Thursday, March 31, 2011

WNBA discusses Dawn Evans

The WNBA made some of its general managers and coaches available on a pre-draft conference call Thursday, and it didn't take long before James Madison's Dawn Evans became the topic of conversation:

Q: Can you assess James Madison’s Dawn Evans’ strengths and weakness, and how she projects as a professional player? How high or low will she go in the Draft? 

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve: Dawn Evans is a player that’s shown a great ability to score the basketball, a high volume shooter, which is what’s asked of her for that team and she’s taken on that role well. From a size standpoint, there’s probably some concern there, but as a player she’s very talented and will probably get drafted. In general terms, she’ll probably get drafted in the second round.

Q: With her kidney disease, do you see that being a deterrent in taking her?
Reeve: No, if you’re interested in Evans, you’ll do your homework and you’ll learn about what her physical condition is and what the concerns are. Anybody that would take her would not be concerned about that because they would’ve done their homework. 

Georgetown's Williams-Flournoy rumored to be next Virginia coach

Terri Williams-Flournoy
We can't say for sure and we're saying that up front as speculation on the Internet is not something we like to dabble in. But a good source has told LadySwish that the Virginia job has been narrowed to two candidates: Nikki Caldwell (UCLA) and Terri Williams-Flournoy (Georgetown).

And another reliable source, who nailed the news of Debbie Ryan's resignation and the hiring of Dennis Wolff at Virginia Tech well before either was announced, tells us Williams-Flournoy has the job. Williams-Flournoy led the Hoyas to a program-best 24-11 mark, and Georgetown had UConn on the ropes in the Sweet 16 before the Huskies prevailed. After the game, Williams-Flournoy sounded as though she had no intention of looking elsewhere.

"I'm very happy where I am right now," she said. "I'm really proud of my young ladies and what we've done at Georgetown. Our president has been right here behind us the whole tournament. There's no reason why I should go anywhere."

Williams-Flournoy took over Georgetown on Aug. 27, 2004, becoming just the sixth women's basketball head coach in school history. Additionally, she signed an extension last June through 2014-2015.

You have to figure money is why Dawn Staley is not in the running for a job that years ago seemed to have only her name on it. According to The State: Staley has two years remaining on a five-year contract with South Carolina that pays $650,000 annually, reportedly the second-highest in the SEC behind Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. Virginia would have needed to pay USC $630,000 to buyout Staley’s contract, which includes money still owed Temple to buy out her contract there when she came to USC in 2008.

Stayed tuned, but we think it would be a kick to have Boo's little sis in Charlottesville.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dawn Staley to stay at South Carolina

Scratch former Virginia star Dawn Staley off the list of candidates for the Cavaliers head coaching job. Staley released a statement Wednesday that she will remain at South Carolina. She added that "Virginia is going in a different direction." Interesting choice of words, don't you think?

Staley's statement:

"A lot of people have been talking about me going to Virginia since Debbie Ryan stepped down, and I understand that. It's my alma mater, where I was really shaped as a person, so it's a natural conversation to have. In the end, Virginia is going in a different direction, and I'm staying at the University of South Carolina because I truly believe we have a bright future here. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want to leave because of the direction we have this program going. The players we have coming in next year are going to help us grow even more, and the groundwork our coaching staff is laying with future classes has been outstanding. We feel like we have a gold mine here, and I'm confident our best days at South Carolina are ahead of us."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hey, AP, it's JERICKA Jenkins!

Jericka Jenkins
Kudos to the Associated Press for recognizing Hampton guard Jericka Jenkins as an honorable mention All-American. Problem was, she's referred to as Jessica Jenkins. Because of AP's massive distribution, the error is being duplicated on webpages throughout the internet - including on JMU's official site. Unless it's corrected - and we've contacted the AP about it - it will also be in newspapers across the country tomorrow.

It's not the first time the Lady Pirates star has had her name mangled. Last month, in an otherwise fine story about Jenkins' successful battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, the writer left the "k" out of her first name.

Look, mistakes happen. But the AP's gaffe is particularly unfortunate because Hampton doesn't have All-Americans every day. In fact, Jenkins is the first Lady Pirate to earn AP All-America recognition in the school's Division I era (since 1995). The only other Hampton player to receive Division I All-America honors of any kind was Lashondra Dixon, who was a first-team All-American by the Black College Sports Information Directors of America in 2002. The former Lady Pirates star, now known as Lashondra Dixon-Gordon, is currently an assistant coach at Norfolk State.

In short, this is a really big deal for Hampton. The least the AP can do is get the name right.

Joining Jenkins as AP honorable mention All-Americans were four-fifths of the All-CAA team - JMU's Dawn Evans, Hofstra's Shante Evans, VCU's Courtney Hurt and Delaware's Elena Delle Donne. Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers, who starred at King's Fork High in Suffolk, also made the list.

JMU's Evans is V Foundation Comeback Award winner

James Madison's Dawn Evans has added another accolade to her laundry list.

The senior is this year's recipient of the V Foundation Comeback Award. Evans has battled focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a disease that affects the kidney filtering system. Evans has led the Dukes to back-to-back CAA Tournament titles and is an ambassador for the NephCure Foundation.

This award is given annually by The V Foundation for Cancer Research in collaboration with ESPN. The award will be announced Tuesday during ESPN's basketball coverage (approximately 9 p.m. on ESPN2) and presented to Evans on the James Madison campus at a later date.

Dawn Evans exemplifies "the don't give up' spirit that is the cornerstone of The V Foundation," said The V Foundation CEO, Nick Valvano. "We are proud to welcome Dawn as the recipient of the 2011 V Foundation Comeback Award. She will join an inspirational group of young people who have received this award before her."

The V Foundation Comeback Award is open to men and women collegiate basketball student-athletes in all NCAA divisions. It is awarded to an individual or a team who has accomplished a personal triumph in the face of true adversity, be it in health, life or moral dilemma.

The award is presented in memory of Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach and ESPN commentator, whose personal battle with cancer inspired the creation of The V Foundation. In his memorable speech at ESPN‟s inaugural ESPY Awards announcing the creation of The V Foundation,

Caldwell in play for Virginia coaching search, Guru says

Nikki Caldwell
More updates from Mel Greenberg on the search to replace Debbie Ryan at Virginia:

Well apparently UCLA’s Nikki Caldwell may still be in play at Virginia and based on a whisper or two might have even detoured to Charlottesville sometime Monday on the way to doing in-studio analysis at ESPN in Bristol, Conn., for Monday night’s Dayton and Spokane Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament won by Notre Dame over Tennessee and Stanford over Gonzaga.

Several other sources confirmed Cavaliers athletic director Craig Littlepage’s visit to Sunday’s Philadelphia Regional final – only the fact that he was here – at Temple’s Liacouras Center most likely to view Georgetown coach Terri Williams-Flournoy guide the Hoyas against Big East rival Connecticut.

Virginia alum Dawn Staley, who made a successful coaching debut building Temple into a nationally recognized program in her eight seasons on North Broad Street and moved to South Carolina in 2008, may be too expensive in terms of the Gamecocks’ buyout in addition to the ongoing Temple buyout according to one source.

Incidentally the Guru was astounded at the through-the-roof numbers on the previous post concerning the vacancy – highly competitive with the readership that visits the Guru from UConn – showing Hoos women’s hoops does draw interest.

Monday, March 28, 2011

VCU's Hurt: Overlooked and underappreciated

What about Courtney Hurt? Dare we call her the most overlooked player in the country?

The Final Four-bound VCU men are the talk of the nation and deservedly so. Hurt, on the other hand, isn't even a blip on the postseason accolade radar.

The WBCA issued a "watch list" last week with 40 names on it for its All-American team (anyone else wonder why, at the end of March, the list is only narrowed down to 40?). Hurt isn't on that list.

The 6-1 forward led the nation in rebounding (12.7 rpg) and was second in the nation in scoring (23.2 ppg). She is also the NCAA leader in double-doubles with 30. She shot 45 percent from the field and averaged 34 minutes, amassing 720 points all by her lonesome this season.

Not even a mention for Hurt alongside Michigan State's Kalisha Keane (16.1 ppg, 5 rpg) or Iowa's Kachine Alexander (14.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg)? No disrespect to those players or anyone else on the WBCA list, but why the snub for Hurt? VCU finished 19-12, sweeping Old Dominion and recording a victory over UNC Wilmington. The Rams fell in the CAA Tournament semifinals and advanced to the WNIT. Early in the season, prior to Andrea Barbour becoming eligible, Hurt was the Rams offense. Her trademark was her consistency, which never wavered with or without Barbour in the lineup.

We think she put together a pretty impressive year, and certainly a good enough one to among the 40 players considered for All-American.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Parting words from Debbie Ryan

Some words from Debbie Ryan and China Crosby from Saturday night's postgame press conference after Charlotte ended the Cavaliers' run in the WNIT quarterfinals.

Ryan on walking off the court for the last time:
I can't tell you how incredibly humbled I am by the way my former players and my present players have embraced me. They have been absolutely amazing. I've been so proud to be a part of my former staffs, my former players, just everybody who has ever been here for me, whether they played for me or Dan Bonner or Barbara Kelly. Everyone is a family here. They just rallied around me. Everyday, there were four or five people calling just to be sure I was okay. I mean, I just can't tell you how humbled I am by that. It's amazing to me how they've been.

On weeks since she announced she would be stepping down:
It's going to be really different. I imagine I will have a reaction, whatever that means. It's going to be really hard. I've never done this before. It's going to be kind of interesting. I guess I won't have the anxiety that I've had for the past two weeks, which is a little different. It's just been a really hard two weeks. You want to do you best for them, and yet you're not quite yourself. None of you in here would understand this, but I could compare it to the three days you have to wait for a blood test to come back to tell you whether your cancer has returned. It's the exact same feeling. But I've had it for two weeks. It's a hard, hard feeling. Even though you know what's going to happen at the end, it's just hard. There's nothing like the doctor telling you. You get the symptoms all back, everything comes back again in those three days and you think you're going to die and all that stuff, and then the doctor gets on the phone with you and says "you're OK." And then everything goes away. Just like that. It's like nothing ever happened. But those three days, while you're waiting, and unless you're a survivor you wouldn't understand it. 

These last two weeks have been like that. It's been just really hard, because I've tried to be who I am, but it's just been really hard. And they know. They've picked up for me, and they've been funny around me, and they didn't actually ask me to dance or anything, which would have been really funny. They didn't want this to end either. But it did. Now we have to deal with it. I do imagine I will have some sort of reaction to it.

Crosby on the last game under Ryan:
We wanted two more games. We just tried to make the best of it for her [Coach Ryan] because it was her last game here at JPJ. For the seniors, we tried to play our best. We weren't thinking about this being our last game. We were just thinking about Charlotte and what we can do to win this game. At halftime she stressed that we have to come out, to be more physical, and try to get this win so we can go ahead to the Final Four of the WNIT. We just tried to play our butts off for her. Of course, it was in the back of our heads, thinking that we have to play hard because of what she gave to this program and her legacy. We have to do it and end it strong for her. We tried. Just like Coach Ryan said, she didn't think about it being her last game. We don't think about what's in the future, or that it's her last game. We're thinking about Charlotte, and what we have to do to win this game. That was our main focus. It wasn't about "dang, this is going to be our last game out at JPJ." It was more like, "We have to focus on Charlotte."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WNIT loss ends Ryan's incredible era at Virginia

The Debbie Ryan era ended on Saturday night with the Cavaliers falling to Charlotte 79-74 in the quarterfinals of the WNIT at the John Paul Jones Arena.

Nearly 2,000 fans turned out to send off the legend who announced she was stepping down two weeks ago.

From Richmond Times-Dispatch wordsmith Vic Dorr:

Six U.S. presidents and 10 Virginia governors held office during Ryan's tenure as U.Va.'s coach. Her accomplishments include a 739-324 record, 28 postseason appearances and 24 NCAA tournament appearances. She produced only two losing seasons -- and one of those was 1977-78, her first year in command of the Cavaliers program.

We could give you game details, but we all know what's important here. We can't wait to see what Debbie does next because we have no doubt she'll be remarkably successful at whatever it is. Thanks for 34 wonderful years at Virginia, Coach.

We enjoyed every single minute of it.

Could Virginia snag Georgetown coach? the Guru asks

Could Virginia's new coach be . Here's the latest speculation by women's hoops guru Mel Greenberg from his Saturday notes column from the Philadelphia Region:

If the phrase continues to be used by school athletic officials that they can’t yet chase candidates to fill vacancies at such places as Virginia because of targeting teams still in the tournament, let’s look at what the roll call reveals.

Georgetown's Terri Williams-Flournoy, perhaps? Mel asks further down.

That leaves Georgetown’s Terri Williams-Flournoy, especially off her impressive building the Hoyas to their success this season in both residing the distance in the AP Poll as well as Tuesday’s second win of the season over Maryland.

But she signed an extension at the end of last summer so it might be difficult for Virginia, unless it’s ready to spend the dollars, to pry her loose.

Several buzzes from Charlottesville have said the Cavaliers took a run at UCLA’s Nikki Caldwell, a former UVA assistant, and struck out.

So then the question lingering is whether a pursuit of all-time UVA star Dawn Staley at South Carolina is alive or whether her Gamecocks deal is a barrier or whether it won’t start, although athletic director Craig Littlepage has always kept track of Staley.

Williams-Flournoy and Virginia however certainly know what each other is about.

WNIT: Ryan's last ride at JPJ

All fans of women's basketball and or the University of Virginia anywhere near Charlottesville should visit John Paul Jones Arena Saturday night at 7 p.m. when the Cavaliers (19-15) host Charlotte (26-9) in the WNIT quarterfinals in what will be coach Debbie Ryan's last home game. Any subsequent WNIT games involving Virginia will be held on the road because JPJ is booked for other events.

The Virginia-Charlotte winner will play either Syracuse or Toledo in the semifinals on Wednesday or Thursday. The Syracuse-Toledo quarterfinal will be played Sunday. Also Sunday, Arkansas will visit Illinois State and Southern Cal will travel to Colorado in the other quarterfinals.

The Cavaliers have won their three WNIT games thanks largely to defense, as they're allowing only 51.0 ppg in the tournament and have held their last two opponents under 50.

Charlotte, which outlasted Florida 81-77 in overtime Thursday, will look to continue its success against Virginia schools. The 49ers have a 6-1 record against schools from the Commonwealth this season, having defeated Hampton, VCU, Virginia Tech, Richmond (twice) and Liberty. The lone loss was to Old Dominion.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Colorado State's Meixandra Porter to transfer

UPDATE: Meixandra Porter has transferred to Division II Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Looking for an experienced Division I point guard that is strong going left or right and loves the transition game? You may be in luck, because Meixandra Porter is back on the market.

Porter, a Chantilly native and the Division 3 State Player of the Year who led Freedom to a Group AA state title in 2009,  has left Colorado State and may transfer to a Virginia school. The 5-foot-6 guard told The Coloradoan newspaper that a poor relationship with Rams head coach Kristen Holt is the reason she's moving on.

"We just didn't have the best relationship," Porter told the newspaper. "There was previous stuff that happened over last summer that I felt was behind us. But I paid a price for that and didn't get her trust back. They were off-court issues, nothing real serious. But it created a conflict between us, and it just didn't work out."

As a sophomore Porter appeared in 27 of 30 games for the Rams last season with two starts and averaged 7.7 points, 2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. She missed the first half of her freshman season after suffering a wrist injury in CSU's second exhibition game.

Porter plans to finish out this semester at CSU and is open for business regarding a future school.

"I want to go to school on the East Coast, either Virginia or Florida," she said.

Two years ago, Richmond was among the schools Porter said she strongly considered, along with Kent State and Howard.

Debbie Ryan: Is it really her time to go?

Maybe I'm wrong about Debbie Ryan. Maybe she wasn't pushed out the door at Virginia, where she has been head coach for the last 34 years, compiling 739 victories.Maybe this was all her decision. But listening to Ryan's emotional press conference two days after athletic director Craig Littlepage announced Virginia would be seeking another coach was gut wrenching.

We read the message boards and know the sentiment many share. Virginia fans haven't been happy for a while. The Cavaliers, whose last appearance in the Final Four was 1992, haven't advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 2000. They won five games in the ACC last year and lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament.

What we see is a woman who is a marvelous ambassador to the sport. She runs a clean program, graduates her kids and has had no shortage of All-Americans along the way, including 2010 graduate Monica Wright. The winning hasn't been as plentiful for a program that used to be a leader in an ACC that has seen Miami and Florida State elevate their programs and join heavyweights Duke, Maryland and North Carolina. And  yes, Virginia has all the resources to be right there with those schools.

But does anyone truly believe Ryan has lost her fast ball, that the game has "passed her by." Frankly, what if Jazzmin Walters doesn't drain that 3-pointer in the Constant Center in the NCAA second round with 4.8 seconds left in OT in 2008? As impressive as a win as that was for ODU, they were playing against a higher seed on their home floor.  In the books it's yet another year when Virginia didn't get to the Sweet 16.

We're softies for folks we like at LadySwish. We like Ryan. We've seen up close how she connects with young women, a role many longtime coaches reserve for their assistants. She breathes this, lives for it and is indeed the best Debbie Ryan she could possibly be. Bria Smith, the No 8 recruit in the country didn't just want to play for Virginia as much as she wanted to play for Ryan. We can understand why.

Does all of this mean Ryan has earned the right to coach at Virginia forever? Close to it, we say. You better be careful when you start shoving legends like Ryan out the door. The reality is it has all become as unpleasant as corporate America's what have you done for me lately? philosophy. Ryan's Cavaliers played a brutal nonconference schedule that didn't afford them many victories. They struggled in the ACC. Just like we look to the quarterback when things go wrong, we look to the coach.

Problem is when we look at Ryan, we like what we see.

Debbie Ryan's Cavaliers survive and advance in WNIT

You knew it would happen this way, right? Legendary coach announces her retirement days before the postseason tournament, team gets on a mission and produces a lengthy run. All part of the script, right?

That's the way it seems for Virginia, which trumped Boston College 53-48 Thursday at John Paul Jones Arena to advance to the WNIT quarterfinals and extend coach Debbie Ryan's stint as the Cavaliers coach for at least one more game. When these teams met in the same building last month, the Eagles prevailed by 23 points.

"We are playing for her now," Virginia guard Ariana Moorer said of Ryan. "We want her here as long as possible."

It was the third straight postseason victory for the Cavaliers (19-15), who will host Charlotte on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the (other) Elite Eight. The three-game winning streak matches Virginia's longest of the season, something they've done on two other occasions.

Regardless of what happens Saturday, the Charlotte game will be Ryan's last at JPJ as the arena is booked during the dates for the WNIT's final two rounds, according to a Daily Progess report.

Moorer scored 15 points, China Crosby and Ataira Franklin each added 9 (and Franklin 10 rebounds) and Chelsea Shine chipped in 8 in yet another balanced scoring effort for the Cavaliers, who shot just 30.6 percent from the field but scored 18 points off Boston College turnovers. Four-time All-ACC center Carolyn Swords closed out her brilliant career with 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Eagles (20-13).

"I am very excited for the team, and it means everything to me," said Ryan, who will retire whenever this WNIT run ends after 34 seasons. "They know how much this means to me, and I want to stay with them. They are my girls, and they have been great throughout the whole tournament."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No Debbie? No Bria Smith, either

Bria Smith, the star of Virginia's 2011-12 recruiting class, has decided that without Debbie Ryan, she's not as interested in the Cavaliers. The 5-8 guard ranked No. 8 in next season's recruiting class has been released from her national letter-of-intent and is back in the pool for the spring signing period.

WNIT - Ryan, Virginia try to keep it going against BC

Stumbled across this ESPN commercial the other day, a vivid reminder that while folks can quibble about Virginia coach Debbie Ryan's recent results, no one can accuse her of no longer having fire in her belly.

The Cavaliers will try to extend the tenure of Ryan, who has announced she will step down after this season, for at least one more game when ACC foe Boston College (20-12) visits John Paul Jones Arena Thursday at 7 p.m. in the third round of the WNIT.

A little over a month ago, these teams also met at JPJ and the Eagles rolled 73-50. We're not sure what to make of that score, though. Virginia didn't score a point in the first 9:41 and fell behind 20-0 - against an Eagles team that ranked 11th in the 12-team ACC in scoring defense. We're not guaranteeing Virginia will win the rematch, but we're sure Thursday's game won't play out like that first meeting.

Through two WNIT games, Virginia (18-15) has used the offense-by-committee approach that has marked its most successful outings in 2010-11. Ariana Moorer, Chelsea Shine and Ataira Franklin all scored 14 points in Sunday's 71-49 victory over Loyola (Md.). And in last week's 69-56 win over Morgan State, the Cavaliers' individual point totals were - no kidding - 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2 (by 3 players).

The Virginia-BC winner will meet Thursday's Charlotte-Florida winner in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That game could also be played at JPJ; the WNIT determines the site after the matchup is set. According to Jay Jenkins of the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress, if the Cavaliers do host the quarterfinal that would be the final game for Ryan at JPJ as the arena has scheduling conflicts over the WNIT's final two rounds.

Of course, for any of this to be an issue - and for Ryan to continue manning the Virginia sideline - the Cavs must take care of business against BC Thursday night.

NCAA Tournament: Just the game isn't enough to pack the house

It was easy to find a seat at JPJ on Tuesday night.
We took a peek at the attendance for the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and here's what stood out to us:

Who drew the best? Knoxville, Tenn (Tennessee) – 9,007 (Tennessee 79, Marquette 70)

Wasn't it Maya's last game in Gampel? Storrs, Conn. (UConn) – 5,729 (UConn 64, Purdue 40)

Blue Devils fans can't do better than this for No. 2 seed Duke? Durham, N.C. (Duke) – 3,644 (Duke 71, Marist 66) 

Who drew the worst: Charlottesville, Va. (Virginia) – 1,362 (Oklahoma 88, Miami 83)

Some thoughts, and since we're a Virginia blog, we start with our state. James Madison lost in the first round. We get that. No doubt a second-round game featuring the Dukes would have been a lot more appealing to fans in this state than Oklahoma vs. Miami. But 1,362 is paltry. These sites are announced years in advance to promote them, so we thought. So minus a Virginia school, nobody was interested, right? The numbers don't lie, and indeed a Tuesday night at JPG without the Cavaliers isn't exactly a grabber unfortunately.

It is worth noting that the Constant Center in Norfolk drew 4,832 for last year's second-round between UConn and Temple. And lest anybody forget the sold-out regional there in 2004 between Duke and Minnesota. We know Virginia can do come up with some monster promotions (remember hot dog night?), but clearly the JPJ's first attempt at this was a colossal failure.

Geno himself expressed ire at Husky fans not turning out in droves to see Maya's last game at Gampel. But the fans have responded, noting high ticket prices despite the slumping economy; upper tier seats while the lower ones remain empty; $8 to park and bottle neck congestion along I-84 that means leaving before 5 p.m. on a weeknight to see a 7 p.m. game. All that plus these folks are admittedly spoiled and likely to spend their bucks at the region in Philadelphia. Seems like legitimate stuff to us. And while we're at it, a Sunday noon game for the first round? Yeah, the Huskies are a religion to some, but that tipoff pretty much snubs the churchgoing crowd.

We love this sport, and you love it most likely if you're reading this. Not everyone does, and it seems to us that the NCAA doesn't do the sport any favors by making this tournament strictly about basketball -- no giveaways, no halftime shows, not even a military color guard to sing the national anthem. Pardon us for being crazy, but how about a juiced up musical act to liven things up pregame or postgame? Half price food? Let's not fool ourselves. This sport doesn't sell itself as much as we'd dearly love it to.  Maybe if we can get folks in the building, we can build a stronger fan base, but just putting women's basketball on the court and expecting folks to show up, especially when their team isn't involved, isn't working.

Baylor gave away free tickets to the first 1,000 students for the second round. People love free stuff. They love even the chance to win free stuff. Contests. Giveaways. Raffles. Could each university work with student clubs and challenge each to bring in the most students to an event like this with a prize going to the most successful club? 

Would any of this work? We don't know. What we do know is unless you're in Knoxville, Waco, Hartford or a handful of other women's basketball hotbeds, what the NCAA is doing now doesn't.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Local players to compete in D-II Final Four

Need a women's basketball fix during this break between NCAA Division I tournament games? Try Wednesday's Division II national semifinals, where a pair of former Hampton Roads high school stars, Brittney Spencer and Janelle Harrison, will try to help extend Shaw's unlikely run to a D-II title.

Harrison, a 5-7 senior from Chesapeake's Western Branch High, and Spencer, a 5-6 junior from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, will join the Lady Bears (25-11) in the program's first-ever Final Four appearance Wednesday against Clayton State (33-1) at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

Michigan Tech (30-2) and Northwest Missouri State (29-4) will play in the other semifinal at 9:30 p.m. and will also air on ESPNU. The title game is set for Friday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

The Lady Bears advanced to tonight's semifinal in thrilling fashion Tuesday, as Brittany Ransom's layup a split-second before the buzzer lifted Shaw past Metro State 46-45. Spencer set up the game-winning score by threading a halfcourt pass between two defenders and into Ransom's hands in front of the rim.

A little over a month ago, Shaw's record stood at just 14-11. But they haven't lost since, fashioning a run that has including the program's sixth CIAA title and four NCAA Tournament victories. The Lady Bears will take an 11-game winning streak into Wednesday's national semifinal.

Shaw is coached by Jacques Curtis, a man who - get this, Virginia Tech fans - spent 10 years as a men's assistant and two more as a men's head coach before coaching women for the first time when he took over the Shaw program in 2000. Seems to be working out - in addition to the 6 CIAA titles, Curtis has guided the Lady Bears to 5 NCAA Tournament appearances, three Elite Eight showings and now, the Final Four.

The school is clearly proud of the coach and the program, and isn't bashful about letting the world know it. Check out the first two lines of Curtis' bio on the school's website:

The incomparable Jacques Curtis, head coach of the Shaw University Lady Bears basketball team, starts his eleventh year at one of the nation's most successful programs. This legacy has been built tirelessly, diligently and successfully by Curtis, his staff, and the many student-athletes who have been fortunate enough to don the garnet and white jerseys of the Lady Bears.

Guess it ain't braggin' if you can back it up.

Harrison was a two-time team MVP at Western Branch who began her college career at Louisburg College. Spencer, who averaged 16 points and 6 assists as a senior at Ocean Lakes, came to Shaw after a stint at Appalachian State.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vandersloot and Barefoot: The only two of their kind

Courtney Vandersloot.

Karen Barefoot

Hope you got a chance to enjoy Courtney Vandersloot's amazing night on Monday when she led her No. 11 Gonzaga team to an upset victory over No. 3 UCLA in the NCAA Tournament second round. Vandersloot's 24 points and 17 assists made it a milestone night, as the senior became the first player in Division I history to achieve 2,000 points and 1,000 assists.

We highlight this as a way to acknowledge Virginia's own Karen Barefoot. The former point guard for Division III Christopher Newport is the only other player to achieve that distinction during her brilliant career from 1991-94.

Here's a LadySwish shoutout to the Newport News native and former Old Dominion assistant, now the head coach at Elon.

ODU, Richmond signees shine in N.J. tourney

Monday was a big night for a pair of high school players we may be hearing a lot from in the years to come. In the final game of their high school careers, Old Dominion signee Queen Tiye Jackson and Richmond-bound Miah Register both played pivotal roles as Trenton Catholic (N.J.) defeated Neptune 54-49 to win the prestigious NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title. The Trentonian newspaper referred to the TOC as "the biggest game of the year in New Jersey girls basketball.

Jackson had 16 points and a team-high 7 rebounds; Register tallied 6 points and spooned out a team-high 5 assists. Trenton Catholic's third soon-to-be Division I star, McDonald's All-American Briyona Canty, led all scorers with 17 points. Canty has signed with Rutgers. The crowd was estimated at 3,000; we suspect that total included Wendy Larry and Michael Shafer.

The 5-11 Jackson is one of five players ODU signed in the early period, along with 5-8 guard Myeisha Hall, 5-11 wing Tiffany Minor, 5-5 point guard Ashley Betz-White and 5-7 guard Kaneisha Atwater.

Richmond has also signed five players, with 5-9 guard Keri Soppe, 6-3 forward Amber Battle, 6-4 forward Liz Brown and 6-3 forward Yazmean Burgess set to join the 5-9 Register with the Spiders.

Introducing Virginia Tech women's coach Dennis Wolff

Former Virginia Tech men's Director of Operations Dennis Wolff held his initial press conference on Tuesday, introduced as the sixth head coach of the Hokies women's team replacing Beth Dunkenberger. Wolff, the all-time winningest coach of the Boston University men's basketball team prior to coming to Tech in 2010, led the Terriers to three straight America East titles (2003-04) and made four postseason appearances there.

Wolff has not coached a college women's team before but alluded to coaching his daughter, Nicole, the 2002 McDonald's National Player of the Year. Nicole Wolff endured an injury-plagued career at UConn and is now attending graduate school at Boston University.

Wolff admitted to being surprised when Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver approached him, but is looking forward to what he describes as "probably the biggest challenge of my coaching career."

The Hokies finished 11-19 this season and had just one ACC victory.

Some snippets:

Wolff: "Working with the men's team really rekindled my interest in coaching again."

"It happened very quickly. He (Weaver) asked me to think about it. I thought about it. We had discussions about it last week. ... It was never in my mind until Jim Weaver put it in my mind."

Wolff on the difference between coaching men and women: "A lot of times with high level players on the women's side, they are so dominant all the way through that rarely do they have anybody say anything critical to them." ... (Reference to UConn's Geno Auriemma). "He coaches them like Jim Calhoun coaches them. You have to have thick skin. I think these kids want to have a good team and I think they will be responsive."

On goals: "We want to be a winning program in the ACC, be a top program and be in the NCAA Tournament."

On recruiting: "I'm an aggressive person. ... The way to have good players is to work at it."

On women's basketball experience: "My daughter is something I can use, her experience, my family's experience with her, will guide me."

Jim Weaver: "I have a very high regard for him and I know other people in our department have the same."

On the initial approach: "I approached him, I don't know, five or six weeks ago, maybe four weeks ago, and asked him to think about it. I recognized the fact that it might be a significant change for him. I wanted to plant the seed and I did that."

On the coaching search: I don't discuss other candidates when we have a search, individually, that is. Having said that, I've been working behind the scenes for the most part of this academic year knowing there would be a likelihood that we would be making a change. .. I'm not going to get into those candidates. Some of those are still playing; some of them got beat yesterday."

On why the decision was made so quickly: "I think he's the best person for the job at the time. ....He has a great knowledge of the game. He coached his son at BU. He coached his daughter so that she was the best player in the land eight or nine years ago. People who know him know he's a tireless worker."

Weaver revealed Wolff's contract details as follows: It is a six-year deal, with the base salary identical to the men's coach.
$233,486 base salary
$132,000 retention incentive, paid over three payment (April 1, Dec. 1, Aug 1)
$10,000 fee from Nike contract
opportunity to have a membership at the Blacksburg Country Club or Pete Dye River Course
Dealer vehicle

Tech to "officially" announce new coach at 4 p.m.

You can watch Virginia Tech's 4 p.m. press conference to introduce new coach Dennis Wolff live.

Is this a curious choice, Hokie fans?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dennis Wolff to take over at Virginia Tech

Multiple sources, including AAU guru Boo Williams and Daily Press columnist David Teel, have said that Dennis Wolff will be the next head coach of the Virginia Tech women's team.

UConn graduate Wolff, 56, is the current Director of Operations for Tech men's coach Seth Greenberg. He's well overqualified for that job, having served as men's coach at Boston University for 15 years, leading the Terriers to two NCAA Tournament appearances and three NIT appearances. Wolff was named the America East Coach of the Year in 1997, 2003, 2004, the NABC District I Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2004 and the New England Division I Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2004. He won a school record 247 games at BU before being fired in March 2009 after the Terriers lost in the first round of the America East Tournament. The former Virginia men's assistant to Jeff Jones was hired by Tech as director of operations last June.

Wolff's daughter, Nicole, the 2002 McDonald's National Player of the Year, was plagued by injuries during her four years at UConn.

So far official Tech sources are mum.

Virginia to meet Boston College in WNIT

The lone state team standing in postseason, Virginia, had little trouble defeating Loyola 71-49 to advance to the round of 16 in the WNIT.

The Cavaliers (18-15) will host Boston College on Thursday. BC beat Virginia 73-50 at John Paul Jones Arena on Feb. 20.

With $8 tickets and Debbie Ryan's coaching career coming to an abrupt end, we hope Virginia fans will turn out in deference to the woman who built the Cavaliers program, making it ione of the most storied in the sport.

James Madison comes up short against Oklahoma

We apologize, LadySwish followers. LadySwish has been a bit under the weather of late and didn't post news on Sunday's happenings in the NCAA Tournament.

Admittedly, we were bummed, too. We would have loved for James Madison to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. Instead the Dukes end the season at 26-8 after running into a more experienced Oklahoma team with an eye toward a third consecutive visit to the Final Four.

The No. 6 Sooners (22-11) led by as many as 19 before a late JMU run cut it to six, but the Dukes edged no closer. Dawn Evans got 20, but we figured she'd need at least 30 or more for JMU to pull the upset. Evans was also 0-of-11 from beyond the arc; Evans and Tarik Hislop combined for a 13-of-48 shooting effort.

JMU never settled into a rhythm, leading just once at 2-0. Much of that was due to the tandem of Danielle Robinson and Whitney Hand, who combined for 43 points.

Nice to see that most in the crowd of 3,763 was wearing purple, folks who undoubtedly had a heavy heart when Evans came out of the game for the last time and shared a long embrace with coach Kenny Brooks.

Just a note about ESPN's coverage. Many fans around the state didn't see much of the second half, even though the local game was supposed to be, at the very least, on the local ESPN channel, (the non-HD version). That wasn't the case, and frankly, that shouldn't be. We'll expound later in the week on our thoughts about ESPN, but that was a major bummer.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

NCAA: Kentucky survives Hampton in OT

Jericka Jenkins
They damn near pulled it off.

But fourth-seeded Kentucky was able to squeeze out just enough points - and make just enough key stops - to hold off No. 13 Hampton 66-62 in overtime Saturday in the Spokane Region first round at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.

"They showed up," Kentucky star Victoria Dunlap, the SEC Player of the Year, said of the Lady Pirates. "They came ready to play and they fought until the end."

Despite the vast difference in Division I pedigree between the two teams, the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers installed Kentucky as "only" a 9-point favorite indicated they were expecting a relatively close game. The Lady Pirates then replaced "relatively" with "extremely", and actually were tied at 56 with the ball and less than a minute left. But Victoria Dunlap blocked Quanneisha Perry's jumper with 31 seconds left, and when the Wildcats couldn't convert at the other end, the game went to overtime.

In the extra period, Kentucky forged ahead by 7 points with less than a minute to play. But Choicetta McMillian sandwiched 3-pointers around a pair of Wildcats free throws. And after a Jericka Jenkins steal, the Lady Pirates were in position to tie things again with a 3-pointer. Kentucky's defense rose up again, though, as they denied passes to HU's preferred shooters Jenkins and McMillian. The ball wound up in the hands of husky 6-3 center Sherena Abercrumbia, whose contested heave from beyond the arc fell short.

"Tremendous, tremendous basketball game. If you're a basketball fan you saw everything," Hampton coach David Six said. "You saw two great teams going at each other. And, unfortunately we came out on the short end of that. I'm proud of my kids. We didn't come here to be a bump on someone's schedule. We came here to play at a high level and I thought that we did that today."

The Lady Pirates (25-7) hung in there by sticking to Six's three-pronged blueprint for success - limiting turnovers (17), attacking the boards - they outrebounded Kentucky 45-40 - and applying smothering defense. The Wildcats shot just 34 percent, a couple of ticks lower than Hampton's 36 percent.

The loss snapped Hampton's 13-game winning streak - 14 if you count the forfeit to Bethune-Cookman - and dropped the Lady Pirates to 0-5 in Division I NCAA Tournament games. But in their four prior postseason appearances, their closest margin of defeat was 35 points.

This time, they damn near pulled it off.

Hampton's near-miss was a fitting punctuation to a day in which lower seeds gave higher seeds fits, typically the rule in the men's tournament but a refreshing development in this year's women's event. Tenth-seeded Temple, No. 10 Marist and No. 11 Gonzaga were all "upset" winners, and No. 14 Navy stood up to No. 3 DePaul while No. 14 Montana fell by just 8 to No. 3 UCLA.

On Sunday, No. 11 James Madison will begin its NCAA quest in first-round action against No. 6 Oklahoma at 2:30 p.m. at Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers will be at Loyola's Reitz Arena in Baltimore for a 4 p.m. game against the Greyhounds in the second round of the WNIT.

CNU takes third at D-III nationals

Christopher Newport finished the greatest season in program history in the winner's circle Saturday - and gave head coach Carolyn Hunter a great birthday present - by topping host Illinois Wesleyan 64-58 in the third-place game of the NCAA Division III championships.

Amherst (32-1), which defeated CNU in Friday's semifinals, went on to claim the national title with a 64-55 victory over defending champion Washington University.

Captains star Chelsie Schweers scored a game-high 23 points and finished the tournament with a Division III-record 174 points in the six games. The program's first-ever four-time All-American ends her career with a Division III-record 415 3-pointers and 2,869 points, second on the D-III all-time scoring list and the most by any women's player at a Virginia college at any level.

But as has been the case all season, Schweers had plenty of help Saturday. Kimmy Hopkins had 11 points - 9 pivotal ones in the second half - on 5-of-7 shooting in just 18 minutes. Lauren Gural, who had a double-double in Friday's semifinals, added 10 points in the third-place game. Rebounding ace Barbara Davis had 8 points and 11 boards. And freshman Chantal Thomas came up huge in her career-high 25-minute stint with solid defense, poise against the Illinois Wesleyan press and two big free throws with 18 seconds left that expanded CNU's advantage to 4.

Schweers was the lone Captain named to the all-tournament team. The tournament's most outstanding player was Amherst's Caroline Stedman.

The Captains ended with a 30-4 record, the program's second straight 30-win season and the second-best record in team history after last season's 30-1 mark.

13 things about Hampton-Kentucky

In honor of Hampton getting a No. 13 seed - and the fact that the Lady Pirates are riding a 13-game winning streak - here are 13 random facts about Saturday's NCAA first-round game against No. 4 Kentucky.

1. The game will be played at "The Pit," the University of New Mexico's 17,126-seat arena and one of the most famous facilities in college basketball. Sports Illustrated named it one of the top 20 venues in any sport, one spot behind England's Wembley Stadium and ahead of Camden Yards, Daytona International Speedway and the Rose Bowl.

2. Las Vegas odds have Kentucky as a 9-point favorite (for entertainment purposes only, of course).

3. Hampton is 1-6 lifetime against SEC schools - the win came in December against Florida - while Kentucky is 5-0 all-time against MEAC schools.

4. These two teams have never met in women's basketball.

5. Hampton and Kentucky are two of the 27 schools that qualified teams for both the men's and women's Division I NCAA basketball tournaments.

6. Hampton and Kentucky each average 5.3 3-point field goals per game.

7. Kentucky may have the higher profile, but Hampton actually has a richer women's basketball tradition. Under coach James Sweat, the the Lady Pirates were a Division II power in the 1980s, advancing to the national quarterfinals in four straight seasons and winning the D-II national title in 1988.

8. The following year, for reasons that still aren't totally clear, Sweat abruptly left Hampton and took over at Norfolk State. For those who aren't aware of the Hampton-NSU rivalry - or at least what it used to be - that's sort of like Pat Summitt leaving Tennessee to coach UConn.

9. Hampton is 0-4 in four trips to the Division I NCAA Tournament. The losses were by 71 points to UConn, by 44 to Texas, by 37 to Penn State and by 35 last year at Duke.

10. Kentucky is 7-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 4-3 in the first round.

11. Kentucky assistant coach Matt Insell, 28, is the son of Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Insell.

12. A few weeks ago, we wrote that Hampton point guard Jericka Jenkins was to coach David Six as the blanket was to Linus. During his pre-tournament press conference Friday, Six said, "We call (Jericka) the Linus blanket of the team." You think Six has been reading us?

13. If so, this one's for you, Coach - our pick is Hampton 69, Kentucky 66. Now go out and shock the world.

NCAAs: Will "13" be lucky for Hampton?

Quanneisha Perry
Judging from their reaction when the word "Hampton" popped up on the jumbo TV screen Monday night, the Lady Pirates may have been the happiest No. 13 seeds in NCAA Tournament history.

"That's an awesome number," Lady Pirates senior Laura Lewis said with a smile that could have illuminated the entire Student Center Ballroom. "When I saw that... I mean, it's an awesome number. Awesome."

MEAC foes would no doubt use that same word to describe the Lady Pirates, who will travel to Albuquerque, N.M. to take on No. 4 Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday at 6:45 p.m. (ESPN2). On Saturday, Hampton completed its Shermanesque march through their conference by crushing Howard 61-42 in the conference championship game.

Of course, the NCAA selection committee usually doesn't hand out No. 13 seeds for winning the lightly-regarded MEAC, which is ranked 25th of 32 Division I conferences according to In fact, prior to this year, no women's team from that league had ever been seeded higher than 14 in a 64-team field. The Lady Pirates were at No. 15 after winning the MEAC last year, their first under coach David Six.

But as we've noted many times in this space, this year's Hampton isn't your typical MEAC champion. Since taking over at Hampton two years ago, Six has maintained that his goal is to change the culture regarding how people view Hampton women's basketball. Based on the historic seeding, it's clear the committee didn't view this bunch by MEAC standards past.

Six believes the benefit-of-the-doubt in seeding came with a catch - instead of assigning Hampton to travel-friendlier sites in Charlottesville or College Park, Md., the Lady Pirates were shipped 1,699 miles from campus in New Mexico.

"But I'm OK with that," Six said. "I'm glad the NCAA did the right thing. We're looking forward to going to Albuquerque, and we're going to get us some Wildcat."

Tough talk, for sure. But on paper at least, there doesn't appear to be much for a team like Kentucky to worry about. The Lady Pirates may have less depth than any team in the tournament; starters Lewis, Quanneisha Perry, Melanie Warner, Choicetta McMillian and Jericka Jenkins routinely play 35-plus minutes each game. Jenkins, who ranks No. 2 in Division I in assists (7.3), has played all 40 minutes the last five games and 13 times this season.

Laura Lewis
With no starter taller than 5-11, the Lady Pirates may also be the smallest team in the field. The Lady Pirates media guide lists Lewis at 6-2. Yeah, in stiletto heels on her way to the club.

"It's about four inches off," Lewis acknowledged.

Two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Quanneisha Perry is all of 5-10. Melanie Warner checks in at 5-10. Choicetta McMillian is 5-7. Jenkins, the cancer-surviving point guard, is all of 5-4.

Finally, the Lady Pirates have played virtually the entire season without all-conference guard Bernadette Fortune, who hobbled through part of six games on a bum left ankle before shutting it down for good. Fortune underwent surgery in January.

So let's see. No size, no depth, no all-league problem? Well, it wasn't when the Lady Pirates shocked eventual CAA champion James Madison in Harrisonburg in the teams' season opener. It wasn't when they scored the first win over an SEC team in program history by shellacking Florida by 15 points in December - the same Florida that fell by just a point to Kentucky a couple of months later. And it definitely wasn't while they punished MEAC foes by an average of 18.6 points.

Six has his players convinced that if they limit turnovers and sell out on defense (only 11 of 333 D-I teams give up fewer points), the Lady Pirates can be significantly greater than the sum of their individual parts.

"We don't have great talent, no Top 50, Top 100 players," Six said. "But when we come together...Laura, come here for a minute. Laura, what are we when we come together?"

"Power Rangers," Lewis replied.

In terms of perception, Hampton's results to date and subsequent seeding makes 2010-11 a success no matter what happens next. But the Lady Pirates clearly believe they aren't finished yet, and appear determined to prove that the happiest No. 13 seed in the tournament just might be the most dangerous one, too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

CNU falls to Amherst in D-III Final Four

Second-ranked Amherst shackled national scoring leader Chelsie Schweers and silenced No. 11 Christopher Newport 69-59 in the Division III national semifinals Friday at Illinois Wesleyan.

The Lord Jeffs (31-1) will play for the national title on Saturday at 8 p.m. against the defending champion Washington University (25-5), which defeated host Illinois Wesleyan 87-77 in Friday's other semifinal. The Captains (28-4) will face Illinois Wesleyan for third place Saturday at 5 p.m.

Schweers came in averaging 33 points in four tournament games, but was held to just 19 Friday night on 7-of-23 shooting. Amherst guard Kim Fiorentino didn't score a point, but she may have been her team's MVP for the relentless way she dogged Schweers throughout the game. And whenever Schweers did briefly escape her pursuer, another Lord Jeff would slide into the Captain star's path.

The Captains also suffered because of foul trouble to forward Barbara Davis, the team's best rebounder and its only 6-footer. Davis finished with just 4 points and 3 rebounds in 27 foul-plagued minutes. CNU dearly missed her typical impact on the boards, as Amherst grabbed 16 offensive boards and scored 20 second-chance points.

Jessica Moore had 14 points and Lauren Gural 13 points and 11 rebounds for CNU, which fell for the first time in 10 games. The Captains last defeat was a 58-50 loss at Averette on Feb. 12.

Bueno, from Ticha

Consider this a commercial message, breaking up the onslaught of news in women's basketball of late.

Who better to deliver the commercial than Old Dominion's own Ticha Penicheiro, advertising the snack bar "Bueno." We know it is in Portuguese, but it's still fun to see the WBCA's all time assist leader spin a watermelon.

CNU's Barbara Davis: the brains of the operation

We knew that Christopher Newport senior forward Barbara Davis is good for 8.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. But here's her most impressive average - a 3.92 GPA in psychology. In fact, it's so impressive that on Friday, Davis was presented with the Division III women's basketball Elite 88 award for having the highest cumulative grade-point average at one of the NCAA's 88 finals sites.

Davis accepted the award in Bloomington, Ill., a few hours before the 11th-ranked Captains were to take on No. 2 Amherst in the Division III national semifinals Friday at 6 p.m. A former star at Stonewall Jackson High, the 6-0 Davis is the leading rebounder remaining in the tournament.

The senior plans to attend graduate school to become a sports psychologist. She was selected to attend the prestigious "So You Want to be a Coach" program, held at the Division I Final Four and the WBCA National Convention. 

Christopher Newport's Schweers: All-American again but not POY

We're biased. Admittedly. Amherst College senior Jaclyn Daigneault was named NCAA Division III Player of the Year on Friday by the WBCA.

We believe this was the year to bestow that honor on Chrisopher Newport senior Chelsie Schweers, who was named to the WBCA's 10-player All-American team, announced Friday also. Schweers also achieved All-American status last year and was honorable mention her first two years with the Captains, making her the first player at the Newport News school to receive that distinction for all four years.

We don't know if the Captains (29-3) can beat Amherst (30-1) in the the semifinal game of the Final Four at 6 p.m at Shirk Arena in Bloomington, Ill. But we do know the kind of season Schweers, leading scorer in the state of Virginia for any division for her career (2,827 points), has produced. The maybe 5-6 guard leads the nation in scoring (25.9 ppg), 3-point FG percentage (51 percent) and 3-pointers per game (4.0). She has led the Captains in scoring in 29 of their 33 games. She shoots 83 percent from the line and leads CNU in assists.

Daigneault shoots a glitzy 62 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3 while averaging 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. She has led the Lord Jeffs in scoring in 16 of their 31 games. From the free-throw line, Daigneault shoots 71 percent.

 Again our vote goes to Schweers, whose team is in its first-ever Final Four. In fact, it's no contest, really.  But what we'd really like to see is CNU beat Amherst. Go Captains! We already know who will be leading the way.

JMU's Kenny and Dawn: Two of a kind

Player-coach. Coach-player. They can butt heads. They can smile at each other one day and yell at each other the next. They can learn from one another and they can become friends. Great friends. Lifelong friends.

In his nine years as head coach at James Madison, Kenny Brooks has had to bid farewell as many of the most storied players in school history have graduated and moved on to the next level. Meredith Alexis. Tamera Young. Now Dawn Evans is a senior, and the clock is ticking down on what is a brilliant college career.

He knew from the first moment he saw her that he wanted her as his point guard. What he didn't know was the impact she would have on him as a coach, as a person, as a parent.

Dawn: I remember seeing his face the first time. The (coaches) came around with the big JMU shirts. You always notice those. I came to Harrisonburg. I had already decided I was going to go to UTC (Tennessee-Chattanooga), but I fell in love with the coaching staff.

At the beginning of my freshman year, we didn't have a really good relationship. That freshman year thing and  it being harder than you expected, I didn't have a really good relationship with him. We had so many conversations that it eventually developed.

The first time I felt like I wanted to go home, I was feeling like college ball wasn't for me -- I think everybody goes through that stage -- I went into his office to talk to him about it, and during the conversation we had,  I realized he was a truly genuine person. It wasn't just about basketball. He really wanted to establish a personal relationship with his players. That meant a lot to me.

Kenny: I always tell them I want kids who want to be here. She was going through a rough patch and it's hard because the day she walked on campus, I gave her the ball. With that comes responsibility. I probably barked and yelled at her multiple times, and the fact that she played my position, made it even more tumultuous.

Dawn: A lot of people don't think he's a yeller. But he yells and has fits some times that we all have to step back, but I guess every good coach is like that.

Kenny: I haven't yelled as much this year. A lot of it has to do with, she knows me really well. I get right to that point and she'll say, 'C'mon, guys. Huddle up.' I don't know if she's doing it for their benefit or mine, but it works. I haven't had to yell as much.

The conversations we had then, the conversations we had afterward, they're more than just point guard and coach. We talk about everything. As a matter of fact, she has helped me become a better coach because of her honesty. Regardless of how bad the situation may seem, she'll tell me the honest truth. From that very moment, I knew I could trust her with everything I had.  She'll come in and tell me things that make me blush, but I've got to be that father figure for her -- not only with her, with everyone. I tell my family all the time my daughters don't have a chance. I'm going to know everything.

I talked to her father about it. I talked to her about it. It has molded me into a better father because I want to have that same relationship with my daughters I have with her and that she has with her father. The responsibility that her father and mother gave me ... they said, 'Coach, handle it.' They trusted me.

Dawn: Anything you can think of, I think I've spoken to him about. You're away from home and I'm really close to my family. I've told people that there's nothing about me that my parents don't know. I'm used to having that adult figure around. I was a little suspect coming in because I know basketball is a business, and people want good players on their team so the team can do well. At times when I questioned how he really felt about me, I'd talk to my parents, and they're really good judges of character. My parents tell me they can tell that he loves me and I can definitely tell.

Kenny's wife, Chrissy, loves to cook Dawn's favorites: fried chicken, mac cheese and collard greens. Then Dawn will escape to the Wii with the Brooks girls -- Chloe, Gabrielle and Kendyl -- for what usually turns into some type of dancing game. (Dawn is in the groove with MJ, Kendyl says). The kids rave about Dawn's dancing. She rolls her eyes.

Dawn: I can't beat them. ...It's always good food at the Brooks house. I love his children. They're like my little sisters. I can feel they love me back. I get to bring that little kid side out and just have fun with them:

Kenny: It's funny. I come home and they don't even tell me that she's coming over. I come home, and I'm like, 'What the occasion? We got chicken. All this good stuff.' And then they're all like, 'Dawn's coming over! Dawn's coming over! I don't even get that special treatment. That's the way it is that she feels comfortable enough that she can come over whenever. When she comes over I don't have to entertain her.

Dawn: I don't even see you.

Kenny: No, we don't always see each other until I'll steal her away and say, 'Duke's playing such and such,' and we'll watch the end of a game. But everything in the room  is a Dawn Evans enshrinement. They've got every t-shirts, everything. My daughter makes me, not that I wouldn't anyway, but she makes me vote for Dawn every morning before she goes to school (for Lowe's Senior Class award).  She's a great role model for them. At Halloween, they didn't want to go as basketball players; they wanted to go as Dawn Evans.

They aspire to be good basketball players. So they only thing I have to say is, 'Dawn was always outside when she was your age,' and they go right outside. So I need to say, 'Dawn probably cleaned up her room' to make that do that, too.

Dawn: I don't know what's going to happen after March, but he's going to be my guiding light for that. And wherever I go, I owe a lot to him so he'll keep me updated and continue to be my guiding light.

Kenny: No question.

It's not going to be the same. It's not. People ask me, 'What are you going to do?' I just quickly respond I don't want to think about that for a long time.

She's definitely touched me in a special way. I can see us having a relationship until the day I die. That's how special she is to me. In this wonderful world of Twitter and everything else, Skype, she'll definitely be in my thoughts, even if she's not wearing purple and gold.

We've been through so much. I call her my 'mini me.' We think alike. I call her the female version of Kenny Brooks. We think so much alike. Our relationship has grown where I can say, 'Be truthful. Don't bounce around. Be truthful.' That's the way it has gone.

Inside Virginia's win over Morgan State

We would have loved to have been in Charlottesville Thursday night to experience the emotions as retiring Debbie Ryan's Virginia Cavaliers topped Morgan State in the WNIT. Luckily for us, a few of our friends were able to give us the 411.

For example, we wondered about the atmosphere at John Paul Jones Arena for what could have been Ryan's final game. From the Richmond Times-Dipatch's Vic Dorr Jr.:

The game drew a small turnout (1,124) that for much of the evening seemed more drowsy than devoted. But with 20 seconds remaining, the U.Va. pep band began chanting Ryan's name. The chant soon spread. Youngsters seated behind one of the baskets displayed a hand-lettered poster: "Thanks, Debbie."

We were also eager to know what Ryan had to say about everything. U.Va sports information ace Amy Mulligan was on top of it: 

On pre-game emotions:"It's just really hard. It's hard to coach right now; it's hard to do everything right now. I love these kids sitting next to me, I love my players, I love the people I coach with and I love everything about this place, so this is hard. It's really, really hard. My emotions - I just can't control anything that's coming. Normally, I'm pretty under control and in control of everything that happens to me. But right now, I'm in control of nothing.

"I think I have a great staff and I really didn't have to worry about coaching tonight. The players took that out of my hands right away. They took care of business and that's all they needed to do. They were pretty much on auto-pilot tonight."

On message to team:"I told them that it gave me a chance to stay a little bit longer with them. Our rallying cry is that we really want to stay together as long as we possibly can, so that's really what we're trying to do. But I don't want to put pressure on them. I think that they're a lot more resilient than I am in this, so they're just out there playing. That's all I want for them to do - go out there and play and have fun. They've earned this. They're going to get better as basketball players by doing it and I think it's great for them."

On coaching final games of UVa career:"I put pressure on myself everyday, so I don't think there's any more or any less. I've just been trying to enjoy every minute that I have on the court with them. Even with my staff and it's in a staff meeting. All I'm trying to do is be the best I can be under the circumstances; try to be the best coach I can be on the floor and enjoy what I'm doing."

Finally, we were curious what Loyola coach Joe Logan, whose Greyhounds upset Old Dominion on Wednesday in what he termed the biggest win of his career, thought about facing the Cavaliers in a second-round game (Sunday, 4 p.m. at Loyola). Thanks to Mel Greenberg, we even know that:

“What a great reward,” Logan replied. “I beat (ODU’s) Wendy Larry and my reward is going against Debbie Ryan. They’ll be tough.”

Click here for Virginia's photo gallery of Thursday night's game.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Virginia is the state's sole survivor in the WNIT

VCU and Richmond ended their seasons on Thursday with first-round losses in the WNIT. That leaves Virginia as the lone state survivor in the tournament; the Cavaliers move on to play Loyola-Maryland, which dispatched Old Dominion on Wednesday behind a buzzer beater.

Virginia 69, Morgan State 56
As glad as we are that Debbie Ryan is going to be coaching another game, we're disappointed by one statistic in this box score, and that is attendance. A mere 1,124 turned out at John Paul Jones Arena for what could be the final game for Ryan in Charlottesville (the arena is hosting first and second NCAA Tournament rounds this weekend). The idea of Ryan finishing up her coaching days in the WNIT is disturbing enough, but this was an occasion that could have allowed the longtime Cavalier fans to show appreciation for the woman who molded the program for the last 34 years. We would have liked to have seen Virginia against Old Dominion here -- Wendy Larry and Debbie Ryan coaching on court for the last time -- but the Lady Monarchs lost to a Loyola team that had never won a postseason game. Cavs travel to Loyola for a 4 p.m. Sunday contest at Reitz Arena. We'd love to see them win another for Debbie.

St. Joseph's 72, VCU 66
Courtney Hurt scored 26 and Andrea Barbour had16, but the Rams couldn't overcome a 51 percent shooting effort by the Hawks (20-11). While this obviously isn't the result Beth Cunningham wanted, we have to think she's pretty pleased with a season that included a sweep of ODU and a loss to JMU in the CAA Tournament semifinals. Next year Hurt and Barbour are back, so watch out for the Rams (19-12).

UNC Wilmington 63, Richmond 54
We don't want to keep harping on attendance -- this is the WNIT -- but we hate that Brittani Shells and Crystal Goring played their final games as Spiders in front of 249. Richmond came in 4-0 versus CAA opponents this season, but the veteran-laden Seahawks muscled their way to a second round game against Eastern Michigan, taking advantage of 32 Richmond turnovers. Wilmington went to the line 27 times; Richmond (18-12) went there 11. As much as we like that the WNIT allows good teams to continue their seasons, some teams cannot muster up the fight to keep going. Shells ends her career as Richmond's second all-time leading scorer (2,042 points) and No. 1 in steals (300).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WNIT: End of the road for ODU, Liberty

Wednesday's results

Loyola (Md.) 67, Old Dominion 65: Sounds weird, doesn't it? But this wasn't a fluke as the Greyhounds outrebounded the Lady Monarchs, ran their stuff with precision and got an out-of-this-world performance from Katie Sheahin, a 5-10 sophomore who scored 27 points and buried a 3-pointer over 6-2 Alena Voronina, among others, with 3.1 seconds to go for the game-winner. The decisive sequence began with Loyola inbounding the ball with 9.9 seconds left, and ODU (20-11) had two fouls to give. But due to some miscommunication within the coaching staff, the Lady Monarchs defended honestly, and Sheahin made them pay. Jasmine Parker's prayer 30-footer at the buzzer was off line, clinching the Greyhounds' first postseason victory since 1995 and boosting Loyola (21-12) into a second-round game against Thursday's Virginia-Morgan State winner. And so ended the 2010-11 Lady Monarchs season, in defeat to the MAAC runners-up in the off-Broadway WNIT in front of 450 people at the Constant Center. Hard to believe this was the same team that knocked off NCAA qualifiers Georgia Tech and Louisville and, less than three weeks ago, had its way with Delaware. But that's the point. For reasons that aren't clear from the outside, at this stage of the season ODU simply wasn't the same team.

Charlotte 62, Liberty 56: The Lady Flames (22-11) had nothing at the outset, as they fell behind 17-4 and were down 19 late in the first half. But credit Liberty for figuring some things out, as they battled back to within four points on three occasions before finally succumbing. As we feared, turnovers played a huge role in Liberty's demise, as fast-breaking Charlotte turned the Lady Flames' 22 giveaways into 24 points. Avery Warley and Devon Brown each finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds - all but 6 of their 28 combined points came in the second half. Epiphany Woodson led all scorers with 22 points for Charlotte (24-9), which will visit South Carolina on Sunday in a WNIT second-round game.

In other WNIT action Wednesday, Toledo used 3 3-pointers to erase an 8-point deficit in the final 3 minutes and surge past Delaware 58-55 at Toledo. Blue Hens star Elena Delle Donne finished with 31 points on 10-of-24 shooting for the Blue Hens (20-14), who will return all five starters next season.

ODU, Liberty in WNIT: Who wants to play?

It's not the tournament they wanted to be in, but the Women's National Invitational Tournament beginning today at various sites across the country provides teams one last chance to put a positive shine on seasons that ended in disappointment.

Since motivation can be an issue, we're not always sure what to expect in WNIT games. No coach is going to come out and say, "My team really doesn't want to do this," and players typically give reasonable effort once the game starts. But did they practice hard yesterday? Did they focus mentally on the game during the day? Deep down, do they really wish the season was over?

Because it's not clear where the players' heads are - and also due to the short preparation time teams have for opponents they often know little about - home teams have historically had an even greater-than-normal edge in WNIT games. Doesn't mean Liberty can't win at Charlotte tonight, and it doesn't guarantee Old Dominion will take down Loyola (Md.). But in the WNIT in particular, there really is no place like home.

Liberty (22-10) at Charlotte (23-9), 7 p.m.
We wish this game was anywhere except North Carolina, home to the Lady Flames' most painful defeats. Liberty opened the season a disappointing 0-2 in Raleigh. They suffered a shocking loss to N.C. Central (RPI: 325) in Durham. And on Sunday, of course, the Lady Flames fell 67-66 to Gardner-Webb in the Big South final at High Point (Since the Liberty-Gardner-Webb final was the last D-I game played Sunday, we're not sure why the Lady Flames have one of the quickest turnarounds on the road in the WNIT. But that's another story). We're not crazy about this matchup, either. Charlotte excels at pressure defense, and turnovers have plagued Liberty all season. And while the Lady Flames typically enjoy a significant rebounding edge, the 49ers can match Liberty board-for-board. With the possible exception of VCU, Liberty hasn't beaten anyone of this caliber all season. We're rooting for them, but it's going to take something close to the Lady Flames' best performance of the year to pull this one out. By the way, Charlotte is 3-1 against Virginia schools, having beaten VCU, Hampton and Virginia Tech. The lone loss was to Old Dominion in Tulane's post-Christmas tournament. Charlotte 70, Liberty 62

Loyola-Md. (20-12) at Old Dominion (20-10), 7 p.m.
Last year, with many of ODU's fans traveling to New Orleans to watch the men's basketball team in the NCAAs, only 790 turned out to see the Lady Monarchs top American in the WNIT first round. The Monarchs men have another NCAA date Thursday in Washington, so the Lady Monarchs may not have much support again. The Greyhounds finished second to nationally-ranked Marist in the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference but went just 5-9 in non-conference play with losses to Towson, Howard and UMBC. What Loyola has going for it is that since this is the program's first postseason bid since 1995, the Greyhounds are likely thrilled to be still playing. The Lady Monarchs? We're not so sure. The question is whether Loyola's enthusiasm and want-to can offset ODU's home-court advantage and personnel superiority. It shouldn't. ODU 65, Loyola 52

Other WNIT games
Delaware at Toledo, 7 p.m.
Appalachian State at South Carolina, 7 p.m.
Butler at Wisconsin, 8 p.m.
Wichita State at Kansas, 8 p.m.
Pepperdine at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.
Portland State at Wyoming, 9 p.m.

Complete WNIT bracket