Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thursday dribble - JMU, VCU kick off CAA 2nd half

An already interesting CAA race could get a whole lot more intriguing when James Madison visits VCU as the league's second half kicks off tonight. The Rams have been virtually unbeatable at home the last two years and have beaten the Dukes in four straight regular-season meetings. But after weeks of underwhelming efforts, the Dukes appeared to regain its early-season groove in Sunday's 67-35 pummeling of Towson. Another effort like that could JMU back in the title chase. That is, unless the Rams continue their stunning run of success since their 0-3 showing at the Duel in the Desert tournament in late December. Either way, we're glad the whole thing will play out on television. (Be sure to check your local listings; in South Hampton Roads the game will be aired on Cox Channel 11).

Also in this post: - Richmond rebounds (finally!)
- ODU goes on the road in search of its eighth straight win
- Tribe doesn't want to keep it close vs. Delaware
- Can some home cooking get UVa. back on the good foot?
- No letdown expected from Liberty

Wednesday's game

Richmond 61, Fordham 48: Slump? What slump? That's the way the Spiders responded Wednesday, when after three straight lousy efforts they finally bared teeth and chased the Rams clear out of the Robins Center. Pressure defense was the key; the Spiders forced six Rams turnovers before the first media timeout, recorded 15 steals and scored a whopping 39 points off a season-high 34 Fordham turnovers. It was the kind of performance the Spiders routinely delivered until about two weeks ago, when they apparently lost their way somewhere between Richmond and Dayton. Now let's hope it doesn't disappear again on the trip from Richmond to No. 7 Xavier (Saturday's opponent). The Spiders also received a boost from the return of center Crystal Goring, who saw her first (limited) action in nearly a month after suffering a high ankle sprain. Any minutes the 6-3 Goring can give will be crucial against a Xavier team that features low-post heavyweights Amber Harris and Ta'shia Phillips.

Thursday's games

James Madison (16-4, 6-3 CAA) at VCU (15-6, 8-1 CAA), 7 p.m. (Comcast)
A couple of days ago, we asked what was Kita Waller's secret to averaging over 31 points her last two games. Yesterday we got our answer - she doesn't know, either, and she isn't really interested in finding out. "I don't want to mess myself up, so basically I don't think too much about it," she said. As hot as she's been, the Rams can't start expecting Waller to put up 30 every night. Pressure defense into has been a VCU staple, though, so JMU must take care of the ball to prevent VCU from picking up too many cheap points in transition. Kanita Shepherd gave the Dukes some much-sought-after low-post presence in Sunday's rout of Towson, and Lauren Jimenez can provide paint points, as well. But as always, this team revolves around Dawn Evans. The Dukes junior was more distributor (9 assists) than scorer (14 points) in the Towson rout, perhaps in part because she's struggled with her shot of late. But the former child actress has always had a flair for the dramatic and is usually at her best in big situations. And the pressure is clearly on JMU because if the Dukes plan on injecting themselves into the CAA regular-season title chase, this is a virtual must-win game. JMU 72, VCU 71

Old Dominion (10-9, 8-1 CAA) at UNC Wilmington (7-13, 2-7 CAA), 7 p.m. The Lady Monarchs have won all 40 meetings with the Seahawks, but history means little in CAA play these days, particularly on the road, and frankly if the Lady Monarchs begin play as shakily as they did in Sunday's 51-46 win over Hofstra they may not get out of Wilmington alive. Speaking of the Hofstra game, we hope Tia Lewis' 12-point second-half outburst Sunday against Hofstra was a sign of things to come consistently. There's not a greedy bone in Lewis' body on the court, and typically that's a good thing. But we don't a player who shoots 58.9 percent against CAA teams looking to get hers once in a while. At times it's almost as though as Jessica Canady asserts herself, Lewis recedes into the mix. But you only have to go back to last week's William and Mary game to see how effective ODU can be with Canady and Lewis going off in the paint. Here's hoping we see more of that tonight as ODU seeks to notch consecutive win No. 8. Old Dominion 69, UNC Wilmington 59

William and Mary (10-10, 3-6 CAA) at Delaware (13-7, 5-4 CAA), 7 p.m. Delaware only loses close games, but because William and Mary shoots free throws poorly and is turnover-prone, the Tribe seems poorly equipped for coming up big in clutch situations. We're big Debbie Taylor fans and we love the Tribe's young talent so we'll never rule them out completely. But if the game is tied in the final minute, we'll be the ones over in the corner with our fingers crossed and praying. Regardless of what happens, the atmosphere should be great at the Carpenter Center as Elena Delle Donne continues to pack 'em in. There's a 40-point night in that kid at some point this season; here's hoping the Tribe can make sure it's not tonight. Delaware 65, William and Mary 58

Hofstra (11-10, 4-5 CAA) at George Mason (8-12, 1-8 CAA), 7 p.m. The Patriots are 8-3 at home (1-3 in CAA play) but Hofstra proved it can handle itself on the road last week by winning at JMU and falling by only five at Old Dominion. We'd feel better about Mason's chances if they had a healthy Brittany Poindexter. But the team's leading scorer (12.4 ppg) missed the Patriots' last game with an ankle injury and isn't listed as a projected starter in Mason's latest game notes. Hofstra 60, George Mason 52

Other CAA games
Drexel (14-6, 8-1 CAA) at Towson (9-11, 3-6 CAA), 7 p.m. - Dragons are 5-0 in games decided by five points or less
Northeastern (8-12, 3-6 CAA) at Georgia State (12-8, 3-6 CAA), 6 p.m.

Clemson (11-12, 2-5 ACC) at No. 24 Virginia (15-6, 4-3 ACC), 7 p.m.
Victories over Boston College and N.C. State have put the Tigers back among the ACC living. Still, they had dropped eight straight before that and haven't won on the road since mid-December. So this is a huge opportunity for the Cavs to rebound from Sunday's disappointing loss at Wake Forest. Monica Wright is extremely likely to rebound from her 13-point showing against the Deacon Demons. But as always, the question will be who else can be counted on to give her support? Virginia 73, Clemson 60

Other ACC games
No. 9 North Carolina (16-4, 4-2 ACC) at Miami (14-7, 2-5 ACC), 7 p.m.
No. 6 Duke (18-3, 6-0 ACC) at Boston College (12-10, 3-4 ACC), 7 p.m.

North Carolina Central (7-13) at Liberty (16-4), 5 p.m. With nine straight victories the Lady Flames are clearly operating at peak efficiency, and with a first-place showdown against Gardner-Webb on tap for Monday will not want to let up against the transitional Division I Lady Eagles. So the question isn't whether or not Liberty will win. It's can the Lady Eagles manage to crack 30 points? Liberty 69, N.C. Central 33

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