Gardner-Webb a basketball power? Just doesn't have a menacing ring to it. I mean, if we're talking about a battle of, say, law firms, I'll ride with a Gardner-Webb. But basketball? Frankly, I don't feel that threatened. But forget the name, and look at the team. Virtually every player they run out there averages 10 points, and the Lady Bulldogs have already won at Purdue and against 11-2 East Carolina and thrown a scare into mighty North Carolina. So don't get caught up in the name. Liberty sure won't - not if the Lady Flames plan on hanging onto the Big South title.
Meanwhile, while most teams are gearing up for conference play, Virginia's Cavaliers head to the Rocky Mountain state to visit an old friend.
No. 23 Virginia (9-3) at Colorado (9-2), 5:30 p.m.
Matchup loaded with subplots, from the teacher vs. pupil coaching matchup to Cavalier forward Jayna Hartig's homecoming to the offbeat fact that Colorado's roster includes Whitney Houston and Brittany Spears. Colorado's gaudy record is inflated somewhat by a heavy dose of home games (the Buffaloes are 8-0 at their Coors Events Center) against less-than-daunting competition. When they stepped up in class last season, Virginia's defensive pressure suffocated the Buffaloes and the Cavaliers rolled 77-43. Colorado has no doubt improved in the time since, and it will be interesting to see if playing at altitude hampers the Cavaliers' fitness as the game wears on. Still, it's hard to imagine one year and a change of venue will be enough to close the 34-point gap. Finally, we'd like to extend our condolences to Monica Wright, who spent New Year's Eve at the funeral of her grandmother before joining her teammates in Colorado Friday. Virginia 81, Colorado 66
Liberty (7-3) at Gardner-Webb (11-2), 3 p.m.
Granted, the Lady Flames were unable to produce a high-ticket victory in matchups with Auburn, Virginia and James Madison. Still, the non-conference season saw Liberty make a smooth pivot from the Frazee Era and re-establish itself as its usual force in the Big South. Besides, this Big South opener is bigger than any of those marquee November-December showdowns, as the winner announces itself as the early favorite in what is shaping up as an intriguing three-team race with these two squads and High Point. Liberty and Gardner-Webb met three times last year and the Lady Flames won them all. But each game was closer than its predecessor, culminating with Liberty's one-point squeaker in the Big South title game. All those games were in the 50s, suggesting the game's pace will be to the liking of a Liberty team that thrives on defense. And the addition of 6-foot-2 freshman Jelena Antic adds one more rebounder to what was already a strong rebounding team. A year ago, the Lady Flames outrebounded Gardner-Webb 51-26 in the title game. Remember, though, that was still a one-point game, and this appears to be an even better Gardner-Webb team than the 2008-09 version. Add in the homecourt advantage and it appears as though Liberty will have to play something close to its best ball all season to kick off conference play with a win. Gardner-Webb 77, Liberty 71