Sunday, March 11, 2012

Three the hard way - Hampton rules MEAC again

Choicetta McMillian, start brushing up on your Cat Daddy. Jericka Jenkins, sharpen up that Dougie.

Hampton's going dancin' again.

OK, so they had to hold their breath a bit at the end. But when it's time to hand out the trophy, they don't ask  "How close?" They only ask "Who won?" So hats off to the mighty Lady Pirates, who made it three tournament titles in a row Saturday by surviving Howard 54-53 in by far the most competitive MEAC postseason game Hampton has experienced in its three-year reign.

Jericka Jenkins
Heading into this final, Hampton's smallest margin of victory in the eight conference tournament games over the past three years was 11 points. In the other seven, the Lady Pirates won by at least 19. But this time, victory wasn't secure until Tamoria Holmes' runner bounded off the back of the rim and into the arms of Hampton Keiara Avant as time expired.

The anyone-can-win-it nature of the title game was a tribute to the Lady Bison, who just might be the best runner-up in the history of the conference. After starting out 1-5 - thanks in part to road games against Baylor, Ohio State and St. John's - Howard went 23-0 against every team not named Hampton the rest of the way. And it wasn't just MEAC teams they feasted on. You know that Wake Forest team that knocked off Top 10 Miami in the ACC Tournament? The Lady Bison beat them in their own gym. And the Navy team that just won its second straight Patriot League title? Howard got them, too.

If the NCAA Tournament took 74 teams instead of 64, the Lady Bison could probably count on having their name called on Selection Monday. One can make a case that it should be called anyway - Howard's RPI at tipoff (54) was actually higher than the ones maintained by Texas, North Carolina and a few other of the so-called bubble teams.

And even though they couldn't solve Hampton in any of their three meetings, they put the fear of God in the Lady Pirates before going down Saturday, rallying from a 10-point second half deficit and coming within Holmes' slight misfire from taking Hampton down.

In the end, though, the Lady Pirates ruled again. Jenkins earned tournament most outstanding player honors, and while she's Hampton's best player, it's a testament to the all-hands approach that has defined the Lady Pirates approach that this is the first time in the three years she's won that award. Former Hampton star Quanneisha Perry was the tournament MOP two years ago, and Melanie Warner, who sat out this year's tourney with a broken finger, won the award in 2010.

The Lady Pirates will take an 11-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. And while most projections have them looking at a No. 15 seed, their proven ability to defend and compete seems to work against virtually anyone.

But that's next week's story. For now, here's hoping they take a little time to bask in the achievement of establishing a certified MEAC dynasty - and work on those dance moves.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for giving some props to the Howard Lady Bison. Hampton beat them all three times this season but especially in the final the Lady Bison played their hearts out and almost got the Pirates. Go Pirates in the Big Dance and GO BISON in the WNIT!!