Friday, January 6, 2012

It's Showdown Saturday for Richmond, Hampton, Liberty

Three huge early-season conference matchups are on tap today, as Hampton, Liberty and Richmond will each host arguably their toughest conference foe.

Saturday's games:

Howard (10-5, 2-0 MEAC) at Hampton (10-3, 2-0), 4 p.m.
These teams met in last year's MEAC tournament title game - a 61-42 Hampton victory - but this year's Howard edition looms as a considerably more formidable foe. The Lady Bison have won nine straight games, including road wins at Seton Hall and Wake Forest, and boast one of the most improved players in the nation in junior guard Tamoria Holmes. Holmes averaged 10.4 points per game last season; she is currently averaging a MEAC-best 18.7 points and is coming off a a 24-point effort in Thursday's 58-31 rout over NJIT. Howard also has reigning MEAC Player of the Year Saadia Doyle (16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and has benefited from the return of former All-MEAC guard Zykia Brown, who sat out last season for personal reasons. Meanwhile, the defense-first Lady Pirates continue to excel at taking away much of what opponents like to do and have displayed a more potent offense of late in scoring at least 71 points in three of their last four games. Forward Alyssa Bennett is coming off a season-high 18-point effort in Hampton's rout over East Carolina Monday. The Lady Pirates have also won all four of their home games this season and are 14-0 at the HU Convocation Center since a loss to Jacksonville on Nov. 27, 2010. This game also pits two of the rising stars of the coaching profession in Hampton's David Six and Howard's Nikki Reid Geckeler, who was one of four coaches to interview for the Old Dominion job that ultimately went to Karen Barefoot. Hampton 59, Howard 49

High Point (7-6, 1-0 Big South) at Liberty (6-6, 1-0), 7 p.m.
Liberty and High Point were picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the Big South preseason poll. The Lady Flames offset 39 turnovers with 60.5 percent shooting to take their conference opener last Saturday at Radford, but obviously they'll need to be much, much, MUCH more secure with the ball today against a High Point club that has averaged 12 steals in its last two games. When these teams met at Liberty last season, the Lady Flames survived 58-57 when Devon Brown blocked a Erin Reynolds' layup attempt in the final seconds. All signs point to a similarly contested game today. Liberty's Avery Warley needs just two three rebounds to break Katie Feenstra's career program mark of 1,033. Warley is averaging 10.8 boards a game this season. Last season, Warley scored her 1,000th career point against High Point. High Point 60, Liberty 58

Temple (6-7, 0-0 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (12-2, 0-0), 7 p.m.
The Spiders enjoyed a brilliant non-conference campaign and will take a six-game winning streak into today's A-10 opener. But don't be fooled by Temple's record, which is largely a by-product of a brutal schedule featuring games against Ohio State, Texas A&M, Rutgers and Duke. The Owls are used to taking some non-conference lumps before smoothing thing out when league play begins. Last season, they took an 8-6 record into league play, then won their first 15 A-10 games before bowing to Xavier in the regular-season finale. This is the same Owls team that was picked to finish first (tied with Dayton) in the league in the preseason, and the Owls have beaten Richmond six straight times. A Richmond victory today would be a major accomplishment. Richmond 65, Temple 62

Campbell (9-4, 2-0 Big South) at Radford (6-6, 0-1), 3 p.m.
The Highlanders still excel at forcing turnovers - 39 of them on New Years Eve against Liberty - but have struggled in the other aspects of defense during their current three-game losing streak. Radford's last three opponents have averaged 83 points and shot at combined 52.5 percent, and the Highlanders have been outrebounded by at least 9 in each of the losses. They'll need a much better performance against a Campbell team that is coming off a 50.8-percent shooting effort on Monday against UNC Asheville, a game that also featured 13 Campbell 3-pointers. Radford 69, Campbell 62

Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-9, 1-0 MEAC) at Norfolk State (6-7, 1-1), 4 p.m.
Teams that have shown they can gear up for "name" opponents but have struggled to maintain that level game-in and game-out. The Spartans, for example, are coming off a stunning 60-57 victory over George Mason. But that victory was preceded by a five-game losing streak that included disappointing home efforts against Radford and South Carolina State. Meanwhile, UMES pulled off an even more stunning victory at Old Dominion a few days before Christmas, but comes into this game off a loss to Division 2 Elizabeth City State. The Hawks prevailed against ODU in part by using a zone defense that enticed the Lady Monarchs into settling for too many 3-point shots. The Spartans can't take that bait; Spartans post players Batavia Owens and Rachel Gordon are coming off strong performances against George Mason and will need to be heavily involved again today. Norfolk State 58, UMES 54

The Lancers' traveling show continues. Over the past three weeks Longwood has played games in West Virginia, Ohio (4 games), North Carolina, Virginia (1 game), California and now Colorado. On Tuesday, they'll be at Utah State. Tough being an independent, isn't it? Air Force 70, Longwood 52

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