Thursday, February 4, 2010

Friday dribble: No Evans, no problem for JMU

We've been feeling for a while now that Old Dominion is playing the best ball in the CAA. Finally, the standings reflect that - thanks to some help from a gritty James Madison squad that thrived despite the loss of their best player.

Friday's game

Wake Forest (13-8, 4-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (12-9, 2-5 ACC), 6:30 p.m.
The Hokies appeared to have the Demon Deacons beaten when these teams opened ACC play in Winston-Salem on Jan. 7., but an 11-1 Wake run over the final 4:19 forced Tech to eat a 66-63 decision. We'd love a healthy Tech in the Blacksburg rematch, especially since Wake is 0-3 in conference road games. But point guard Nikki Davis is still listed as doubtful with a left knee strain, and the Hokies are nowhere near the same team without her. It's been more than a week now since Davis went down, so maybe the Hokies have figured out a couple of ways to adjust. Let's hope so.

Thursday's games

James Madison 71, VCU 56: JMU lost its best player, but VCU collapsed. How else to explain it? The Dukes led by just three points when Evans landed on the side of her right foot after launching a 3-pointer with 8:47 left in the first half. By halftime, the lead was eight. And the Dukes (17-4, 7-3 CAA) spent the second half blowing the Rams out of their own building while a smiling Evans cheered them on with her right leg propped up on a folding chair. Of course, there's no replacing an Evans. But the Dukes did a remarkable job of papering over the giant void her departure created. Freshman Tarik Hislop looked like a seasoned veteran (most of the time) running the point and Sarah Williams opened things up with a couple of long-range bombs. And all reserve forward Kiara Francisco did was deliver career-highs in points (16) and rebounds (11). Then there was the Dukes' defense. We were tempted to blame the Rams (15-7, 8-2 CAA) for their season-low 26-percent shooting, until we remembered that on Sunday, the same Towson team that upended Drexel tonight shot a season-low 19.7 percent against these Dukes. Coincidence? We think not. Of course, every team suffers through bad shooting nights. Of much greater concern for the Rams going forward is how few options they have beyond its usually strong starting five. While Francisco was going off for the Dukes, five VCU reserves combined for just four points. The victory thrust JMU right back in the thick of the CAA race. But what about Evans? Ankle sprains are tricky, unpredictable animals - just ask Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. And while the Dukes showed they're still a handful without their star, they're surely hoping it's a point they won't have to continue making.

Old Dominion 61, UNC Wilmington 58: And then there was one. While Drexel and VCU stumbled, the Lady Monarchs (11-9, 9-1 CAA) handled their business and now have sole possession of the CAA lead. It wasn't pretty - is it ever? - and the box score is littered with some funky stats from key players (i.e. 7 turnovers from Jasmine Parker and a bit of a disappearing act from starting forward Tia Lewis - 0 points on 0-2 shooting, 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 23 minutes). But Parker and Shadasia Green also made their usual assortment of key plays while Kquanise Byrd (13 points) delivered her best offensive game as a Lady Monarch. Meanwhile, reserves Mairi Buchan (5 points), Russia Voronina (5 points) and Jackie Cook (3 points and 2 assists despite 1 busted nose) all made efficient use of limited minutes. It all added up to the Lady Monarchs' eighth straight victory, a 41-0 lifetime record against the Seahawks and first place in the CAA all by their lonesome. Of course, being at the top of this league is a familiar perch for the Lady Monarchs. But how they've gotten there is anything but.

Towson 53, Drexel 48: Several weeks of winning with last-second magic and mirrors masked the fact that the Dragons (14-7, 8-2 CAA) weren't really playing that well. Thursday night, Towson ripped that mask off. "A lot caught up with us tonight," Dragons coach Denise Dillon said. "I hope this turns into a learning experience."

Delaware 84, William and Mary 55: The Tribe probably realized they were in trouble when Elena Delle Donne splashed a 3-pointer 7 seconds into the game. It was just the start of a Blue Hens avalanche that resulted in the worst beating William and Mary (10-11, 3-7 CAA) has taken this season. Taysha Pye did her best to keep the Tribe in it and finished with 22 points. Unfortunately, it took a school-record 26 field goal attempts to get them. I've often wondered - and maybe a player out there can help me with this one - which is worse: getting beaten like this, or having to sit through the film of it the next day?

Hofstra 72, George Mason 39: It's gut-check time for a Patriots team filled with young players, some of which may be hitting the freshman wall. A lot of progress has been made this season. Let's hope the Patriots (8-13, 1-9 CAA) can suck it up and finish out the year in a manner closer to the way they started it. A healthy Brittany Poindexter would certainly help in this regard.

No. 24 Virginia 82, Clemson 60: Four double-figure scorers and efficient 10-of-15 shooting from Monica Wright...Virginia, is that really you? That's five victories in their last six games for the Cavaliers (16-6, 5-3 ACC), and this one ought to knock some of the sour taste from their mouths that lingered from Sunday's loss at Wake Forest. Now let's see if they can produce this kind of performance again Monday at Maryland - they owe the Terrapins one.

Liberty 64, North Carolina Central 44: Not quite as decisive as we expected, but we're not here to pick nits with a 20-point victory. That's 10 straight victories for the Lady Flames (17-4), who should be tuned up and fully charged for Monday's regionally televised rematch with co-Big South leader Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs downed the Lady Flames 70-65 on Jan. 2; Liberty hasn't lost since.

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