was a non-factor early but went to the basket strong and scored all 12 of her points after the break. And we hope Jackie Cook's nose is OK; she took a pretty good elbow to the schnozzola at 8:22 of the second half. Finally, congratulations, Lady Monarchs, on delivering the program's 900th victory. But when you hear about how only ODU, Tennessee and Louisiana Tech have that many wins, that's just the NCAA trying to co-op women's basketball history again. For example, Wayland Baptist's Flying Queens, who now play in the NAIA but were once a power in the AIAW, has more than 1,300 victories. But the NCAA sometimes acts as though if it doesn't happen on their watch, it doesn't happen at all. Again, full credit to ODU for their 900. This is just a reminder that there was a lot of good basketball before the NCAA decided to take the sport seriously, too - and some of those teams are still ballin'.

VCU 53, Georgia State 39: Love the headline writers for the VCU website. When Kita Waller went for 35 Thursday, they offered up "Waller the Baller." And Sunday, they termed Waller's 28 points "The Ki-Ta Victory." Can't wait to see what Waller, and the headline folks, come up with next. By the way, prior to Thursday, Waller's career high was 23 points. The victory was the ninth in 10 games for the Rams (15-6, 8-1 CAA).

Drexel 60, Delaware 58 (OT): Marisa Crane's jumper with three seconds left kept the doing-it-the-hard-way Dragons (14-6, 8-1 CAA) tied with VCU and ODU atop the CAA race at the midway point. Elena Delle Donne, who sat out Thursday's second half against Towson with an elbow injury, never left the floor Sunday and finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds. But the result was yet another heartbreaker for the Blue Hens, whose four CAA losses are by one point against ODU, one point against VCU, in double OT against Drexel in addition to today's OT loss to the Dragons.

JMU 67, Towson 35: Ah, the Dukes of December are back! You remember, the team that rocked Georgetown and Virginia and inserted itself into the Top 25? We were wondering what happened to those guys. Well, they showed up on Sunday, scored the first 11 points and generally treated the Tigers like redheaded stepchildren. Granted, Towson cooperated with 19 percent (!) shooting. But we've also got to believe the Dukes (16-4, 6-3 CAA) were humbled by Thursday's overtime loss to Hofstra on their own floor and set out Sunday to do something about it. Best of all, JMU thrived by establishing some often MIA low-post offense and without relying primarily on Dawn Evans, who wound up shooting less (14 points) but enjoying it more (9 assists). Nice job, Dukes. Now let's see if you can keep it up Thursday at VCU.

Northeastern 70, George Mason 57: The Patriots (8-12, 1-8 CAA) executed well in the first half. But Northeastern must have figured them out during the break as the Huskies opened the final 20 minutes with a 14-0 run. A disappointed coach Jeri Porter called it an "effort issue", or more accurately an lack-of-effort issue, that left the Patriots flat-footed after intermission. A lack of Brittany Poindexter issue certainly didn't help, either - Poindexter sat out the game with an injury. Two weeks ago, the junior guard had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 72-61 victory over these same Huskies in Fairfax.

UNC Wilmington 69, William and Mary 59: Result capped a disappointing two-game set of home games for the Tribe (10-10, 3-6 CAA), who on Thursday got blown out of Kaplan Arena by Old Dominion. The Lady Monarchs might be the best team in the CAA, but these Seahawks presented an excellent winning opportunity the Tribe failed to capitalize on. The lone bright spot - Tiffany Benson had two blocks and is now the CAA's all-time leading shot blocker (237).

Wake Forest 64, No. 20 Virginia 57: It's a challenge to win any conference road game, but frankly we expected a better showing from a Cavaliers team that had appeared to find its stride. We're also not sure what happened to Cavs star Monica Wright (13 points) in the second half, as the Cavaliers' most dynamic weapon - and one of the best in the country - failed to score over the final 19:10.

No. 25 Georgia Tech 61, Virginia Tech 47: If we told you Nikki Davis didn't play, Lindsay Biggs didn't make a field goal and the Hokies (12-9, 2-5 ACC) barely shot 30 percent from the field, you wouldn't expect them to do much against the No. 25 team in the nation, right? Well, Nikki Davis didn't play, Lindsay Biggs didn't make a field goal....

Maryland 85, Longwood 40: No disrespect to either of these teams, but if anyone out there knows why the Terrapins signed up to visit Farmville in late January, drop us an e-mail.

Morgan State 70, Norfolk State 55: Tough matchup for the Spartans (3-13, 0-7 MEAC) as the Lady Bears are one of the best teams in the MEAC. But NSU competed well throughout the first half before Morgan exerted its superiority after the break. Game was originally scheduled for Saturday but was postponed because of the snowstorm. This means two games in two days for the Spartans, who will host Coppin State Monday.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunday dribble: Can VCU and ODU hold serve?

As you can probably tell from that headline, we've been watching a lot of Australian Open tennis lately, too. But we digress....

You don't get a trophy for being the CAA's best team for the first half of the conference season - that honor and 89 cents will get you a five-layer burrito at Taco Bell. Still, it'll be interesting today to see if one of the three teams tied for first place will separate itself as conference play reaches its mid-point. Although we take nothing for granted in this league this year, VCU and Old Dominion both look to have winnable home games. Drexel is also home, but the Dragons' task appears more formidable as they'll be facing a Delaware team that took them to double overtime two weeks ago. Blue Hens superstar Elena Delle Donne is expected to play after sitting out the second half of Thursday's victory over Towson. Tesia Harris, Delaware's second-leading scorer, is also expected back. Harris has missed Delaware's last two games with an ankle injury.

Also Sunday, the Morgan State-Norfolk State game postponed Saturday because of inclement weather will be played today at noon at NSU's Echols Arena.

Saturday's games

Duquesne 79, Richmond 60: A couple of days ago, we suggested it was soul-searching time for struggling James Madison. Today, coach Michael Shafer targeted that same phrase at his reeling Spiders, who over the past eight days have been hammered three times by a combined 85 points. As was the case Wednesday at Charlotte, the Spiders (14-7, 3-3 Atlantic 10) played reasonably well in stretches. But just like against the 49ers, when the Spiders fell, they couldn't get up. Duquesne broke the game open with a 24-0 second-half run as the once-poised Spiders panicked in the face of the Dukes press. Duquesne finished with 14 steals and scored 29 points off Richmond turnovers - the kind of numbers the Spiders routinely produced until recently. And is the weight of being the focal point of Richmond's offense finally slowing down Brittani Shells? After leading her team in scoring in all but one of the first 18 games, the A-10's No. 1 scorer was held in single digits (9 points) for the second time during this three-game swoon. But here's where the soul-searching comes in. After the game, Shafer suggested a part of Richmond's problem could be less-than-ideal effort. He singled out one play late in the second half, with the game already decided, when Abby Oliver (16 points) still flung herself to the floor to retrieve a loose ball. "But how many times did we do that? Once? Twice?" Shafer asked during his post-game radio interview. The coach then said that if his key players aren't willing to exert Oliver-like intensity, he'll look down his bench in search of players that will. "If we have some people with different agendas, people looking to do other things instead of compete, we'll have to find some different lineups of people that will compete," Shafer said.

Liberty 75, High Point 62: The Lady Flames' eighth straight win and easily their most of impressive of that streak - the Panthers had won nine of their last 10, lost just once at home all season and in recent years had become the one Big South team most likely to stare Liberty down (5-5 against the Lady Flames in their past 10 meetings). Monster games by Devon Brown (29 points, 11 rebounds) and Avery Warley (26 and 14) naturally were key for the Lady Flames (15-4, 6-1 Big South), but so was Liberty's resolve as the Panthers hung tough most of the way. In fact, High Point led by six at halftime, and the game was tied at 53 midway through the second half before Brown, Warley and Co. took over.

Hampton 62, Delaware State 43: The struggling Lady Hornets' only chance was to catch the Lady Pirates not paying full attention. But Hampton was locked in from the jump, as the Lady Pirates (9-10, 5-3 MEAC) scored 14 of the game's first 16 points. That's three straight victories and five wins in their last six, with the loss coming by one point at defending MEAC champion and current league unbeaten North Carolina A&T. We loved the way Hampton competed during the non-conference season and projected them as a real MEAC heavyweight. Eight games into conference play, we're happy to paraphrase Denny Green - without the rancor - and report that the Lady Pirates are who we thought they were.

Sunday's games

No. 21 Virginia (15-5, 4-2 ACC) at Wake Forest, (12-8, 3-3 ACC) 1 p.m.
Debbie Ryan is 58-2 versus Wake Forest. Demon Deacons coach Mike Peterson is 0-6 against Virginia. Intriguing as that is, what will likely factor into this game is Monica Wright and the Cavaliers seeking to win their fifth straight. They're playing their best ball of the season and are 4-0 since freshman guard Lexie Gerson entered the starting lineup. No reason for any of the aforementioned streaks to be interrupted Sunday. Virginia 77, Wake Forest 61

Maryland (15-6) at Longwood (5-16), 2 p.m.
It's tough to be an independent. The best news for the Lancers is they're playing at home. The worst news is they're playing Maryland. This is a "Pack the House" occasion and Willett Hall has never welcomed an ACC team. Hopefully Lancer fans surpass their 352 average. Maryland 81, Longwood 44

Towson (9-10, 3-5 CAA) at JMU (15-4, 5-3 CAA), 2 p.m.
Didn't these teams just play five minutes ago? Actually it was Jan. 14 when the Dukes survived in overtime. Shanae Baker-Brice outdid Dawn Evans with 32 points to Evans' 30. JMU has already suffered two losses in its own building this season, including Thursday's game against Hofstra. Their games revolves around the prolific Evans, who has struggled with low percentage shots of late. Evans is shooting 33 percent in league games for a 24.7 average. Tigers tend to trip up down the stretch, especially on the road, against league opponents. Evans needs some help and if she gets it, JMU should win. James Madison 73, Towson 59

Georgia St. (12-7, 3-5) at VCU 14-6, 7-1 CAA), 2 p.m.
How can you pick against a team that's lone league loss is on the road by two to defending CAA champs Drexel? You can't, you shouldn't and we won't. VCU 69, Georgia State 55

Virginia Tech (12-8, 2-4 ACC) at No. 25 Georgia Tech (17-5, 3-3 ACC), 2 p.m.
Virginia, Duke, Miami, Maryland and now a ranked Yellow Jacket team? Life sure isn't easy in the ACC, and although the Hokies picked up a road win over the Hurricanes, winning a conference game in another's gym is no easy feat. Lindsay Biggs needs to regain her early-season form; she's shooting 25 percent from the field and 19 percent from the arc in her last four games. Until she does, we like the senior-laden Tech from Georgia to score a win over the Tech from Virginia. Georgia Tech 82, Virginia Tech 71

Hofstra (11-9, 4-4 CAA) at Old Dominion (9-9, 7-1 CAA), 2 p.m.
The Lady Monarchs are playing the best ball in the league. Jessica Canady and Tia Lewis are 1-2 in the conference in field-goal percentage. With every game, they are playing more effective as a unit, and if the perimeter shots are falling, they're a challenge to defend. They've beaten Hofstra 11 of the last 12 (though the lone Pride win was last year in New York). Hofstra boasts the league's second best rookie in Shante Evans and Jess Fuller is the league's best shot blocker. The Pride is also playing pretty good ball, having taken Delaware to the wire a week ago and upsetting JMU four days ago in OT. A win today marks ODU's 900th as a program, a milestone only Tennessee and La. Tech have surpassed. The coaches will be wearing sneakers to support the Coaches vs. Cancer Initiative. Old Dominion 75, Hofstra 67

UNC Wilmington (6-13, 1-7 CAA) at William and Mary (10-9, 3-5 CAA), 2 p.m.
Be sure and get your Pink Zone T-shirt to wear to on Feb. 14. Shirts are $15 apiece and $5 of that money goes toward the Kay Yow/WBCA cancer fund. Turnovers and 57 percent free-throw shooting continue to haunt the Tribe, which has dropped three of its last four. Five straight losses would seem to rule out Wilmington here, but consider the Seahawks' only CAA win is over W&M 70-63 on Jan. 10. Neither team is playing particularly well and Willmington is 1-7 on the road. Home team prevails. William and Mary 74, Wilmington 65

George Mason (8-11, 1-7 CAA) at Northeastern, (7-12, 2-6 CAA) 2 p.m.
Shalyse Smallwood isn't exactly a household name in these parts, but the former Husky, fourth on the school's all-time scoring list, will be on hand as part of Saturday's alumni game. Northeastern has played one triple overtime game, two double OT games and two plain old OT games. They're 2-3 in those contests so you'd think they must be tired. But they don't have to leave Boston for this one and injury-ridden George Mason needs to figure out an offense. Northeastern 69, George Mason 50

Friday, January 29, 2010

Saturday dribble - Richmond tries to regroup

Virginia is braced for a major storm this weekend - at least that's what they weather folks keep breathlessly exclaiming - so the schedule over the next couple of days could be pretty fluid. Already Radford has canceled Friday's game against Davidson, and Richmond has changed its start time for today's game. Be prepared, as more adjustments could be on the way.

Saturday's games

Duquesne (14-6, 4-1 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (14-6, 3-2 Atlantic 10), 11 a.m.
Start time was moved from 4:30 p.m. in anticipation of the storm. The Spiders sent out a release, but since they're averaging just 348 fans per game they probably could have called each one of them personally (we kid because we care; get out and support this team, Spider Nation!). The Spiders are back home after a humbling two-game trip to Charlotte (a 14-point loss) and Dayton (the inexplicable 52-point debacle). The Dukes can relate, though, as on Wednesday Dayton spanked them by 22 in Pittsburgh. Makes us wonder just how good this Dayton club really is, and we'll get some answers today as the Flyers will visit No. 10 Xavier tonight at 6 p.m. As for the Duquesne-Richmond game, the Spiders may be able to solve some of their recent offensive woes by getting their running game going again. The Spiders enjoyed healthy advantages in fast-break points in their first three A-10 games (including a 24-0 advantage against George Washington), but were outscored in transition by a combined 37-8 against Charlotte and Dayton. Richmond 58, Duquesne 52

Liberty (14-4, 5-1 Big South) at High Point (13-7, 6-1 Big South), 4 p.m.
The Lady Flames can prove a lot with a victory here. Full credit to Liberty for integrating several new players and maintaining its standing as a Big South force. But while this year's Lady Flames have crushed inferior opposition, their resume is pretty light on signature wins. Now High Point isn't UConn, but the Panthers have won 9 of their last 10 and traditionally have given the Lady Flames fits. Beating these guys on the road would be nice work. An added bonus - the Big South tournament will be held at High Point's Mills Center. Why not get used to winning on the Panthers' floor now? Liberty 63, High Point 61

Hampton (8-10, 4-3 MEAC) at Delaware St. (3-16, 1-5 MEAC), 4 p.m.
How difficult this game becomes is entirely up to Hampton. If the surging Lady Pirates play anywhere close to the way they've been playing of late, the offensively challenged Lady Hornets (17 percent shooting in their last game) won't be able to keep up. If Hampton doesn't take these guys seriously, well, the Lady Hornets are still playing hard and are 3-4 in home games. Hampton 70, Delaware State 49

Morgan St. (9-9, 5-1 MEAC) at Norfolk St. (3-12, 0-6 MEAC), 4 p.m.
The Lady Bears have won four straight and feature one of the league's top players in MEAC scoring leader Tiny Adams. But they haven't had much luck with Virginia schools and will come in 0-3 against the Commonwealth after losses to VCU, Richmond and Hampton. The Spartans played these guys tough in Baltimore last season (65-57) and will put a much better team on the floor today, so who knows? Morgan State 66, Norfolk State 64

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Friday dribble - What happened to JMU?

It's soul-searching time for James Madison, which began the month as a Top-25 juggernaut and will end it a CAA also-ran unable to defend its once-vaunted homecourt. There's still plenty of season left, of course, and the Dukes have shown they're capable of superior play. Let's see if they can figure this out.

Elsewhere in the CAA, VCU and ODU cruised while Drexel survived in overtime to maintain the three-way first-place tie. Thursday was also a night for key injuries, as Virginia Tech's Nikki Davis didn't play and George Mason's Brittany Poindexter and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne went down early. After scoring 18 points in the first half, Delle Donne sat out the second half of the Blue Hens' 72-49 rout of Towson with an injury to her right elbow.

"It's a nerve thing," Delaware coach Tina Martin told the News-Journal of Delle Donne's injury. "Obviously it's scary when something like that happens. She was getting some feeling back. "She's like, 'I can shoot with my left hand.' And I said, 'Elena, you sit right there. We have a lead. We're not going to risk it.' Hopefully, as the hours pass, the feeling will start to come back."

Thursday's games

Hofstra 69, James Madison 62 (OT):
We keep talking about how anything can happen in this year's CAA. But honestly, we didn't think this would happen, that the formerly nationally ranked Dukes would spit the bit on their own floor for the second straight game. As has been the case through much of their conference season, the Dukes shot the ball hastily and poorly (31 percent for the game, 13 percent in OT). Of greater concern, though, was coach Kenny Brooks' postgame assessments that his team was done in by poor decision-making and that Hofstra played harder. "We didn't deserve to win the game," Brooks said. No team is immune from the occasional bad shooting night. But playing smart and with great effort are things a team can control, especially a team with JMU's postseason upside. We're confident Brooks is delivering this message to his players. When Towson visits Sunday, we'll see how well they listened.

VCU 75, UNC Wilmington 63: VCU's athletic web site has it right - Waller really is a baller. And this was especially true Thursday night, when senior guard Kita Waller torched the Seahawks for a school record-tying 35 points as the Rams (14-6, 7-1 CAA) won for the ninth time in 10 games. Waller hit 13 of 21 field goals, 7 of 8 from the line and also added 5 steals and four assists while not committing a turnover. But here's why basketball is truly a team game. The Rams broke the game open late in the first half by going on a 17-0 run. D'Andra Moss scored eight of those points, Ebony Patterson had five and Courtney Hurt four. In other words, for all of Waller's brilliance, none of her points came when the Rams actually decided the game.

Old Dominion 88, William and Mary 65
Remember the days when Old Dominion (9-9, 7-1 CAA) went on a monster CAA win streak? Thursday's victory makes it six straight for the Lady Monarchs, whose resurgence continues after a disappointing nonconference season. The Tribe (10-9, 3-5 CAA) has given them trouble two of the last three years in Williamsburg, but ODU vaulted to a 27-3 lead. ODU's 62 percent first-half shooting effort was a season high, and we continue to say this about the Lady Monarchs: We're believers. Side note: Tiffany Benson two knockdowns on Friday tied her with former George Mason star Trish Halpin as the all-time leading shot blockers in CAA history. Both have 236 rejections.

Georgia State 46, George Mason 36

Has anybody seen the Patriots offense? It was a painful night for the Patriots (8-11, 1-7 CAA), who shot 23 percent, 0-of-12 from long range Angelique Burtts and Danyiell McKeller outscored the Patriots, who lost Brittany Poindexter four minutes into the game and were already missing Ashleigh Braxton, who took a finger to the eye on Sunday. On the same night Tina Martin celebrated a milestone by winning her 250th, Panthers coach Lea Henry records No. 300. Simply put said GMU coach Jeri Porter, "We've got to find a way to score the basketball." By the way, love that phrase, "score the basketball." It's as though Porter wants to make sure we don't think she meant score the baseball, or score the casaba melon. And we're not picking on Porter - well, I guess we are, sort of - because most coaches do this. I once heard a coach say something like, "This basketball team has to score the basketball if we want to win the basketball game." Classic. And it's not just basketball coaches. How many times on a Sunday afternoon do you hear the phrase, "run the football?" We figured as much, Mr. FOOTBALL Coach. But thanks for clearing it up.

Maryland 60, Virginia Tech 42

We hoped it would be a big night in Cassell for the Hokies (12-8, 2-4 ACC), fresh off a road win over Miami. What we didn't know was that starting point guard Nikki Davis strained her left knee in practice on Tuesday and wouldn't play. Forget the fact that Davis was coming off the performance of her life. According to Tech coach Beth Dunkenberger, the absence of the junior floor general threw the Hokies' whole offense out of whack, which sort of explains Tech's 29-percent shooting. Clearly the Hokies have to find a way to make things work without Davis on the floor - and they'll need to do it quickly as Davis is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game at No. 25 Georgia Tech.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thursday dribble: Cavaliers roll, CAA on tap

In the only action involving a state team Wednesday, Virginia continued to Wright itself after a sluggish start to ACC play. A much fuller slate is on tap on another CAA Thursday, and it should also be interesting to see if Virginia Tech can build on Sunday's impressive victory at Miami by defending its home court against rapidly improving Maryland.

Wednesday's game

No. 21 Virginia 73, N.C. State 60: Debbie Ryan is fond of saying her team gets better every day, but we're not at UVa. practices so for a while there we just had to take her word for it. Now we're getting to see for ourselves. Monica Wright had 26 points and 6 steals in UVa.'s fourth straight victory, but the most encouraging development is the emergence of a supporting cast capable of filling in the blanks around their star. Wednesday's headliners from this group were Whitny Edwards, who scored 10 points and nailed the back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half that put the Wolfpack away, and freshman Lexie Gerson, who chipped in 11 points and 3 steals in her fourth straight start. That Gerson was on the floor 36 minutes suggests that the Cavaliers' once-dysfunctional offense runs much better with her on the floor. Indeed, the Cavaliers (15-5, 4-2 ACC) shot 57.1 percent in the second half, the third time in four games they've made at least half their shots over the final 20 minutes.

Thursday's games

Hofstra (10-9, 3-4 CAA) at James Madison (15-3, 5-3 CAA), 7 p.m.
The Dukes have a habit of making these games exciting with Dawn Evans coming up with the pizazz at the end to pull out the victory. A big lead against Georgia State evaporated on Sunday, but the Dukes prevailed by six. Shante Evans did not get Freshman of the Week recognition from the CAA (some girl named Elena got it), but she is the Player of the Week after notching a double-double 18 points and 19 rebounds against UNC Wilmington. James Madison 79, Hofstra 63

Old Dominion (8-9, 6-1 CAA) at William and Mary (10-8, 3-4 CAA), 7 p.m. A win here and ODU is .500, something that seemed almost unattainable a few weeks ago. It sounds like a done deal as the Tribe has lost an astonishing 46 straight games to ODU. But the Lady Monarchs have struggled of late at Kaplan Arena. They had an easy time with the Tribe last year, but struggled in 2007 and 2008 before pulling those games out. Tribe has dropped four of its last six, but better athleticism in the past and their shooting touch from the perimeter could make this game anyone's. Old Dominion 77, William and Mary 65

Georgia State (11-7, 2-5 CAA) at George Mason (8-10, 1-6 CAA), 7 p.m.
I don't know about you, but the fact that George Mason reminds us that this is the 250th game played in the Patriot Center since it opened in 1985 is pretty juicy. Seriously, that hollow arena might be great for seeing Springsteen, but the Patriots and their few fans would be better off in a more intimate facility. Patriots need a conference win. So does Georgia State. We'll go with the home team. George Mason 59, Georgia State 52

Virginia Commonwealth (13-6, 6-1 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (1-6, 6-12 CAA)
Rams are looking to sweep this series after 67-54 win in Wilmington earlier this season. VCU is in Richmond. Seahawks are on a three-game slide. Nuff said. VCU 70, UNC Wilmington 59, 7 p.m.

Maryland (14-6, 2-4 ACC) at Virginia Tech (12-7, 2-3 ACC), 7 p.m.
This is not the Maryland team of old, but nor is it the Maryland team that lost to Towson and Mississippi State. Despite dropping four of its last six, the Terps are rounding into form behind two freshmen and a pair of sophomores (including Virginia's own Kim Rodgers) in the starting lineup. One point separated them from Duke on Monday. This is a great opportunity for the Hokies to make a statement at home against an ACC stalwart. Let's hope Tech builds on its wins versus North Carolina and Miami. Virginia Tech 80, Maryland 77

Ladyswish state rankings

1. Virginia (14-5, 3-2 ACC) Last week: 2
RPI: 13
The ACC confirmed the obvious Monday, tabbing Monica Wright its Player of the Week - for the third time this season - after the Cavaliers' superstar lugged her team to road victories at Virginia Tech and Boston College. The league can probably go ahead and ship the Player of the Year award to Charlottesville, too - barring injury, it's hard to imagine it winding up anywhere else. Next: Tonight vs. N.C. State

2. VCU (13-6, 6-1 CAA) Last week: 3
RPI: 106
Given the wafer-thin margin of victory in several CAA games this season, it's fitting that three teams - VCU, ODU and Drexel - share the league lead. Trading buzzer-beaters with Delaware and Drexel last week proved the Rams belong in the title conversation. But the real test will come beginning Feb. 4, when VCU begins the following four-game stretch - vs. JMU, at Old Dominion, at Hofstra and a home rematch with Drexel. Next: Thursday vs. UNC Wilmington

3. ODU (8-9, 6-1 CAA) Last week: 4
RPI: 62
What we're about to write may have gotten us committed a month ago. But if the Lady Monarchs keep piling up wins but finish short of claiming the CAA Tournament title, they may be able to make a fairly decent case for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid (although being able to close the deal against Florida and/or N.C. State would have helped considerably). But just to be on the safe side, guys, go ahead and win the CAA Tournament. Next: Thursday at William and Mary

4. James Madison (15-3, 5-2 CAA) Last week: 5
RPI: 30
Not sure if this qualifies as news, but Dawn Evans is the CAA Player of the Week, her fourth such honor of the season. When you consider Evans at JMU, Wright at UVa., Gabriela Marginean at Drexel, Elena Delle Donne at Delaware and even Brittani Shells at Richmond, has there every been a year when so many of the top state/regional teams have been so centered around one player? Next: Thursday vs. Hofstra

5. Richmond (14-6, 3-2 Atlantic 10) Last week: 1
RPI: 52
Extremely disappointing two-game swing through Dayton - a 52-point loss - and Charlotte - Spiders in a 46-46 tie before failing to score over the final 5:28 - leaves Richmond searching for answers. No disgrace in losing to either team, especially on the road, it's the manner in which the Spiders went down that's perplexing. Strange, too, because up until Saturday, consistency of performance seemed to be a Richmond strength. Next: Saturday vs. Duquesne

6. Virginia Tech (12-7, 2-3 ACC)
Last week: 6
RPI: 71
We would have given the Hokies a lot of credit for coming up with even one victory in the four-game gauntlet of North Carolina, Virginia, at Duke and at Miami. Major props to coach Beth Dunkenberger and Co. for finding ways to pull off two, and both fairly decisively. The Hokies now have as many ACC victories as they managed in either of the previous two seasons. Next: Thursday vs. Maryland

7. Liberty (14-4, 5-1 Big South) Last week: 7
RPI: 113
More amazing defense by the Lady Flames, who on Monday held their fourth Big South opponent to 40 points or less in a 57-38 suffocation of Coastal Carolina. Hard to believe Gardner-Webb singed Liberty for 70 a few weeks ago. Next: Saturday at High Point

8. Hampton (8-10, 4-3 MEAC) Last week: 8
RPI: 181
This is the Lady Pirates team we've been waiting to see, as they've added scoring punch to their stingy defense and won four of their last five. And all this despite injuries having slowed expected stalwarts Laura Lewis (a preseason second-team All-MEAC pick) and Whitney Hill. If those two round into top form, watch out. Next: Saturday at Delaware St.

9. William and Mary (10-8, 3-4 CAA) Last week: 9
RPI: 177
Lots of nice, young pieces assembled here, but we're still waiting for the Tribe to rise up and beat someone they're not supposed to beat - they'll get another chance Thursday. Tiffany Benson needs only three more blocked shots to become the conference's all-time leader. Next: Thursday vs. Old Dominion

10. Radford (5-13, 4-3 Big South) Last week: 10
RPI: 222
Given the difficulties most teams have in winning conference games on the road, it wasn't that surprising to see the Highlanders stumble twice on their two-game swing through South Carolina. We'll learn a lot more about whether these guys are contenders or pretenders during their upcoming three-game homestand, which includes games against Liberty and Gardner-Webb. Next: Friday vs. Davidson

11. George Mason (8-10, 1-6 CAA) Last week: 11
RPI: 188
Even their heavily relied-upon homecourt advantage couldn't save the Patriots Sunday against William and Mary. Without a true low-post game to speak of, Mason continues to be the easiest team in the CAA to defend. Next: Thursday vs. Georgia State

12. Longwood (5-16) Last week: 12
RPI: 284
Tuesday's victory over Winthrop was the Lancers' first since Dec. 18 and boosted their record to an extremely respectable 4-3 in home games. Longwood is one game into a four-game homestand so they'll have chances to improve that record. But they'll have to really bring it against their next opponent. Next: Sunday vs. Maryland.

13. Norfolk State (3-12, 0-6 MEAC) Last week: 13
RPI: 339
The silver lining in Monday's 74-73 loss at South Carolina State was that NSU's point total represented the team's highest in regulation against a Division I team this season. Four straight home games will give the Spartans a fighting chance to get in the MEAC win column. Next: Saturday vs. Morgan State

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wednesday dribble: Slumping Richmond falls again

The Spiders put air back in their tires, filled up the gas tank and got back on the road to competitive basketball Tuesday night. They didn't win, but this time, at least they competed.

Tuesday's games

Charlotte 60, Richmond 46: The Spiders (14-6, 3-2 Atlantic 10) were in position to win tied at 46 before the 49ers closed them out by scoring the game's final 14 points. Unlike Saturday's Dayton debacle, there's no shame in losing a knock-down, drag-out affair at the defending A-10 champions. Still, the fact remains that late last week, the Spiders left Virginia with a six-game winning streak and an unbeaten record in the A-10. It will be interesting to see how they regroup.

Longwood 62, Winthrop 51: Lancers snap an eight-game losing streak while providing more evidence that when allowed to play in familiar surroundings, they're actually pretty good. The Lancers are now 4-3 in Farmville, 1-13 everywhere else. Sophomore Brittanni Billups went off for 24 points and 13 rebounds as the Lancers prevailed in their first home game since Dec. 28.

Wednesday's game

N.C. State (12-8, 2-3 ACC) at No. 21 Virginia (14-5, 3-2 ACC), 7 p.m.
Better efficiency and more judicious shot selection has spurred the Cavaliers to three straight victories after an 0-2 conference start. Oh, and Monica Wright has been pretty good, too. Still, there's little difference in quality between most ACC teams - UVa's last two victories each came by two points - and we don't expect anything to come easily for them today against a Wolfpack program that has won five of the last six meetings in this series. Virginia 67, N.C. State 63

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tuesday dribble - Liberty, Hampton prevail

Monday's games

Liberty 57, Coastal Carolina 38: Your typical Liberty Big South rout? Not exactly. The Chanticleers led by five at halftime and by 10 early in the second half. But it was typical Lady Flames defense that eventually ground Coastal's attack to a virtual halt - the Chanticleers scored just two points over the final 7:14. Liberty's offense wasn't a whole lot better, but the Lady Flames ability to play volleyball with their own missed shots made up for it. The Lady Flames (14-4, 5-1 Big South) finished with as many offensive rebounds as the Chanticleers managed total rebounds. It all added up to Liberty's 32nd straight victory over Coastal and a sweep of their two-game "Beach trip" through South Carolina.

Charleston Southern 67, Radford 61: Meanwhile, the Highlanders (5-13, 4-3 Big South) went 0 for 2 in South Carolina after struggling with their shot (33 percent from the field, 1 of 6 from 3-point range) and spending most of the night in chase mode against the Buccaneers.

South Carolina State 74, Norfolk State 73: Heartbreaker for the Spartans, who fall to a Whitney Wiley layup with five-tenths of a second remaining. The loss spoiled a veritable offensive explosion for the Spartans (3-12, 0-6 MEAC), who finished with five players in double figures led by Raychele Payne (23 points), who apparently saves her best performances for S.C. State. Two of Payne's layups came in the final 1:02, and each one gave NSU a one-point lead. S.C. State's Wiley had the final answer, though, so despite yet another competitive effort, the Spartans must stomach their 27th straight MEAC road loss since a 69-59 win at Maryland-Eastern Shore on Jan. 3, 2007.

Hampton 67, Florida A&M 54: Quanneisha Perry strikes again. A couple of hours after being named MEAC Player of the Week, the 5-10 junior went for 19 points and 19 rebounds as the Lady Pirates dispatched the slumping Lady Rattlers. Not sure what's gotten into Perry of late. For much of this season she's been merely competent, a lefty with skills who did a lot of nice things that didn't add up to that much in the final box. But for the past five games, she's simply been the best player in the conference. "I just really realized how terrible I was playing and how I wasn't being fair to myself or my teammates," the new, improved Perry said.

Tuesday's games

Winthrop (6-12) at Longwood (4-16), 7 p.m.
Don't be misled by the Lancers' record. They're actually 3-3 at home this season; they just haven't gotten to play there since Dec. 28. Assuming they haven't been beaten down by the succession of road games, the Lancers should be quite competitive with a Winthrop club that has dropped its last five games. Longwood 62, Winthrop 60

Richmond (14-5, 3-1 Atlantic 1o) at Charlotte (11-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10), 9 p.m.
Still trying to get to the bottom of the Spiders' no-show against Dayton Saturday; we hope to have more on it later. One would think that the Spiders would be jacked up to avenge their loss to the 49ers in last year's Atlantic 10 tournament final. But after Richmond's performance Saturday, we're not sure what to think. The game will start at 9 p.m. as it is being televised by CBS College Sports. Charlotte 72, Richmond 62

Monday dribble...better late than never

Monday's games

Florida A&M (10-6, 3-3 MEAC) at Hampton (7-10, 3-3 MEAC), 6 p.m.
We figured any team that could handle Florida and Alabama of the SEC would have its way in the MEAC. But so far the Lady Rattlers have been nothing special in their own conference (2-3 in their last five MEAC games). Hampton guard Jerica Jenkins is coming off a career-high 31 points in the Lady Pirates' 81-44 dismantling of Bethune-Cookman. Now Hampton can't count on the streaky Jenkins nailing 8 of 14 3-pointers again - two games ago, Jenkins was 0 of 10 from distance against Norfolk State. But Quanneisha Perry seems to be getting it done every night, as she's averaging 22.7 points and 11.5 rebounds over her last four games. Hampton 61, Florida A&M 55

Liberty (13-4, 4-1 Big South) at Coastal Carolina (12-5, 3-2 Big South), 7 p.m.
After vanquishing Radford Saturday, the Chanticleers are 8-0 at home. On the other hand, Liberty has won 31 straight meetings in this series, including victories of 25 and 33 points in the two head-to-head matchups last season. Nothing's a given, of course, but like several other Big South teams, the Chanticleers are going to have to prove they can compete with Liberty, let alone actually beat the Lady Flames. Liberty 68, Coastal Carolina 53

Norfolk St. (3-11, 0-5 MEAC) at South Carolina St. (5-12, 0-5 MEAC), 5:30 p.m.
Game should bring back pleasant memories for Raychele Payne and the Spartans. In fact, it was the only pleasant memory for NSU during the 2008-09 season, a 23-point spanking of State at Echols Arena for the Spartans' only victory of the season. Payne had a career-high 36 points in that game. Down to just nine players, these Spartans aren't equipped to blow anyone out. But this is a great opportunity to collect their first MEAC victory. Norfolk State 52, South Carolina St. 50

Radford (5-12, 4-2 Big South) at Charleston Southern (9-9, 1-4 Big South), 7 p.m.
Big spot for the Highlanders, who came up small in Saturday's loss at Coastal Carolina. Good teams rebound after tough outings; let's see how these Highlanders measure up. Radford 62, Charleston Southern 60

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday dribble: Logjam atop CAA with VCU, ODU, Drexel

Game of the day was Drexel/VCU, and this battle lived up to it, coming down to the final wire (seems that's happened a lot in the CAA of late). VCU's seven-game win streak ends, but the Rams remain in first, only they've got some company.

The state schools also won a pair of ACC games today, making it a super Sunday two weeks before the big day.

Sunday's results:

Drexel 57, Virginia Commonwealth 55
You win one buzzer beater, you lose another. Tied at 55 with 8 seconds left, Gabriela Marginean (who else would it be?) produced the gamewinning 14-foot jump shot and the Rams (12-6, 6-1 CAA) were unable to connect on a desperation 3. Four days ago, VCU (13-6, 6-1 CAA) eeked past Delaware on D'Andra Moss' 3 at the buzzer. Much like Dawn Evans, Marginean has a way of putting the ball in the net with the pressure on. Now the pressure is on in a CAA race that gets better every week. Drexel, VCU and Old Dominion are on top in a three-way tie, but who would overlook Delaware? Delle Donne and the Hens have lost to all three teams, two at the buzzer and one (Drexel) in OT. Pat on the back to us: We called it a two-point game in the Dragons' favor.

Old Dominion 57, Towson 50
Down 13, it looked as if ODU was going to suffer its first-ever loss to the Tigers. But the final eight minutes belonged to the Lady Monarchs (8-9, 6-1 CAA), who share their place atop the league with Drexel and VCU. One more time, you have to admire the resilance of this ODU team, which continues to make big plays down the stretch. Jasmine Parker had a personal 8-0 run, part of her 22 points, and Jackie Cook came up with a huge trey to keep these Lady Monarchs very much in the hunt.

Virginia 57, Georgia State 55
Cavaliers (14-5, 3-2 ACC) hold on despite not much preparation for one of the better teams in the ACC. Noted coach Debbie Ryan: "We only had one day to prepare for this game and you can see that it’s a tough team to prepare for in one day. We had to take a day off on Friday. We hadn’t gotten home until two in the morning because we got diverted to Richmond after the Boston College game, so it was our day of the week to take a day off. Because of all we have crammed in here, one of these games had to suffer in terms of preparation." Nonetheless, it was business as usual for Monica Wright, who scored 23. Tech (16-5, 2-3) mounted a comeback from 13 down, but never got closer than three and leaves Charlottesville yet again without a win.

Virginia Tech 73, Miami 69

Great win for the Hokies (12-7, 2-3 ACC) and scrapbook game for Nikki Davis, who had career highs in points (29), 3-pointers made (5) and free-throws (14-of-18, most made and attempted by a Hokie in an ACC game). Road wins are tough to come by in the ACC, and Tech, which had some underwhelming scores during nonconference, has announced itself as a threat in conference. Game-telling stat comes from long range: Tech was 6-of-11, Miami was 2-of-16.

William and Mary 69, George Mason 55

Most importantly, our sympathy goes to GMU's Ashleigh Braxton, who took a finger to the eye in the game and was taken to the hospital for precaution. As for the Tribe (10-8, 3-4 CAA), go figure. W&M dominated the Patriots (8-10, 1-6) in their own gym, placing four starters in double figures including Taysha Pye's 20. No league team would envy playing W&M, whose record isn't as daunting as its tall, lanky athletes, all of whom can shoot the ball and rebound. GMU got crushed on the boards 54-35 and is still seeking CAA win No. 2.

James Madison 67, Georgia State 61
How often have your heard this? Dawn Evans goes crazy for 30 points? Actually you've heard it 13 times before today, Evans' 14th 30-point game. This one was wilder than ever as Evans drained nine of 14 three-point attempts to rally the Dukes (15-3, 5-2 CAA) back from a three-point halftime deficit. Evans' day included six treys and 21 points in the second half. JMU also got some punch from its post game behind Sarah Williams (16) and Lauren Jimenez (10). Bad news is it was another anemic start for the JMU offense, which shot 29 percent in the first 20 minutes. Good news is, of course, Evans playing hero again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Big win for Norfolk state; big loss for Richmond

Lots of action to dip into with two MEAC schools coming up with victories. We congratulate NSU and Hampton but are still trying to figure out what went wrong in Dayton for Richmond.

Saturday's results:

Dayton 83, Richmond 31

We picked Richmond to win this A-10 showdown but the Spiders didn't compete. The 52-point walloping was the second largest margin of victory in Dayton history. The Spiders (14-5, 3-1) never showed a semblance of the team they are, outscored 52-16 at the break. They shot 18.6 percent to Dayton's 51 percent. This was a chance to make a statement. This isn't the one Richmond wanted to make.

Norfolk State 60, Winston-Salem St. 56

Coach Debra Clark must be ecstatic that when her youthful Spartans needed to make a play, they got it done, and with it, their third victory of the season. With the score tied at 56, freshman Ricca Trice banked in an off-balance jumper and free throws secured it for NSU. Another freshman, Batavia Owen put together a double-double 20 points and 22 rebounds. NSU (3-11, 0-5) dominated the paint 42-18 and rallied from a four-point halftime deficit.

Coastal Carolina 62, Radford 49

This was an opportunity for Radford, which led 36-32 early in the second half, but the Highlanders (5-12, 4-2 Big South) fail to capitalize on the road as Coastal benefits from 18 straight made free throws. Victory keeps the Chanticleers perfect at home (8-0) and snaps Radford's three-game win streak. Highlanders, meanwhile, are 1-8 on the road.

Hampton 81, Bethune-Cookman 44

Jericka Jenkins could have almost beaten the Wildcats singlehandedly, scoring 31 with six assists, but get this. Twenty-four of those points came from 3-point land, where she was 8 of 14 (might the Wildcats have decided to guard her at some point?). Said the humble Jenkins, “I usually take a lot of 3-point shots in games; this game I just made more than I missed." Another eye-catching stat: a mere 6 turnovers for HU (7-10. 3-3 MEAC), the fewest since '92.

Liberty 65, Charleston-Southern 52:

The Buccaneers (thought they were in Tampa) might lead the Big South in scoring, but they were no match for a Flames team that shot 50 percent and owned the paint (48-6). Coach Carey Green won No. 250 in his bare feet, part of a charity effort by Samaritan's Feet to collect shoes. Kudos to coach Julie Goodenough and her staff for also participating. It's the sixth straight win for Liberty and we'd guess the Bucs are a bit tired of them, having been beaten by the Flames 26 straight times.

Sunday's games:

VCU (13-5, 6-0 CAA) at Drexel,(11-6, 5-1 CAA) noon

Now, shall we say, it gets interesting. A victory by VCU keeps the Rams undefeated in the league. A loss pushes them into a possible three-way tie for first if Old Dominion wins at Towson. The Rams are no doubt riding high after an exhilarating buzzer beaten by D'Andra Moss lifted them to a one-point victory over Delaware on Thursday. All the buzz around this one, by the way, makes you forget the NFL playoffs today; this is a TV game (Comcast). Consider the streaks: VCU has won eight straight; Drexel was won 16 straight on its home court. Last time they met, the Dragons pulled out an OT victory. Moss is the big name for VCU, but we know Courtney Hurt (12.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg) can hurt you. Rams lead the series 9-5. As hard as it is to pick VCU, we give the Dragons and their excellent ability at the free-throw line the nod at home. Drexel 66, VCU 64

Georgia Tech (16-4, 2-2 ACC) (16-4, 2-2 ACC) at Virginia (13-5, 2-2 ACC), 1 p.m.

The Cavaliers have won 26 of their 27 meetings in Charlottesville against Georgia Tech. Monica Wright is fresh off a career-high 39 points that lifted the Cavs over Boston College 70-68. Georgia Tech has been holding opponents to 56.3 ppg, so we expect a nailbiter. But it's awful hard to beat Virginia in JPJ. For extra incentive, they're celebrating National Women and Sports Day in Charlottesville and specifically honoring gold medalist Lindsay Shoop, an All-American rower for the Cavaliers. Virginia 70, Georgia Tech 67

JMU (14-3. 4-2 CAA) at Georgia St. (11-6, 2-4 CAA), 2 p.m.

Frankly, we don't know what to make of either team. JMU has made a habit of sluggish starts that Dawn Evans continues to pull them out of. Georgia State nearly upset the Dukes in the first meeting before JMU prevailed 68-60. JMU has won all five meetings, but a jacked up GSU team at home can make life difficult for an opponent. Panthers nearly upset ODU on Thursday before Shadasia Green's jump shot broke the final tie with 21 seconds left. GSU nearly beat JMU in Atlanta last season, falling 63-62, but Dukes played without Evans. High octane transition game and a quick-handed defense (allowing a CAA-best 55.6 ppg) will make it close. As tempted as we are to pick the upset, we don't think Evans will let it happen. James Madison 60, Georgia State 54

Virginia Tech (11-7, 1-3 ACC) at Miami (14-4, 2-2 ACC), 2 p.m.

Make what you will of this. The Hurricanes have won 6 of 9 in this series; Hokies have won two of the last three. Miami is fresh off an upset of Maryland on its home court, while Tech is hurting, having dropped its last two to ranked foes Virginia and Duke. Hurricanes dominate every offensive category, but Tech has a hand up on defense, limiting opponents to 58 ppg and 29 percent FG from long range. This one looks winnable for the Hokies, but earning an ACC road win is no easy feat. Miami 69, Virginia Tech 60

Old Dominion (7-9, 5-1) at Towson, (9-8, 3-3 CAA), 2 p.m.

Tigers are the lone CAA team that has never beaten ODU. They have come a long way from the team that could break 30 points when the teams first played in 2004, but remain 0-13. Tigers have been up in a season that included their first-ever Top 25 win (Maryland) and taking James Madison to OT. They only average 59 ppg and they shoot the 3 worst than ODU (26 percent). But their Dawn Evans is the Tigers' all-time leading scorer Shanae Baker-Brice, a 5-6 engine-that-could guard that dumped a game-high 32 on JMU. ODU has showed its resolve in the league this far, surviving Georgia State and walloping Drexel. They had trouble finding their shooting touch against the Panthers and this game is hardly a cakewalk, but we think ODU will win its fifth straight. Old Dominion 67, Towson 58

William and Mary (9-8, 2-4 CAA) at George Mason (8-9, 1-5 CAA), 2 p.m.

Fun matchup today as Tribe tries to snap a two-game slide and pick up its first CAA road win. If they win, we suspect sizzling Katherine DeHenzel will have something to do with it; the sophomore shoots better from behind the arc (53 percent) than from the field (52 percent) in six league games. Tribe battled VCU well a week ago before laying an egg against Hofstra on Thursday. Patriots have dropped four of their last five to W&M, but with an 8-1 mark at home this season, we like them in this matchup. Either way Patriot Center will sparkle as it's Princess Day (young girls are encouraged to wear their favorite princess outfit). The first 300 receiving a green tiara and Mason students get a chance to win a flat screen TV. George Mason 59, William and Mary 56

Friday, January 22, 2010

Saturday dribble: Richmond vs. Dayton

A few days ago, we dubbed Richmond the state's best team. Now the Spiders can back that up, as well as pick up a little love from the voters in the next AP and ESPN/USA Today national polls.

Saturday's games

Richmond (14-4, 3-0 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (14-4, 2-1 Atlantic 10), 2 p.m.
The timing seems ideal for the Spiders to make this Ohio trip. The Spiders are rested (haven't played since Tuesday's romp over undermanned George Washington) and are playing their best ball of the season (six-game winning streak). In addition, Richmond's ballhawking defense has given the Flyers fits of late. When these teams met in the A-10 semifinals last season, Richmond used 11 second-half steals to erase a 19-point deficit over the final 16:16 to claim a 54-48 decision. And in last year's lone regular-season meeting, the Spiders scored 23 points off Dayton turnovers in a 60-51 victory. Dayton star Kendel Ross (9.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg) has been particularly spooked at the sight of Spiders. In the two meetings with the Spiders a year ago, the Flyers second-leading scorer scored a combined 6 points on 2 of 14 shooting with 10 turnovers. Getting any conference victory on the road is tough, particularly against a team receiving votes in the AP poll. But under the present conditions, we love Richmond's chances here. Richmond 63, Dayton 55

Radford (5-11, 4-1 Big South) at Coastal Carolina (11-5, 2-2 Big South), 2 p.m.
We saw Radford in its season opener against William and Mary, and frankly we left unsure if the Highlanders were an organized team or a bunch of kids who just met each other 10 minutes before tipoff. We're not confused any more. Major props to coach Tajama Ngongba for pulling it all together. The Chanticleers - the Big South sure does have some unique nicknames, doesn't it? - are 7-0 at home, and Radford hasn't played off campus since Jan. 4. But as they proved that day by blasting Gardner-Webb, these new and improved Highlanders don't mind taking their show on the road. Radford will begin play in a three-way tie for the Big South lead with Gardner-Webb and High Point. Radford 61, Coastal Carolina 58

Bethune-Cookman (6-9, 3-2 MEAC) at Hampton (6-10, 2-3 MEAC), 4 p.m.
The Lady Wildcats must find someway to slow down Hampton forward Quanneisha Perry. No one else has of late - the junior has three straight double-doubles and is averaging 25 points a game over that span. She went for 20 and 10 in the last meeting between these teams, a 67-59 Hampton victory over Bethune last season in Daytona Beach. Hampton 68, Bethune-Cookman 57

Norfolk St. (2-11) at Winston-Salem St. (2-15), 2 p.m.
The pressure is actually on the Spartans here because frankly, this is a team they should beat. Heck, last year NSU had the worst team in Division I and still almost beat these guys before falling 69-67 in overtime. The Lady Rams have lost 13 straight since beating Presbyterian by one point on Nov. 22. The Spartans have lost six in a row themselves, but have been very competitive against much tougher foes than they'll be facing today. Again, NSU should beat this team. The Lady Rams are led by junior guard MaLisa Bumpus, a former Norfolk Collegiate School star who began her college career at James Madison. Norfolk State 56, Winston-Salem State 52

Liberty (12-4, 3-1 Big South) at Charleston Southern (9-8, 1-3 Big South), 5 p.m.
The Buccaneers rank third in the country in 3-pointers made and drained 17 of them in a nine-point loss to powerhouse North Carolina back in November. The problem for the Bucs is that Liberty ranks first in the nation in 3-point defense. Assuming the Lady Flames can take away the long ball, we're not sure what else Charleston Southern can do. And did we mention that Liberty has won 25 straight in this series, by an average of 24.3 points? Liberty 60, Charleston Southern 45

Nothing wrong with ODU's defense

ODU may be erratic on offense, but there's been little to complain about the Lady Monarchs on defense in CAA play, particularly against teams focused around one elite player. The Lady Monarchs' philosophy seems to be make it tough on the superstar and shut down everyone else. So far, ODU has executed this style to a T (everywhere except in Boston):

Delaware - Elena Delle Donne gets 28, but second-leading scorer Tesia Harris (12.2 ppg) managed just 9 on 4-of-12 shooting. The Blue Hens' other three starters combined for 5 points.

Drexel - Gabriela Marginean goes for 33 but needs 24 shots. Meanwhile, third-leading scorer Jasmina Rosseel gets her average (11) but shoots just 2 of 12 from the field. Drexel's other three starters combine for 8 points. (Drexel's second-leading scorer, Kamile Nacickaite, sat out the game with an injury).

JMU - Dawn Evans scores 22 points but takes 28 shots. Tarik Hislop and Sarah Williams come in averaging a combined 21 points and get that exactly against ODU. But the duo made just 8 of 26 shots. And JMU dished out just 6 assists, about half their average.

Georgia State - Danyiell McKeller scores 22 points but takes 23 shots. Second-leading scorer Angelique Burtts (10.2 ppg) finishes with just 6. Crystal Johnson, the CAA's assist leader, has two assists and seven turnovers.

Naturally, ODU players deserve most of the credit for shutting people down. But it's also a tribute to the ODU coaching staff, which seems to be doing an excellent job of breaking down CAA foes, instructing the players on how to take away much of what these teams like to do and forcing the superstars outside of their comfort zone while trying to take matters into their own hands.

* Georgia State took on ODU without sophomore guard Jylisa Williams, who was dismissed from the team on Wednesday, according to the Panthers' official web site. No reason was given for the move. A CAA All-Rookie team selection last year, Williams was the Panthers' fourth-leading scorer (7.3 ppg) but had averaged 17.5 points in her last two games and was less than a week removed from a season-high 20-point effort against VCU. The dismissal ended a rocky sophomore season for Williams, who sat out the first semester and wound up appearing in just 11 games. By the way, Williams led all CAA freshman in scoring last season with 314 points in 32 games. In 15 games this season, Delaware's Delle Donne already has 379 points.

* Speaking of Delle Donne, check out this video of the game-winning shot by VCU's D'Andra Moss. Doesn't it look like Delle Donne is the one who gets caught in the wash and allows Moss a clean look at the basket? This much is for certain - somebody blew it and left VCU's best player all alone with the game on the line. "I believe in these young kids. We just need to get our heads on straight and follow instructions at the end of games and we wouldn't have heartbreaking losses like this," Delaware coach Tina Martin told the News-Journal's Kevin Tresolini. "We had the breakdown at the worst time." Perhaps the Blue Hens simply assumed a 3 from Moss would be the last thing on VCU's mind. After all, the Rams only needed a two to tie and Moss hadn't exactly been feeling it (6 of 24 from the field, 1 of 7 from 3) all night.

* Taysha Pye and Tiffany Benson combined to hit just 4 of 16 free throws against Hofstra and, since they make the most trips to the line, are clearly the two biggest reasons why the Tribe has spent the season ranked among the 10 worst free-throw shooting teams in Division I. But W&M's problems at the line extend beyond those two. If Pye and Benson had never attempted a free throw this season, the Tribe would still be averaging a below-average 64.3 percent, a figure which would place them in the 250s among the 325 D-I teams.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday dribble: CAA thrillers and the Wright stuff

One buzzer-beating game-winner, one rally from a 16-point deficit and the team picked to finish last staying within a 3-pointer on the road against the defending champion until the final minute. A night for the ages? Not really. Just life in the new, anything-can-happen CAA.

Nor is there anything particularly unique about Virginia's Monica Wright leading her team to another victory. But on Thursday, the fabulous Wright outdid even herself, blitzing Boston College's Eagles with the best scoring night of her career.

Thursday's games

Virginia Commonwealth 60, Delaware 59: Hope they played "Thriller" at the buzzer because that's what it was. D'Andra Moss knocked down a 3 as time expired to keep VCU (13-5, 6-0) perfect in the CAA. Check out the box and you'll see another tantilizing performance by Elena Delle Donne (27 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals). But that wasn't enough to overcome 20 turnovers by the Blue Hens compared to VCU's eight. Moss, Courtney Hurt and Kita Waller scored 19, 16 and 14, respectively and it's beginning to look like the Rams are for real, despite a fan base (492 at the Siegel Center) that fails to appreciate it. As for Delaware, the Hens could easily be in that top spot in the league, having dropped three conference games by a total of five points.

Old Dominion 58, Georgia State 54: We told Lady Monarch fans it was going to be a bumpy ride. The days of the Lady Monarchs (7-9, 5-1 CAA) routing foe after foe are over in favor of a much wider open CAA where wins should be celebrated instead of bemoaned because they aren't routs. ODU had a miserable night from beyond the arc and struggled to score at times, but dug in to win its fourth straight and stay in second place in the CAA alongside Drexel. Shadasia Green's jumper just inside the foul line broke a tie with 21 seconds left to secure a victory over one of the more athletic teams in the league that came in with confidence after denying ODU in Atlanta last year. Another good sign: Jessica Canady's 15 points, 14 points and 34 minutes. ODU is very much in the league race when many counted them out, but the Lady Monarchs are no longer the runaway favorites.

James Madison 64, Northeastern 57: The Dukes (14-2, 4-2 CAA) can't seem to get their feet under them early. They got in a hole on Sunday against ODU and trailed by as many as 16 here before Sarah Williams' lone 3 of the game tilted it back their way. In the end, JMU needed Dawn Evans, and as usual the junior point guard delivered, scoring seven of the final nine points. Strange to see Evans without an assist, but good to see the Dukes get 10 from Lauren Jimenez, who had disappeared as an offensive threat for a pair of games.

Hofstra 68, William and Mary 51: We haven't picked on the dismal Tribe free-throwing lately, but 6-of-21 is hard to explain. Senior Tiffany Benson had her usual struggles (2-of-11), a night that won't improve her 28 percent FT statistic. W&M (9-8, 2-4) has yet to prove itself on the road in the conference at 0-3. The Trive has dropped four of its last five and has another road date, at George Mason, on tap for Sunday.

Drexel 59, George Mason 51: Another sign that the league is no gimme for anyone as the Patriots fall just short of the Dragons in Philadelphia. GMU trailed by just 3 in the final minute, but Gabriela Marginean rang up six of her 26 to finish the game. Foul trouble also played a role as 6-2 center Angelee LaTouche, who matched up well with Marginean, fouled out in 26 minutes. "I like our resolve," said GMU coach Jeri Porter. "I like how we battled to the end and we were still in it."

No. 25 Virginia 70, Boston College 68: Suggested slogan for this year's Cavaliers: "Virginia basketball. It's all Wright." To be fair, full credit to Paulisha Kellum for flipping in the game-winning layup - her only field goal of the game - with 2.3 seconds to play. Chelsea Shine (13 points, 8 rebounds) was pretty fine, too. But once again, the night belonged to Monica Wright, who delivered a career-high 39 points, the second-highest total in Cavaliers history. None of these were garbage-time points, either, as clearly the Cavaliers (13-5, 2-2 ACC) needed every one of them to get out of Chestnut Hill, Mass. with a W. No disrespect to the rest of the Cavaliers, but does any one player carry more of a responsibility for their team's success? Every now and then, the burden is too great for even Wright to haul along. But more often than not, the spectacular senior comes up with whatever the Cavaliers need, even if what's called for is the most productive night of her college career.

No. 6 Duke 69, Virginia Tech 38: With three games in the past seven days - along with the need to give the players a day off during that span - the Hokies (11-7, 1-3 ACC) could spend only one day preparing for the myriad of problems posed by the Duke defense. Clearly, that wasn't enough. The Blue Devils made 19 steals and scored 28 points off a season-high 26 Hokies turnovers while holding Tech to its lowest point total since joining the ACC in 2004. As bad as it was, though, there's no shame in losing at the No. 6 team in the country, a team still seething over being taken to the woodshed itself by UConn Monday night. And Tech center Brittany Gordon distinguished herself in the rout with 14 points and 8 rebounds. But the Hokies still need to find a way to get Lindsay Biggs untracked. After struggling against Virginia Monday, Biggs followed by hitting just two of 11 shots for 5 points with two turnovers and no assists against the Blue Devils.

Seattle 60, Longwood 51: Another down-on-its-luck team gets well at the Lancers' expense - the Redhawks snapped an eight-game losing streak four nights after Utah Valley St. beat Longwood to end a 10-game slide. But the bright side is the Lancers (4-16) are finally coming home, and they're actually going to stay there for a while as Tuesday's game against Winthrop will kick off a much-needed four-game homestand.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thursday dribble: CAA, ACC back at it again

An already interesting CAA race could get a whole lot more interesting after the league's sixth set of games tonight. VCU continues to lead the pack with a 5-0 record, but in Delaware the Rams will be hosting their toughest league foe yet. The Rams have been virtually unbeatable at their Verizon Arena. But if the Blue Hens can spring the upset while Old Dominion and Drexel defend their home courts, we'll be looking at a three-way tie for the conference lead.

Meanwhile in ACC play a Virginia team still hanging on by fingernails to its national ranking will navigate the tough trip to Boston College and Virginia Tech will try to spring another major upset at No. 6 Duke.

Finally, in national news it took a little longer than we thought necessary, but the Big East has finally pronounced sentence - sort of - on the pre-game fight that marred Saturday's Louisville-Georgetown game. We say "sort of" because while the league announced that three players will be suspended for one game, the conference and the schools are declining to identify the players. A release on Georgetown's official site simply states that the Hoyas will sit two players for Saturday's home game against DePaul. That leaves one suspended player for Louisville.

Of course, not revealing the players is silly. Seems to us that if you get into a fight in a public gym in front of hundreds of people with the word "Georgetown" in giant letters on your chest, you've pretty much forfeited your right to anonymity. Besides, won't it be pretty clear who these players are once Saturday's game starts and they're not a part of it?

Thursday's games

No. 25 Virginia (12-5, 1-2 ACC) at Boston College (11-7, 2-1 ACC), 7 p.m.
The Eagles come in off a 26-point rout of nationally ranked Georgia Tech. The first order of business for the Cavaliers is find a way to keep the ball away from Eagles 6-6 center Carolyn Swords, the nation's leader in field-goal percentage. When these teams met in Charlottesville last year, Swords had 31 points on 13-of-17 shooting - and that was with Aisha Mohammed banging on her. The Cavaliers still won that game by 20, though, and they again have the kind of defense that can create an uptempo pace that doesn't flatter the Eagles. Like most teams, however, BC tends to play its best at home - just ask Georgia Tech. Virginia 72, Boston College 70

Virginia Tech (11-6, 1-2 ACC) at No. 6 Duke (15-3, 3-0 ACC), 7 p.m.
The Hokies did a terrific job of handling North Carolina's vaunted pressure, but this will be an even more difficult assignment. For starters, instead of a supportive Cassell Coliseum crowd, they'll be dealing with the famed Cameron Crazies. Then there are the Blue Devils themselves, who rank fourth nationally in steals and score nearly 35 percent of their points off opponents' turnovers. Duke has won the last 11 meetings in this series and clearly the odds are stacked against Tech again, especially if the Blue Devils can render Lindsay Biggs virtually invisible the way Virginia did Monday. But if the North Carolina game taught us anything, it's to never say never with these Hokies - especially if they can hang onto the ball. Duke 75, Virginia Tech 62

Delaware (11-5, 3-2 CAA) at Virginia Commonwealth (12-5, 5-0), 7 p.m.
We're intrigued by the 5-0 Rams and have high expectations for the matchup with Delaware. Behind Elena Delle Donne, the Blue Hens had won three straight and nine of 10 before dropping a double OT game to Drexel on Sunday. The Blue Hens freshman has scored 39 percent of her team's points. VCU has lost La'Tavia Rorie to an ACL tear, but continues to run through the league behind D'Andra Moss (21.5 ppg) and has won three straight over Delaware. But that was without EDD. Delaware 69, VCU 65

James Madison (13-3, 3-2 CAA) at Northeastern (6-10, 1-4 CAA)
The Huskies have never beaten James Madison, but then again their lone CAA win is over the Lady Monarchs, whom they never defeated before that historic triple overtime victory. JMU is looking to rebound from a loss to the Lady Monarchs in Harrisonburg in a game where the Dukes offense accounted for a season-low 58 points. NCAA scoring leader Dawn Evans (26.7 ppg) is getting hers albeit on inefficient shooting. Evans is 17-of-62 from the field in her last three games. Post Lauren Jimenez, who looked promising after returning from a knee injury, has taken one shot in the last two games, scoring four. Northeastern could trouble the Dukes from behind the arc. The Lady Monarchs drained six treys on Sunday; NE averages a league-high 6.9 per game. James Madison 79, Northeastern 60

Georgia State (11-5, 2-3 CAA) at Old Dominion (6-9, 4-1 CAA), 7 p.m.
These Lady Monarchs are flying high after dismissing Drexel, routing George Mason and cruising past James Madison in Dukeland. A big reason behind ODU's resurgence is the play of senior Jessica Canady, who finally looks healthy and leads the CAA in field-goal percentage (57.6 percent). The Panthers finally scored their first-ever win over ODU in Atlanta last year, 75-62. GSU loves to steal the ball (11 spg) and coasted through the nonconference season at 9-2. Their results have been less than glowing in CAA play however, where they have lost their last three of four (JMU, Hofstra, VCU). Point guard Crystal Johnson is the most efficient in the league and for the second straight year, leads the CAA in assists. We think the Lady Monarchs are ready to win their fourth straight. Old Dominion 71, Georgia State 59

William and Mary (9-7, 2-3, CAA) at Hofstra (9-8, 2-3 CAA), 7 p.m.
Isn't it a little early to talking about sweeping a team? Maybe, but with a win in the Big Apple, the Tribe can sweep the Pride. W&M won 55-48 win the teams played on Jan. 3 when Taysha Pye scored 20. The generous Tribe, with four players averaging at least four assists, continue to benefit from the hot hand of sophomore captain Katherine DeHenzel, (50 percent FG). William and Mary 58, Hofstra 54

George Mason (8-8, 1-4 CAA) at Drexel, (10-6, 4-1 CAA) 7 p.m.
Road win anyone? Or should we say anywhere? The Patriots have yet to record a victory away from the Patriot Center. Sunday's win over Northeastern was their first conference victory. We don't think they'll be getting their second against defending league champ Drexel. Drexel 75, George Mason 59

Longwood (4-15) at Seattle (3-18), 8:30 p.m.
This marks the Lancers' 13th game since Nov. 30. All but two of them have been on the road, and the relentless travel seems to be taking its toll as on Monday, the Lancers lost by 15 points to a Utah Valley they beat by 22 back in November and was on a 10-game losing streak. Seattle is another women's hoops lightweight, as the Redhawks have dropped eight in a row. But Longwood has lost seven straight itself - all by double digits - and are performing as though they're simply sick of spending so much time in someone else's gym. Longwood 63, Seattle 62

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wednesday dribble: Spiders win 6th straight

Just one game to weigh in on, so we'll flesh out this report with a tip of the fedora to:

Virginia Tech's Lindsay Biggs, who spearheaded the Hokies' stunning rout of No. 10 North Carolina and claimed the ACC Player of the Week award;

Hampton's Breanna Jones, who hauled in 24 rebounds in two games to snag MEAC Rookie of the Week honors;

Radford's Denay Wood, who shot her way out of the considerable shadow of senior teammate Kymesha Alston to earn the Big South Player of the Week award;

Liberty's Jelena Antic, who was nearly perfect in copping her second straight Big South Freshman of the Week title. Antic went into Monday's game against UNC Asheville having made 10 straight field goals. She promptly missed her first two shots, then hit her final three in the Lady Flames' 82-40 victory. So Antic has now hit 13 of her last 15 shots. Like we said, nearly perfect.

The CAA Player of the Week was Drexel star Gabriela Marginean. CAA Rookie of the Week honors went to (surprise!) Delaware's Elena Delle Donne.

Tuesday's game

Richmond 76, George Washington 47: The Colonials were wounded animals, as injuries have reduced their roster to a not-so-magnificent seven. But the Spiders showed no mercy and delivered one of their cleanest performances of the season - 50.7 percent shooting, a season-high 24 assists against just 11 turnovers, a 41-32 rebounding advantage and 14 steals. "The way we played tonight was really special," coach Michael Shafer said after his Spiders (14-4, 3-0 Atlantic 10) won their sixth straight. Now let's see if they can take this kind of play on the road Saturday at Dayton - a feat that would be even more special.

Ladyswish state rankings

1. Richmond (13-4, 2-0 Atlantic 10) Last week: 2
RPI: 48
We're not emotionally committed to the idea of the Spiders as the state's best team. But while several of the teams below are still trying to figure out roles and develop youngsters, the Spiders seem to know exactly who they are and are playing to their strengths more consistently than anyone else. Next: Tonight vs. George Washington, Saturday at Dayton

2. Virginia (12-5, 1-2 ACC) Last week: 3
RPI: 19
Nice bounceback victory for the Cavaliers Monday, as they smothered Virginia Tech defensively and made them pay for the lack of a player capable of creating off the dribble. The Cavaliers also made much more efficient use of superstar Monica Wright, who scored 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting. It was Wright's best shooting performance since she hit 12 of 14 shots for 31 points against Manhattan on Nov. 15. Next: Thursday at Boston College

3. VCU (12-5, 5-0 CAA) Last week: 4
RPI: 103
The only thing better than the Rams' play of late (seven straight wins) is this idea by the VCU athletics department - a silent auction of Rams-related items with all proceeds to benefit victims of the tragic earthquake in Haiti. The auction begins Wednesday and will continue through the Rams' showdown against Elena Delle Donne and Delaware Thursday night before concluding Friday at 5 p.m. Next: Thursday vs. Delaware

4. Old Dominion (6-9, 4-1 CAA) Last week: 4
RPI: 76
A key in ODU's resurgence has been the improved form of forward Jessica Canady, who struggled with an arthritic knee through most of the non-conference season. In CAA-only play, Canady leads the entire conference in field-goal percentage (57.6 percent). In fact, the Lady Monarchs have three of the top five most accurate shooters, as Tia Lewis (2nd at 56.3 percent) and Shadasia Green (5th, 51.1) are also making better than half their shots. Next: Thursday vs. Georgia State

5. James Madison (13-3, 3-2 CAA) Last week: 1
RPI: 40
The Dukes' offense has been in a state of dysfunction ever since CAA play began, and Old Dominion finally made them pay for it Sunday by decisively snapping JMU's nine-game home winning streak. Simply put, through five conference games no CAA team shoots it more than these Dukes (341 attempts) but no one shoots it less accurately, either (33.1 percent from the field, tied with Towson for the lowest FG percentage in the league). Next: Thursday at Northeastern

6. Virginia Tech (11-6, 1-2 ACC) Last week: 7
RPI: 82
Hokies coach Beth Dunkenberger said after Tech's 70-56 loss to Virginia that her team came out "flat on several fronts." Let's see. The Hokies were coming off the biggest victory of their lives and were at home against their nationally ranked archrival. And they came out flat? College kids. Who can figure 'em out? Next: Thursday at No. 6 Duke

7. Liberty (12-4, 3-1 Big South) Last week: 5
RPI: 113
Defense-first Lady Flames continued to feast on the soft underbelly of the Big South in home routs over Presbyterian and UNC Asheville. It's not totally fair to drop Liberty two spots after the team blows out two opponents, but we're still waiting for a Liberty win over an upper echelon opponent. The Lady Flames have beaten only one Top 100 team this season, and that was back on Nov. 20 (Tulane). Next: Saturday at Charleston Southern

8. Hampton (6-10, 2-3 MEAC) Last week: 8
RPI: 197
Saturday's overtime victory over last-place Norfolk State and Monday's 82-81 loss at MEAC favorite North Carolina A&T perfectly captured the personality of these Lady Pirates - they tend to play to the level of their competition. Next: Saturday vs. Bethune-Cookman

9. William and Mary (9-7, 2-3 CAA) Last week: 9
RPI: 182
Pleasant developments with the Tribe offense - after shooting 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from the 3-point line through its first 13 games, William and Mary is at 45.6 percent from the field and 43.4 percent from deep in its last three games. Katherine DeHenzel in particular has been an offensive revelation. Next: Thursday at Hofstra

10. Radford (4-11, 3-1 Big South) Last week: 10
RPI: 220
Congratulations to junior Denay Wood, who on Tuesday was named the Big South Player of the Week. Wood averaged 14 points in two victories and continued to scorch the nets from behind the 3-point line. In five Big South games, Wood is shooting an unconscious 67 percent from long distance. Next: Saturday at Coastal Carolina

11. George Mason (8-8, 1-4 CAA) Last week: 11
RPI: 185
Amazing what a little offense can do. The 72 points the Patriots scoring in beating Northeastern Sunday were 22 more than they'd scored in any previous CAA game and 10 more than they'd managed in any game since Dec. 4. Next: Thursday at Drexel

12. Longwood (4-15) Last week: 12
RPI: 227
Career highs in points (22) and rebounds (11) from sophomore Brittanni Billups couldn't prevent the Lancers from dropping their seventh straight Monday night at Utah Valley State. Longwood hasn't won since Dec. 18 against High Point, but opportunity looms Thursday when the Lancers conclude their trip out West at 3-18 Seattle. Next: Thursday at Seattle

13. Norfolk State (2-11, 0-5 MEAC) Last week: 13
RPI: 340
The Spartans are clearly outmanned, particularly in the post, against even most MEAC teams. But credit coach Debra Clark and the players themselves for continuing to battle against the odds every night. We still think a handful of MEAC victories are in this team's future. Next: Saturday at Winston-Salem State