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

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