Saturday, March 20, 2010

Liberty, Hampton fall in NCAAs

Liberty put up one heck of an effort; Hampton did all it could at a place where their superior foe virtually never loses. And while both teams were eliminated in Saturday's NCAA Tournament first round, the makeup of both rosters sets up some exciting possibilities for 2010-11.

Kentucky 83, Liberty 77
The 13th-seeded Lady Flames never lose when they shoot 50 percent, and they never lose when they score 70 or more points. That both occurred Saturday and they still lost says all you need to know about what kind of offensive show No. 4 Kentucky put on at Louisville's Freedom Hall.

Led by freshman A'dia Mathies (32 points), the Wildcats shot a ridiculous 72 percent in the second half to hold off Liberty's upset bid. For long stretches after the break it seemed as though several minutes would pass between Kentucky missed shots. It was simply a stunning display of marksmanship, particularly against a team that statistically has reigned as one of the nation's stingiest on defense all season.

Liberty (27-6) took the fight to Kentucky, notching the game's first six points, moved out to a 35-33 lead at halftime and piled up another 42 points after the break. Devon Brown finished with 24 points, Avery Warley added 17 and a game-high 14 rebounds, Kylee Beecher chipped in 16 points and Jelena Antic scored 10, the last three on a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.

And it still wasn't enough.

Liberty did have one offensive Achilles heel - turnovers, way too many of them (22). Kentucky turned those mistakes into 22 points.

Still, the Lady Flames didn't give this game away. Kentucky took it by making shot after shot and answering every Liberty challenge over the final 10 minutes.

Liberty can definitely build on this performance, though. The Lady Flames lose just one senior - point guard Amber Mays. The 6-foot-2 Antic missed several games this past season. Imagine a full year of her services. And Brown could be on the verge of blossoming into a true superstar.

Assuming everyone puts in their work in the offseason, the Lady Flames should be poised to do some real damage in the 2010-11 non-conference season. And that will be a key to making any kind of run in the NCAAs. Piling up wins in the Big South does nothing to prevent Liberty from getting the 13-15 seeds that set them up against elite teams from the jump.

Duke 72, Hampton 37

Let's face it, the Lady Pirates (20-12) were screwed as soon as the pairings came out. Cameron Indoor Stadium, with its raucous fans and intimidating aura, is one of the toughest places to play in the sport. Florida State, a top-10 team most of the year, lost there by 30. N.C. State, an NCAA qualifier, fell by 31. The Blue Devils came in having won 12 straight NCAA Tournament games on their home floor. Hampton could do little to prevent becoming consecutive victim No. 13.

That's why Hampton coach David Six spent little time breaking down the Xs and Os of Saturday's defeat. Instead, he spent his time at the podium driving home one theme - This is only the beginning.

We had a great season," Six said. "We were picked sixth in our conference and still won the MEAC Championship with seven freshmen and four sophomores. What we have to do now is take the blueprint from the Dukes, and the Tennessees and the UConns, and understand that they started somewhere too.”

Like Liberty, Hampton has so many returners they're in position to make a lot of November and December noise against some quality teams. They'll need to if they want to avoid another 15 seed, and Six knows it.

Our goal is to bring this program to the day when Hampton University knows the end before we win the MEAC," the coach said. "We want to play good teams outside of our conference so that we know that we’re in the NCAA’s before we win the MEAC.”

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