Sunday, March 25, 2012

WNIT: Burkholder's bombs lift JMU past UVa. and into semifinals

Sunday afternoon was a tough one for television-viewing fans of competitive basketball, as you had Kentucky's men's team tearing through Baylor on one channel, Notre Dame's women overwhelming St. Bonaventure.

But blowout blahs weren't an issue for the 3,301 fans at the JMU Convocation Center, though, as Virginia and the Dukes went at each other in a action-packed WNIT quarterfinal that featured momentum swings, tactical moves and a clutch effort from Kirby Burkholder that led the Dukes to a 68-59 victory.

After sitting out for nearly 10 minutes after picking up her fourth foul, Burkholder returned with 4:12 remaining and the Dukes down 55-53 and promptly drained back-to-back 3-pointers over the next 43 seconds to kick-start JMU's game-closing 15-4 run. After making just one of her eight shots in the first half and sitting most of the second, Burkholder finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her first career double-double.

The victory was JMU's program record-tying 28th of the season, and it propelled the Dukes (28-7) into yet another home game in the WNIT semifinals on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Syracuse (22-14). Our understanding was that the Convocation Center wouldn't be available this week as the building needed to be prepped for a weekend home and garden show. But no one can say this university isn't behind its women's basketball program. Dukes officials worked things out with their weekend guests, and now the Dukes will appear in the Final Four in their cozy confines where they've won eight straight, including all four WNIT games.

Said JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne: "The Shanandoah Valley Builders Association has been a great partner with JMU over the years, and we really appreciate their working with us to allow us to keep Coach Brooks and the Dukes home for another round. We wanted to make sure they could still have the great event they always host at the Convo this weekend, and through everyone's hard work, they are going to be able to do that and still allow our women's basketball team another home game. Thanks to all involved for their dedication and efforts in making this happen."

A quick word about Sunday's crowd: we actually thought there were quite a bit more than 3,301 on hand because it sure sounded that way. The fans were buzzing from tip to buzzer and created the type of postseason atmosphere that frankly has been absent from a lot of the NCAA Tournament games.

"The intensity was tremendous," Dukes coach Kenny Brooks said. "It's a great game when you have over 3,000 people here, both (school's pep) bands here. It's one of the most electric atmospheres since I've been here."

Can't wait to see what it's like if they get 4-5,000 in there (hint, hint, JMU fans). Syracuse figures to be tough to spook, though. The Orange have won all four of their WNIT games on the road. The stretch includes a 65-43 victory at Drexel, a team that put it on JMU pretty good in the CAA Tournament semifinals.

Still, that the Dukes are even in this position is remarkable when one considers they graduated four prime-time starters off last year's CAA Tournament championship team. And the same can be said for Virginia, which reeled off 25 wins - their highest total since 1999-2000 - despite having to adjust to a new coach, having no incoming recruits and losing starting point guard China Crosby a few days before Christmas to an ACL tear.

For a good chunk of Sunday's game, it appeared that the Cavaliers (25-11) were the ones positioning themselves for another round of basketball. Ultimately, though, they couldn't overcome JMU's Burkholder-fueled late flurry, or the foul problems that plagued them throughout. At game's end, four Cavaliers had four fouls. A fifth, Telia McCall, fouled out with 1:48 to play.

Cavaliers senior guard Ariana Moorer was heroic in defeat with a team-high 18 points and 7 rebounds in her final college game. Ironically, Moorer was subbed out for a brief blow at the 4:12 mark, just as Burkholder was returning. Brooks theorized the Cavaliers didn't realize Burkholder was back and failed to lock in on her. Maybe. Or perhaps, given the way she shot the ball initially, they just weren't that scared of her. We know this - if these teams hook up again within the next two years, Burkholder will have a Cavalier standing next to her while she's pulling up her socks in the JMU locker room if Virginia coach Joanne Boyle can get away with it.

Sunday also was the final game for Virginia forward Chelsea Shine, who by simply taking the court broke Heather Burge's 20-year-old program record for games played with her 136th appearance.

Tarik Hislop added 17 points for the Dukes, Lauren Whitehurst chipped in 14, freshman Toia Giggetts pulled down a career-high 12 rebounds and Nikki Newman tied her season high with six assists, including passes that set up Burkholder for both of her late-game 3-pointers.


  1. This was a great game that should have been on TV. There were way more than 3,300 fans there, Looked more like 4-5,000. I am wondering if they counted the students which got in free. This is a great rivalry that has blossomed over the last couple of years and really hope it continues. With that said, Kirby does it again!

  2. It will be interesting to see what Virginia does regarding more games against JMU as I believe Joanne Boyle inherited most of this past season's schedule. I know JMU would love to keep the series going, and the rest of us have been treated to some really good games. If Virginia decides to go in a different direction, well, maybe the two teams can meet in the postseason again - this time, in the NCAA Tournament.

  3. This rivalry should continue, every game has been close. The electric atmosphere of this game and rivalry is a testament to how good of a rivalry this is. Not only is it good for the schools and their respective areas, but it is good for college WBB in general. JMU has the 39th best recruiting class in the country coming in next year, I can only imagine how good this team is going to be over the next several years, wow!

  4. Good points, but again, let's see how Virginia feels about things.

  5. The series needs to continue for practical reasons for both teams - JMU needs to play high RPI schools in their OOC schedule in order to have any chance at an at-large in the NCAA's.

    The same holds true for UVA as the bottom of the ACC conference will remain weak next year and their OOC schedule this year was not up to snuff. Also doubtful is a continuaton of the TENN series.

    If the UVA/JMU series does not continue both schools will have to find another opponent of similar caliber anyway and that may entail an expensive trip.

    Like it or not RPI matters and both need to improve their strength of schedule to have better shots at the NCAA next year.

  6. Here's the thing - as exciting as the games have been, the fact is Virginia is 1-3 in the last four games against an in-state rival most people classify as a mid-major. A lot of programs in Virginia's position would simply stop putting itself in this position. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers respond.

  7. Teams show their weakness when they discontinue a series because they are afraid of losing.

  8. We hope they play, too. But in fairness to Virginia, everyone schedules in their own best interest. Hampton, for example, would probably love a game with JMU. But I'm not sure the Dukes are interested; not because they're afraid, but because such a game may not fit with what they're trying to accomplish in non-conference scheduling. Everyone's got teams that would love to play them, and teams they'd love to play. Sometimes, one particular series just doesn't work out.

  9. Well, the UVA vs. JMU WBB series has now been scheduled to continue next let the fun begin!