Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Skylar Diggins can't set Notre Dame records

Former VCU coach Beth (Morgan) Cunningham set a lot of records during her playing days at Notre Dame, and now that she's a Fighting Irish assistant, she's making sure sure even Skylar Diggins won't be able to break them.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Former Ram doing just fine at Mount St. Mary's

Mount St. Mary's has discovered something VCU fans learned first-hand a couple years ago - the more Jackie Brewer plays, the better she performs.

Brewer, who transferred from VCU to the Mount after making the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie team in 2010-11, averaged just 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 49 minutes over her first five games. She was then inserted into the starting lineup and has averaged 10.2 points over her last four contests. The Mount had a 1-4 record with Brewer coming off the bench. They've gone 3-1 with her as a starter.

The hot stretch includes a career-high16-point effort on Dec. 8 in a win over Navy. Her previous high was 14 points against Virginia Tech as a freshman at VCU on Nov. 21, 2010. That game was part of a strong opening stretch of games with the Rams by Brewer, who notched 11 points in her college debut and earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors within her first month.

But Brewer saw her minutes shrivel when Andrea Barbour became eligible after the first semester of the 2010-11 season. Barbour went on to become an All-CAA performer; Brewer did not log more than 14 minutes in any game after Barbour's arrival and posted single-digit minutes in 12 of her last 14 games.

Whether there were other factors that led to Brewer's transfer isn't clear. We do believe that the Rams certainly could have used her last season when they struggled to find consistent production after Barbour and Courtney Hurt. We're also pretty sure that a player who scored 2,412 points in high school would have thrived in new VCU coach Marlene Stollings' shooter-friendly system.

But if her last four games are any indication, it looks as though things are working out just fine for Brewer at Mount St. Mary's.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Let's the games begin (again)

OK, folks, break's over. Hope everyone had a happy holiday and got recharged for the second half of the season. Now let's get back to work. Here's a look at each team's post-Christmas opener:

Thursday, Dec. 27
VCU (6-6) at Ohio State (8-3)
Game returns head coach Marlene Stollings to the place where she began her college playing career as well as the school where assistant coach Niki Dawkins earned All-America honors and is a member of the athletic hall of fame. As for the current Rams, it will be interesting to see how their long-range shooting abilities match up against a Buckeyes team that has been statistically outstanding at defending the 3-point line. VCU must also find a way to contain Ohio State star Tayler Hill, a player many believe will be a Top-5 pick in next year's WNBA draft.
Prediction: Ohio State 77, VCU 59

Hampton (8-4) at St. Peter's (0-9), 7 p.m.
Lady Pirates coach David Six is a Brooklyn native and has recruited the New York area heavily, factors that may or may not have played a role in this post-Christmas scheduling. Breaks in routine can throw off an offense, but we expect Hampton's typically-stellar defense to be as tenacious as ever. If so, that should be more than enough against the offense-challenged Peacocks, one of six winless teams remaining in Division I.
Prediction: Hampton 62, St. Peter's 43

Friday, Dec. 28
Norfolk State (2-8) at Virginia (6-4) in Cavalier Classic, 7 p.m.
The Spartans' come-from-behind 4-point home victory over Division II Chowan surely wasn't the most emphatic of decisions, but it did snap an eight-game losing streak and send them into the holiday on an uptick. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, struggled to put away Coppin State, then fell in double-overtime at Alabama for their third loss in four games since dominating Minnesota 90-68 on Nov. 29. No question Virginia has been in something of a funk of late. Still, the Cavaliers defense figures to pose a host of problems for an NSU team that can really struggle to score. The winner will meet either Northern Illinois (4-6) or Xavier (5-6) in Saturday's championship game; the two losing teams will meet in the consolation game.
Prediction: Virginia 81, Norfolk State 52
Richmond (7-5) at College of Charleston (4-5),7 p.m.
We know this much - both teams can handle UNC Greensboro. On Dec. 3, Charleston won at UNCG by 27. Five days later, the Spiders won at UNCG by 35. So if we use the UNCG scale, Richmond should win this by eight, right? One real edge Richmond should enjoy, particularly if it's a close game, is free throw shooting. The Spiders have made 73.1 percent from the line, while the Cougars check in at 55.1 percent.
Prediction: Richmond 66, College of Charleston 58
North Carolina A&T (6-4) at Virginia Tech (5-5), 7 p.m.
Can't wait to see what reigning ACC Player of the Week Uju Ugoka does for an encore after her 28-point (on 13 of 18 shooting) Hokies debut Saturday against Wake Forest. But Tech can't sleep on the pesky Lady Aggies, who under new head coach and former VCU assistant Tarrell Robinson have gone 2-1 against Virginia schools after taking out Liberty and William and Mary. Only Richmond was able to handle these guys.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 68, North Carolina A&T 66
Maine (1-9) at James Madison (4-6), 7 p.m.
A homecoming of sorts for Maine freshman Liz Wood, who will be performing a couple hours drive from where she starred at Liberty High in Bedford. The game will also be a reunion of Wood and JMU redshirt freshman Jazmon Gwathmey, who played together on Liberty's 2011 Virginia state championship team. The two (Wood No. 1 and Gwathmey No. 2) are the all-time leading scorers at Liberty. Several teammates from that 2011 state title team as well as current and former players will be in attendance at the JMU Convocation Center along with principal Roger Lee. Maine's struggles are hardly unexpected, as Wood is one of the team's nine freshmen. It also hasn't helped that the Black Bears have played only two home games. Under normal circumstances we'd wonder how much JMU could get out of a matchup with a team in such an early stage of rebuilding. But given how much the Dukes are still trying to figure things out, this Maine team is showing up at just the right time.
Prediction: JMU 61, Maine 51
Saturday, Dec. 29
Liberty (9-4, 1-0 Big South) at Winthrop (6-4, 1-0 Big South), 1 p.m.
A dangerous Big South road game for the Lady Flames, who dropped a 71-69 decision at  high-scoring Winthrop last season for their only conference road loss. The Eagles succeeded in getting that game played on their uptempo, 3-point-shooting terms as they splashed 10 triples and outscored the Lady Flames 17-4 on the fast break. By contrast, when the teams met in Lynchburg last season, Winthrop managed just two points on the fast break and shot just 20 percent from 3-point range. Liberty won that game by 30. Whichever team controls the pace and style of play in this one should emerge victorious.
Prediction: Liberty 60, Winthrop 51

Georgia Southern (1-8) at George Mason (4-5), 3 p.m.
The Lady Eagles have lost six straight games - all away from home - failed to exceed 49 points in any of them and played its last game without two injured starters. The Patriots aren't exactly a high-scoring outfit, but if they can get to 50, that might be enough. To do so, however, the Pats need to rediscover their shooting touch. They shot just 26.8 percent in a 50-point road loss at mighty Maryland, which is somewhat understandable given the quality of opponent. But the Patriots followed that up with a 29.0 percent effort in a road loss at George Washington.
Prediction: George Mason 59, Georgia Southern 42
Longwood (3-8, 0-0 Big South) at Radford (5-5, 0-1 Big South), 3 p.m.
The long-awaited conference opener for Big South newcomer Longwood. But the Lancers have already proven they can play in this league as on Dec. 9 they thumped league rival Gardner-Webb in a game that doesn't count in the conference standings. Also, last season Longwood defeated Radford 73-59 when these teams met in Farmville. This game takes on added significance for the Highlanders since they've already dropped one conference home game (67-65 to Liberty).
Prediction: Radford 65, Longwood 64
South Carolina State (8-3) at Old Dominion (8-2), 4 p.m.
The Lady Monarchs have already played two other MEAC teams, but these Lady Bulldogs, who have already beaten Clemson, appear much more dangerous than either Maryland-Eastern Shore or North Carolina State. A key will be turnovers - ODU has been among the nation's best at forcing them (24.5 per game), while S.C. State ranks among Division I's top 30 teams in not committing them (15.3 per game). This doubles as a homecoming game for South Carolina State senior Trinese Fox (6.2 ppg), a former star at Nansemond River High in Suffolk. The contest is also the first part of a women's-men's doubleheader at the Constant Center. The Monarchs will host Fairfield at 7 p.m.
Prediction: Old Dominion 77, South Carolina State 61
Sunday, Dec. 30
William and Mary (2-7) at Cornell (5-5), 1 p.m.
There certainly are worse places to bring in the new year than New York, and with their next game set for Jan. 6 at Hofstra, the Tribe will have the opportunity to welcome 2013 in the Big Apple. First things first, though, and the Tribe will be out to snap a four-game losing streak. When these teams met last year in Williamsburg, the Tribe scored 38 points off Cornell turnovers and made 11 of 17 3-pointers in a 31-point victory. Cornell has been much more competitive this season, though, as evidenced by their 53-40 loss at Texas on Dec. 20.
Prediction: Cornell 71, William and Mary 64

Also on Sunday, Hampton returns to action at Virginia Tech at 2 p.m., and Richmond gets in a second post-Christmas game at UNC Wilmington, also at 2 p.m.

3-pointers: Who takes 'em, who makes 'em

In honor of our favorite offensive weapon, here's (almost) everything you need to know about the players and teams that have really filled it up from distance so far this season.

The 40 Club
Players shooting at least 40 percent from 3-point range (minimum 1 make per game):

Janniina Koivunen, VCU (13 of 25, 52.6 percent)
Freshman native of Finland an excellent fit in coach Marlene Stollings' feel-free-to-let-it-fly style.

Rachael Bilney, Richmond (30 of 71, 42.3 percent)
The most prolific long-range shooter on a team loaded with them.

Ataira Franklin, Virginia (13 of 30, 43.3 percent). These numbers are no fluke - two years ago, then-freshman Franklin shot an ACC-leading 47.8 percent (43 of 90).

Devon Brown, Liberty (20 of 48, 41.7 percent): Just one of the areas where Brown, already a three-time first-team All-Big South selection, has ramped up her game for her final campaign. Brown shot just 24.1 percent from distance last season (28 of 116).

Janine Aldridge, William and Mary (25 of 61, 41 percent): The Tribe's single-season (92) and career (236) 3-point queen made a season-high 6 long-range shots in her last outing at North Carolina A&T.

Jackie Cook, Old Dominion (19 of 46, 41.3 percent)
Like Liberty's Brown, Cook, a 29.8 percent 3-point shooter her first three seasons, has taken it up a few notches as a senior.

Small sample, big production

Kaneisha Atwater, VCU (10 of 21, 47.6 percent)
Former Parade All-American and another freshman contributing quality minutes - and shots - for the new-look Rams.

Becca Wann, Richmond (11 of 22, 50 percent)
Doesn't matter what basketball (or soccer) list you come up with. If it's about something good, Wann's usually on there somewhere.

These guys are money, too

Chelsea Coward, Longwood: 22 of 57, 38.6 percent

Ayana Avery, Radford: 21-56, 37.5 percent

Kirby Burkholder, JMU: 25 of 78, 32.1 percent

The Launching Pad

Jessica Pellechio, VCU (45 of 131, 34.4 percent)
No Division I player in Virginia takes - or makes - more 3-pointers than the Rams' fearless freshman, who has attempted just 30 2-point shots (and only 2 out of her 32 field-goal attempts in her last three games). Pellechio's 3.75 triples per game ranks third in D-I, and she's made at least 4 in 8 of VCU's 12 games. The VCU record for 3s in a season is 94 by Anna Pavlikhina in 1991-92. At her current pace, Pellechio will eclipse that mark in VCU's 26th game - which just happens to be at Richmond on Feb. 20.

Should consider jacking a few more up

Aisha Foy, Radford (8 of 18, 44.4 percent)
Freshman played sparingly in her first six games but has made 8 of 17 triples in her last 3.

Rahneeka Saunders, George Mason (8 of 19, 42.1 percent)
Senior playmaker is just discovering how good she can be as a scorer.

LaKendra Washington, Libery (9 of 23, 39.1 percent)

Tiffany Minor, Old Dominion (4 of 10, 40 percent)

Pump fake and drive, perhaps?

Amber Easter, George Mason (3 of 27, 11.1 percent)
A terrific all-around player, Easter made 62 3-point shots in her first three seasons so this is a shot she can make. They're just not falling yet.

Nicole Hamilton, Hampton (12 of 61, 19.7 percent)
One of several Lady Pirates struggling from distance. Has otherwise done an exceptional job manning the Lady Pirates' vital point guard slot (5.1 assists per game).

Robyn Hobson, VCU (6 of 29, 20.7 percent)
A career 31 percent shooter, so it may be just a matter of time before that percentage improves.


For the sake of comparion, the Division I average 3-point percentage last season was 30.7, the lowest since the 3-point shot was instituted in 1987-88. The 2012-13 percentage leader through games of Dec. 23 is Duke (47.1)

1. Richmond (70 of 194, 38.0 percent)
Division I rank: 13th (of 343 teams)
In addition to Bilney and Wann, the presence of Sam Bilney (5 of 11, 45.5 percent), Kris King (33 percent), Lauren Tolson (30 percent), Ryan Dannelly (40 percent) and Amber Nichols (2 of 4, 50 percent) means Richmond has several good shooters on the floor at all times.

2. William and Mary (61-167, 36.5 percent)
Division I rank: 30
Like Richmond, lots of 3-point options led by Aldridge, Taylor Hilton (44 percent) and Kyla Kerstetter (33.3 percent). Even the bigs (Jaclyn McKenna 7-16; Emily Correal 3 of 6) have long-range accuracy.

3. VCU (87 of 251, 34.7 percent)
Division I rank: 53
If Koivunen, Atwater or Pellechio don't burn you from deep, Carleeda Green (34.5 percent) might make you pay instead.

4. Radford (55 of 170, 32.4)
Division I rank: 88
We've mentioned Aisha Foy and Ayana Avery, and there's also senior Ashley Buckhannon (19 of 59, 30.5 percent), who just moved into third place on the school's all-time 3-point chart. Apparently if you're first name begins with 'A' at Radford, you've got long-range skills.

5. Virginia (38 of 126, 30.2 percent)
Division I rank: 158
The much-improved Kelsey Wolfe (11 of 36, 30.6 percent) joins Franklin as the Cavaliers' chief long-distance threats.

6. Liberty (63 of 210, 30.0 percent)
Division I rank: 169
While the Lady Flames have several players capable of making the 3-ball, all are pretty judicious when it comes to attempts. Seven players have attempted at least 13, but only Brown has tried more than 33.

7. JMU (45 of 151, 29.8 percent)
Division I rank: 177
Everyone knows about Nikki Newman's defense, but the senior had also quietly transformed herself into the Dukes' best percentage 3-point shooter (8 of 24, 33 percent) before going down indefinitely with a broken foot. In her first start of the season, freshman Precious Hall showed she may be capable of replacing some of the firepower JMU loses without Newman by connecting on 3 of 8 3-pointers during a breakout 16-point performance on Dec. 21 against American.

8. Longwood (76 of 260, 29.2 percent)
Division I rank: 207
They can't match Coward for percentage shooting, but Crystal Smith (19 3s), Mieke Elkington (14) and Raven Williams (9) are all capable of heating up from the outside.

9. Old Dominion (49 of 169, 29.0 percent)
Division I rank: 217
Cook's been terrific, Minor has produced in limited attempts, and Stephanie Gardner has made 2 of 4 since becoming eligible three games ago. Still, as a team ODU has struggled from distance in several games this season. Add in the fact that the Lady Monarchs rank 38th in D-I in 2-point field goal percentage and they may be playing into opponents' hands by settling for so many deep balls.

10. Norfolk State (27 of 104, 27.9 percent)
Division I rank: 239
Ebony Brown and Kashay Barnes are a combined 26 of 94 (27.7 percent). Everyone else on the active roster is a combined 0 for 6. This is one of the areas where the loss of guard Rae Corbo (ACL injury) is most glaring. Corbo was a 33.3 percent 3-point shooter last season and hit 3 of 4 bombs this year before going down late in NSU's second game of the season.

11. Virginia Tech (27 of 100, 27.0 percent)
Division I rank: 259
To their credit, the Hokies know this isn't their game as they jack up fewer 3s than any team on this list save George Mason. Ironically, in their second game of the season the Hokies produced one of top 3-point performances anywhere as they made 9 of 17 in a 3-point victory over Appalachian State. They haven't made more than four in any game since, though, and have had two games where they haven't made any.

12. George Mason (21 of 85, 24.7 percent)
Division I rank: 299
Through her first two seasons, sharpshooter Christine Weithman made 45 3-pointers on 39.1 percent shooting. But Weithman has not played this season, and without her the Patriots simply don't fool with long-range shooting a great deal. Given their percentage, that's probably a good idea.

13. Hampton 45 of 211, 21.3 percent)
Division I rank: 336
The couple of times we've seen the Lady Pirates, we came away believing they have at least four players that are good bets from long range. These numbers say otherwise, though, at least so far. So it could be that, for all the great things All-American point guard Jericka Jenkins provided for Hampton over the past four years, the player they actually miss most is shooting guard Choicetta McMillian, who ranked 14th in Division I in 3-pointers per game last season. With McMillian leading the way, Hampton ranked 63rd in 3-point percentage in 2011-12.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas in the Commonwealth? Read what Santa has in store for your team

It's Christmas Eve in the Commonwealth and we're ready to wish gifts upon our 13 favorite teams in the land. With that, the Santa in us gets started and while our bag doesn't contain gold, frankincense or myrrh, let alone a mini iPad, we think we have some gifts our teams will enjoy.

Super size 'em for Duke
For Old Dominion:

What a job Karen Barefoot has done as coach in only her second year. But we're still confounded even after the Las Vegas tournament about how good these Lady Monarchs are. Here's what we know. They are much better than they were last year given the wins over Virginia Tech and Maryland Eastern Shore -- opponents they lost to at home last year and routed on the road this season. But they  have played some of the weakest opponents in Division I and lost handily to two of the better teams in the game in Cal and Texas A&M. Where do they stand? Are they a top 50 team? Top 100? We're not sure, but we'll find out come January.

Stocking stuffers: Milkbones, the super duper size for Duke, Jackie Cook's lovable mastiff. And how about a tape recorder for Mairi Buchan and Becca Allison so the rest of the team can listen to those glorious accents any time they want?

For Hampton: 

Well, kids, we're giving you a mix of Tom Brady and RG III -- in other words, some offense to match a defense UConn would envy. We love the job David Six has done with a team that didn't figure to beat LSU and Mississippi State yet did. But that same team only scored 34 points against South Carolina (albeit that S.C. team is looking pretty good these days; did you catch that Stanford result?) and ouch, 42 in a home loss to Prairie View A&M prior to break.

Stocking stuffers: We've contacted former NBA player Jerome James about where to get a size 22 shoe, as we're looking for a pair for Keiara Avant. The 5-11 junior guard, averaging 15.2 ppg and 9.2 rpg, has indeed filled the big shoes of Jericka Jenkins, and we continue to be in awe of the sensational season she's putting together.

For Virginia:

After the Cavs fell by a point to Alabama in double OT, coach Joanne Boyle lamented, "We just have to be good at something. Right now we're not good at anything." It sounds like a chemistry set is in order for the Cavaliers, who can't seem to find their rhythm, whether it be foul trouble, rebound issues or defensive stops.

If you can't get Nigerian, it's the next best thing!
Stocking stuffers: We love Sarah Imovbioh, who has only been back to Nigeria once since coming to America, so we're ordering out for her native dishes: efo (green stew), isu (spiced boiled yams) and  iyan (pounded yams and jollof rice). The thing is, we also hear she loves Olive Garden, so if that's her preference, she can have all the soup, salad and bread sticks she wants on us!

For Virginia Tech

Time to get out the boxing gloves and put up your dukes! Tech, which had a marvelous ACC debut with a rout of Wake Forest, is ready to enter conference play, and as usual, this league will be a dogfight with props to Maryland, Duke and North Carolina for starters.

Stocking stuffer: Stop by the Hokie bookstore and pick up a personal welcome mat for Uju Ugoka, who scored 28 in her college debut on Saturday. Welcome, welcome, welcome, Uju. And we'd like to offer a Monet (OK, a postcard with a Monet painting) to who else? Monet Tellier.

For Liberty:

The Lady Flames are some of the brainiest kids around, so we figure they'll get a kick out of "The Virtue of Selfishness," a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. Because as much as we love Liberty, we're not in love with how much they turn the ball over (22.2 turnovers per game) and think they need to learn to be a bit more greedy with the basketball.

Stocking stuffers: We're getting Brittany Campbell a shirt that reads, "The real Brittany Campbell in the game." We think Brittany might have the most common name in basketball (consider Chicago State's Brittany Campbell, formerly of Old Dominion, and Hollin' Britney Campbell to name a few). Also, we've got a great summer berry pie recipe for cook-a-holic Reagan Miller.

Bieber tix for Emily!
For William and Mary

How about a DVD of "True Grit" (and personally we prefer the John Wayne version to the Jeff Bridges one, though given the audience, perhaps Bridges is the way to go). You see the Tribe needs some grit down the stretch as they've already endured five losses in single digits.

Stocking stuffers: Justin Bieber tix for Emily Correal, Monticello tix for Kyla Kerstetter (she wants to have lunch with TJ, by the way) and a WNBA Barbie for former Barbie collector Chanel Muchinson.

For James Madison

We know every team battles with injuries, but man, JMU could use a break. Angela Mickens got the bug started with a bad thumb in preseason; Toia Giggetts suffered a concussion and now, one of LadySwish's all time faves Nikki Newman, has a broken foot (nice purple cast). Enough!

Laughs for Kirby!
Stocking stuffers: "A Night at the Improv" tix for team comedienne Kirby Burkholder, singing lessons for assistant coach Jennifer Brown (she keeps getting nailed for having the worst voice on the team) and a DVD of the pep band, the best in the league. Also, get well, Nikki!

For Virginia Commonwealth

Water bottles (with Rams logos, of course) and track shoes, because man, does Marlene Stollings like to run up and down. We applaud the Rams for keeping up, as they enter break at 6-6 after losing their first three.

Stocking stuffers: Hand warmers for Jessica Pellochio to keep that hot hand that has made for 45 3-pointers already this season. The freshman is averaging 13.9 ppg. We'll also throw in some toys (how about a mini hoop with a ball) for Niki Dawkins' twins!

For Richmond: Considering the loss of Gen Okoro (ACL), these Spiders have overachieved, so it's hard to ask too much of this group. However, we'd love to see a signature win at home this season for Richmond, which has suffered narrow defeats at the hands of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast. We've got the date with Dayton (Feb. 3) circled on our calendar.

Stocking stuffers: Matching footie pajamas for Rachael and Sam, and whatever Sleep Number bed Becca Wann wants. The soccer-basketball studette needs some rest! (We'll toss in a shadow box for her gold medal, too.)

For George Mason

The starters needs some help, guys! The Patriots bench is averaging 2.3 points (though we like what we saw from Talisha Watts against George Washington).

Stocking stuffer: A day at the spa for Amber Easter.

For Longwood

The Lancers' scoring defense is bring up the rear in the Big South, so we're sending in the Pittsburgh Steelers' D, the best in the NFL, to provide some support.

Stocking stuffer: We'll be raiding the Big South offices for all the gear we can find, because this team is going to do just fine in its new league. Not only do the Lancers belong, they'll no doubt cause some havoc early on and contend sooner than most would think.

We love Rachel, too!
For Norfolk State

Remember the kids book "The Little Engine that Could"? The Spartans haven't been the same since losing Rae Corbo to an ACL the second game of the season. The good news is the MEAC season is waiting, and we believe if NSU believes, they could make an impact.

Stocking stuffers: Surely we can find an RG (minus the III) shirt for Rachel Gordon (we'll add a 24) and a sewing machine for Batavia Owens.

For Radford

We like how the Highlanders have handled the nonconference, but we'd love the Da'Naria Erwin-Spencer of 2011-12 back (the one who averaged 17.4 ppg and was first team Big South). The senior has missed Radford's last two games and is averaging 8.5 ppg.

Stocking stuffers: NoDoz for chemistry majors La-She' Walker and Ashia Holmes. Tough classes, guys!

And it goes without saying, Merry Christmas to all our teams. We can't wait to see  you in the new year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sensational debut for Tech transfer

We're so giddy. We were excited about 6-1 junior Uju Ugoka joining Virginia Tech and now you know why. And you also know why Tennessee wanted her, too!

The junior college transfer (Gulf State College, Fla.) from Lagos who had to sit out the Hokies' first nine games scored 28 points in her college debut and VT rolled over Wake Forest 73-52 in its ACC opener. Did we mention she had eight rebounds? Two steals, too.

Dennis Wolff sound pretty happy himself, saying, "This is probably as good a game as played since I've been the coach here. We really weren't sure what we were going to expect with Uju being out for nine games, and this is about as good as you can expect for someone's first game back."

Tech's next ACC foe is Virginia on Jan. 3, but we're also excited to see how the Hokies will matchup against up against no-slouch North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28) and defensive menace Hampton (Dec. 30). Tech, by the way is 5-5 and a glorious 1-0 in the ACC.

We also love that Hokie nation turned out -- 4,017 fans on the Saturday before Christmas at Cassell. We have a feeling, folks, to quote a favorite crooner of ours, the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Virginia, Hampton, Richmond 1-2-3 in LadySwish state rankings

You've waited long enough for our second round of state rankings, and indeed much has changed since our preseason list. Drumroll, please.

1. VIRGINIA (6-3, 0-1 ACC)
Preseason rank: 2
Key victory: Virginia 79, JMU 58
Notable loss: Maryland 79, Virginia 55
It's hard to start out a regular season better than the Cavaliers did with the 79-58 dismantling of JMU. Also, first-year forward Sarah Imovbioh looks special, a future All-ACC performer (at least), and junior Kelsey Wolfe has really come into her own offensively while pleasing her coaches at times with a fairly decent imitation of the injured Lexie Gerson at the other end (2.5 steals). All that said, Virginia hasn't quite been VIRGINIA! since that season-opening blowout.  For one thing, the Cavaliers haven't been the defensive juggernaut they were a year ago. Virginia has allowed at least 65 points in five games. They gave up that many just four times during the entire 30-game regular season in 2011-12. The Cavs are also averaging nearly five more turnovers per game than they did last season. And after the humbling 24-point loss at Maryland, coach Joanne Boyle questioned her team's overall lack of toughness. So, yeah, Virginia definitely deserves to be ranked No. 1 in the Commonwealth. But the potential is there for this group to be a whole lot better than it's shown so far.
Coming up: Friday at Alabama (6-3); Dec. 28 vs. Norfolk State (1-8) in Cavalier Classic; Dec. 29 vs. Northern Illinois (3-5) or Xavier (4-5) in Cavalier Classic 

2. HAMPTON (7-3, 2-0 MEAC)
Preseason rank: 4
Key victory: Hampton 67, LSU 58
Notable loss: Florida Gulf Coast 70, Hampton 59
Despite massive roster turnover, there's been little dropoff in efficiency for the Lady Pirates, who still don't turn it over much (15.3 per game) while continuing to lock opponents up defensively. A year ago, the Lady Pirates ranked No. 2 in Division I in scoring defense. They currently check in at No. 9, surrendering just 48.7 ppg. Senior forward Keiara Avant (16.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) is on the short list of MEAC Player of the Year favorites, and Hampton has also gotten inspired play from, among others, guards Nicole Hamilton and Kenia Cole. A case can be made that Richmond deserves this No. 2 spot, but we settled on Hampton because the Lady Pirates have the best win of the two teams, a 9-point triumph over LSU when Hampton led by 15-20 much of the night. The Lady Pirates also had their way with DePaul for about 35 minutes at the Paradise Jam, only to see the Blue Demons storm back and steal a one-point victory.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Prairie View (2-5) in Toledo Invitational; Friday vs. Toledo (8-1) or Evansville (2-7) in Toledo Invitational; Dec. 27 at St. Peter's (0-8); Dec. 30 at Virginia Tech (4-5); Jan. 2 at Boston College (5-4)

3. RICHMOND (7-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Preseason rank: 3
Key victories: Richmond 58, Minnesota 46; Richmond 70, JMU 66
Notable loss: Green Bay 79, Richmond 48 (first game without Okoro)
It's simply not possible to lose a player the caliber of Genevieve Okoro and be a better team. So we're blown away with how these Spiders have gone 4-1 and are riding a four-game winning streak since their junior preseason All-Atlantic 10 forward went down for the season with a knee injury. Two big keys have been the play of Kristina King and Becca Wann. King has had games of 29 and 20 points since Okoro's injury. Meanwhile, all two-sport star Wann has done is average18.3 points over her last three games, lead the Spiders in rebounding for the season (7.4 rpg) and rack up nine assists in a Dec. 8 win over UNC Greensboro, the most by a Richmond player since 2009. Other than that, she's been kind of quiet. And we can't forget about senior sharpshooter Rachael Bilney, who is connecting on 43.5 percent of her 3-pointers. At this point, Hampton appears to have the higher ceiling. But the Spiders can improve their case on Wednesday when Florida Gulf Coast visits the Robins Center. During the Paradise Jam, FGCU proved to be one of the rare teams Hampton couldn't solve defensively (FGCU shot 46 percent against the Lady Pirates; no other HU opponent has cracked 37 percent). It will be interesting to see how the Spiders deal with these same Eagles.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. Florida Gulf Coast (5-4); Dec. 28 at Charleston (4-4); Dec. 30 at UNC Wilmington (1-6)

4. LIBERTY (8-4, 1-0 Big South)
Preseason rank: 5
Key victory: Liberty 60, JMU 48
Notable loss: North Carolina A&T 60, Liberty 56
Two years ago, the Lady Flames were stunned in a game at UNC Central. Last year, they lost at North Carolina A&T. And on Saturday, the Aggies got 'em again. Memo to Liberty coach Carey Green - stop scheduling MEAC schools from North Carolina. That said, Saturday's setback is the lone blemish on an otherwise strong opening stretch that has seen the Lady Flames win by double digits at JMU and hold off improving Radford on the road in the teams' Big South opener.  A big key is senior Devon Brown (17.5 ppg) having the kind of season she's entirely capable of having of when healthy. Heck, the Lady Flames have even started getting their turnover problem under control (occasionally). Since Liberty's other losses were at Duquense (9-1), at nationally ranked Texas A&M - and the Lady Flames were actually in this one most of the way - and at defending national champion Baylor, we're not going to be too hard on them for the A&T debacle. The NCAA Tournament committee may not be as forgiving, though. An RPI-sapping defeat like this could be the reason the Lady Flames wind up being relegated to a No. 15 or 16 seed should they qualify for the national tournament.
Coming up: Thursday at VCU (5-5); Dec. 29 at Winthrop (5-4); Jan. 3 vs. Presbyterian (6-6)

5. OLD DOMINION (6-1, 0-0 CAA)
Preseason rank: 6
Key victory: ODU 55, Virginia Tech 35
Notable loss: California 63, ODU 47
This much is clear - the Lady Monarchs are a LOT better than they were last year. Last season, they lost at home to Virginia Tech by 12. This year, they whipped the Hokies in Blacksburg by 20. A year ago, they (somehow) dropped a home game to Maryland-Eastern Shore. This year, they drove up Route 13 and spanked the Eagles by 16. The question now is, exactly how much better are they? Is this a top-50 team? Top 100? It's hard to judge given who ODU has played. Look, we're not knocking the Lady Monarchs for their schedule. If we had a team that won just 10 games a year ago and was trying to build confidence and chemistry, we'd schedule conservatively, too. And it worked - the Lady Monarchs have developed to a point where they honestly seem to believe they can beat anyone. But when the best team you've beaten is a Virginia Tech squad that won just seven games last year, we're ready to see that belief put to a more serious test. ODU's appearance in the three-games-in-three-days World Vision Classic figures to do just that. By the way, wouldn't a game between ODU and Liberty be fascinating? Liberty's biggest weakness is turnovers, and ODU forces more turnovers than just about anyone. Meanwhile, the Lady Monarchs struggle with rebounding and Liberty is - again - one of the best rebounding team in the country. With each team's main strength aligning perfectly with the opponent's biggest weakness, who knows how it would all shake out?
Coming up: Wednesday at UNLV (3-6, opening round of World Vision Classic); Thursday TBA in World Vision Classic; Friday TBA in World Vision Classic

6. JAMES MADISON (3-6, 0-0 CAA)
Preseason rank: 1
Key victory: JMU 89, Green Bay 86 (OT)
Notable loss: Quinnipiac 65, JMU 60 (Dukes are 1-3 at home. Went 15-3 at home last season)
It's the defense, folks. A year ago, the Dukes held opponents to just 34 percent shooting (8th in Division I) and allowed just 56.9 points per game. Through nine games this year they're surrendering 68.6 ppg - a shade under 12 more per contest - and rank 192nd in field goal percentage defense. JMU could get away with shaky offensive efficiency last season because the Dukes were so good at shutting down the other guys. This year, that defense simply hasn't been quite good enough to bail the offense out. It certainly hasn't helped that senior and defensive ace Nikki Newman has been battling a knee injury. Now comes word, courtesy of the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, that Newman sustained a fractured foot early in Sunday's loss to Duquesne. No definitive word yet on how long she will be out, but during his weekly press conference Monday, Dukes coach Kenny Brooks said "my guess is she'll be out a good while." Yet despite all this, it's probably not wise to give up on the Dukes yet. Look at the teams they've lost to. Virginia, Quinnipiac (7-1), Minnesota (9-3), Richmond, Liberty and Duquesne (9-1). Not a bad squad in the bunch (combined record: 45-16). Also, JMU's remarkable rally to win in OT against Green Bay, which ranks as arguably the best win by any team in these rankings, shows this team still has a high ceiling. Add this to the fact that the Colonial Athletic Association doesn't appear to be nearly as strong at the top as it was a year ago, and if the Dukes can tighten a few things up, this group is resilient enough to still make a push. Here's hoping Sunday's second-half effort against Duquesne is the catalyst.
Coming up: Friday vs. American (4-4); Dec. 28 vs. Maine (1-9); Dec. 31 vs. Georgia Southern (1-6)

7. VIRGINIA TECH (4-5, 0-0 ACC)
Preseason rank: 7
Key victory: Virginia Tech 47, Wisconsin 38 (Badgers are 7-3); Virginia Tech 71, Appalachian State 68 (App State is 6-1)
Notable loss: ODU 55, Virginia Tech 35
One stat sums up the major challenge for the Hokies night in and night out - Tech ranks 329th out of 343 Division I teams in scoring offense. Tough to win when you can't score. But starting with Saturday's ACC conference opener against Wake Forest, the Hokies will have the services of junior college transfer Uju Ugoka, a 6-1 forward and a two-time JC first-team All-American who was forced by the NCAA to sit out the first nine games for a minor violation of amateur rules that occurred before she arrived in Blacksburg. No one's expecting Ugoka to jump in and immediately get 20 and 10 every night (although it would be nice). But at the very least she should give the Hokies a low-post presence opposing defenses will have to respect, which in turn could free up the perimeter players who currently produce most of Tech's scoring. And if this happens, the Hokies may finally start making some ACC teams a little nervous.
Coming up: Saturday vs. Wake Forest (5-5); Dec. 28 vs. North Carolina A&T (5-3); Dec. 30 vs. Hampton (7-3)

8. RADFORD (5-5, 0-1 Big South)
Preseason rank: 8
Key victory: Radford 72, William and Mary 55
Notable loss: Clemson 74, Radford 55
The Highlanders didn't give themselves a chance Sunday at Clemson, turning the ball over 17 times in the first half alone. With a cleaner performance, Radford figured to have an excellent shot at a win over an ACC program that came in with just one victory and already owned home losses to Presbyterian and South Carolina State. Other than that, it's been a solid opening stretch by the Highlanders. When they win, they win big (each of their five victories have been by at least 12 points). When they play ACC teams, they struggle (0-3 with each loss by at least 17 points, although they did play Miami essentially to a draw for about 30 minutes). Radford's other two games have been nailbiters, and the Highlanders struggled down the stretch both times and suffered two-point losses. To challenge for a Big South title, the Highlanders will need to do a better job of closing out these 50-50 games.
Coming up: Dec. 29 vs. Longwood (3-6); Jan. 3 vs. UNC Asheville (2-8)

9. GEORGE MASON (4-4, 0-0 CAA)
Preseason rank: 10
Key victory: George Mason 58, UAB 55 (UAB is 7-2)
Notable loss: Maryland 90, George Mason 40
Nice to see senior point guard Rahneeka Saunders (20.5 ppg in her last four games) come alive as a scorer. In Saunders, Janaa Pickard, Amber Easter, Joyous Tharrington and Shavonne Duckett, the Pats have a starting five full of solid contributors. But with bench productivity limited beyond Kyana Jacobs, this team suffers more than most when one of the main cogs can't go. For example, Pickard (11.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg) sat out a Dec. 5 home game against a good Akron team, and the Patriots lost by 16 points. Mason was 3-0 at home heading into the game.
Coming up: Saturday at George Washington (5-5); Dec. 29 vs. Georgia Southern (1-6)

10. VCU (5-5, 0-0 Atlantic 10)
Preseason rank: 12
Key victory: VCU 79, UMKC 55 (Rams hit a program-record 13 3-pointers)
Notable loss: Old Dominion 74, VCU 51
Lots of good stuff lately from the Rams, who have gone 5-2 since Nov. 20. Robyn this the same player? You sure can't tell by her numbers (6.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg last season; 18.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg this year). Freshman sharpshooter Jessica Pellechio ranks 3rd in Division I in 3-pointers per game and connected on 9 bombs during her 30-point barrage against UMKC. And after battling injuries her first two seasons, junior forward Shekinah Henry is finally showing now what she's really all about, particularly on the boards (8.6 rpg). So why No. 10? Well, VCU's last four victories have come over teams with a combined record of 6-28. The fifth win was at home over 4-5 UMKC. We're not knocking the Rams for who they've beaten, in fact, it's canny scheduling for a team with a new coach trying to digest a fresh system. But we're holding out something closer to a signature win - which the Rams will have a chance to produce Thursday against Liberty. Oh, and guys, can you work on those free throws (61.2 percent)? Robyn Hobson (5 of 6), you're OK. But the rest of you Rams, let's start knocking 'em down.
Coming up: Thursday vs. Liberty (8-4); Friday vs. NJIT (6-5); Dec. 27 at Ohio State (7-3)

11. WILLIAM & MARY (2-6, 0-0 CAA)
Preseason rank: 11
Key victory: William and Mary 88, Austin Peay 76
Notable loss: Radford 72, William and Mary 55
The good news: Emily Correal (18.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, two-time CAA Player of the Week, 1,000 career points) is in full-fledged beast mode. Also, with Janine Aldridge, Taylor Hilton, Jaclyn McKenna and Kyla Kerstetter all shooting 35 percent or better from 3-point range - actually, even Correal has made 2 of 4 from deep - the Tribe has at times been a deadly long-range shooting team. Too often, though - and this has been going on the past three years - the Tribe wastes strong performances because of an inability to close out winnable games. Four of W&M's losses are by 7 points or fewer, including a two-point setback at Pittsburgh in which the Tribe led by five with less than 3 minutes remaining. There are some teams William and Mary simply doesn't match up with. But if the Tribe could just do a better job in the games they put themselves in position to win, that record would look much better.
Coming up: Friday at North Carolina A&T (5-3); Dec. 30 at Cornell (5-3)

12. LONGWOOD (3-6, 0-0 Big South)
Preseason rank: 13
Key victory: Longwood 60, Bucknell 52 (Lancers' 2nd straight road victory; Bucknell is 5-4)
Notable loss: N.C. State 102, Longwood 49 (Wolfpack crack 100-pt. barrier for 1st time in 15 years)
The Lancers have played three road games at BCS conference schools, games likely scheduled at least in part for financial considerations. Longwood is 0-3 in those games with an average margin of defeat of 31 points. But we already knew the Lancers weren't at that level yet. Take those games away and we're looking at a 3-3 team on a two-game winning streak. Two of the defeats were by single digits, and the other was a 10-point loss to a very good Richmond team. In other words, the Lancers have been extremely competitive against the reasonable portion of their schedule. So don't be fooled if Longwood gets thumped around in upcoming road games at Arizona (Thursday) and Arizona State (Saturday). Once Big South play commences, these guys will be just fine.
Coming up: Thursday at Arizona (7-3); Saturday at Arizona State (6-4); Dec. 29 at Radford (5-5)

13. NORFOLK STATE (1-8, 0-2 MEAC)
Preseason rank: 9
Key victory: Norfolk State 60, Penn 51
Notable loss: UNC Greensboro 71, NSU 63 (UNCG snaps 4-game losing streak, improves to 2-6)
A promising season swung violently in the wrong direction at the 4:39 mark of the second half of NSU's second game, when starting guard Rae Corbo went down for the season with a knee injury. At that point the Spartans were 1-0 and in good shape for a second victory against South Carolina-Upstate. They went on to let that extremely winnable game slip away in overtime and have lost every game since. This despite a very manageable schedule which, given NSU's veteran talent, figured to have them at something like 6-3, 5-4 at the worst, by this point. To be fair, no one should pin all of NSU's struggles on Corbo's absence. The Spartans have too many other good players running around on healthy legs for that. But in addition to being a fine all-around player, Corbo was NSU's leading returning scorer from a year ago. NSU was somewhat offensively challenged even with Corbo. Without her, well.... Still, the Spartans are fully capable of turning things around, and their upcoming MEAC schedule will provide plenty of opportunities to get on a roll.
Coming up: Wednesday vs. D-II Chowan (0-8); Dec. 28 at Virginia (5-3) in opening round of the Cavalier Classic; Dec. 29 vs. Northern Illinois (3-5) or Xavier (4-5) in Cavalier Classic

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chatting with birthday girl China Crosby

We chatted with birthday girl China Crosby about the New York Yankees, the holidays and her knee, of course. Here's some snippets from Virginia's senior point guard, a McDonald's All American in high school. Home for her is the Bronx, so we had to ask about the Yanks.

So which Yankee Stadium is best -- the old or the new?

My mom worked at the old one for a couple months. Literally, it's five blocks from where I live. I live on 166th and the old Yankee Stadium is on 161st Street. I didn't really need to go to a game to hear whether they won or lost.

I went to the old one twice. I've been to the new one once. The new one is pretty awesome. There's a lot more stuff to do other than watch a baseball game. I like the new one.

Your favorite Yankee?

Derek Jeter.

How tough have all the knee injuries been?

My first year here, I was with Paulisha Kellum and Monica Wright. I remember those two specifically being in the training room when I got the news. I was heartbroken. The words they gave me were to stay positive. Paulisha told me she played through it herself, and she was by my side through the whole thing. I kept my head high. Going through something like that was pretty tough. If it wasn't Paulisha Kellum, it was my mom. Over the phone, my high school coach and my mom encouraged me. My teammates were there with me from day one even the ones that weren't there. My sophomore year the same thing happened as far as hyper extending my knee and they were there to help me out. It was a big family. I give much respect to Debbie Ryan and coach (Wendy) Palmer and all the guys who were here my first and second year. They made sure I had high hopes about everything. They all helped me out going through tough times with my knee.

Do you think about injuring it again when you play?

Now that I have the brace on my knee, I give everything to the brace. It's really protecting me. I don't think about my knee. It still gets tired, but as far as diving for the ball or taking charges, I'm limited to certain things in practice, but in games I'm well enough to do anything now. So I have no conscience about my knee. I just go out there and play.

You're in anthropology major?

I actually was going to be a drama major but the times conflicted with practice. ... Anthropology is one of the majors where you can apply it to life. You can apply it to wellbeing. After basketball, I want to become an FBI agent and there are some police forces where they used anthropologists and tell them to go out and study a specific area that they're going to be investigating.

You're a fan of Law& Order: SVU?

Heck yeah, All the time. I'm a big fan of "Criminal Minds" now, too.

The secret behind your name?

When I was born my grandmother thought my eyes looked Asian, so she said "China. China Crosby goes well together." My middle name is Lorraine, her name.

When you go home for the holidays, what do you do?

Every time I come home during Christmas, my friends and my high school teammates, we get together and we always go out near Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock. We always go to 42nd Street. The downtown area is really the spot to be out. But really I like to go home and stay with the family and relax with a bunch of my friends.

You're a movie buff. What's your fave?

I have a couple. I'm a big romantic movie person. A lot of people wouldn't guess that for me. I like "The Notebook," "A Walk to Remember" and of course, "Love and Basketball."

Who do you watch play the game?

I love Seimone Augustus' game. And since 2006, LeBron James. Iverson would be my favorite point guard if he were still playing.

Was Virginia always the place you were going to go?

Actually it was Tennessee at one point. It was Maryland at one point. Louisville came down, but when I came here, I just fell in love and everything else fell into place from there.

Reflect on your career as a Cavalier.

It's been pretty rough going through two ACLs and hyper extending my knee my second year. I had hopes and dreams coming here; there were highly ranked point guards who came here before.  It didn't work out for me the way it should, but I keep it moving. I'm hoping I can leave a legacy here this year and people do admire me and know who I am and know what I can do on the court. I feel respected out there. I'm just trying to finish off this year strong, do whatever I can and see what the future holds for me.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dayton point guard transfers to James Madison

Dayton point guard Lexi Carpenter, a standout at Forest Park (Woodbrige) High School, has transferred to James Madison, according to Flyers coach Jim Jabir.

James Madison was among the schools that recruited the 5-8 freshman, who played in four games and a total of 24 minutes this fall for Dayton (10-0). As a senior at Forest Park, Carpenter was the Cardinal District Player of the Year and Northwest Region Co-Player of the Year, averaging an area-best 24.5 ppg, 2.7 apt and 2.4 spg. She was a first-team VHSCA selection, finishing her high school career with 1,354 points.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some thoughts on growing the game

Val Ackerman
Dear Val:

We're thrilled to hear you've been hired as a consultant and advisor by the NCAA for women's basketball. Improving marketing and overall attendance is said to be one of your priorities. We have some thoughts to share on that.

Admittedly, we're not the audience you're trying to market to. We follow this sport, go to games, write about the story lines and have interest in the outcomes. We find fun nuggets in box scores, and when we hear the Final Four, we have to kick ourselves to remember that other Final Four -- the men's one.

In doing all this, there are times when we feel we toil and enjoy this game in oblivion. It is not unusual for us to be in gyms so empty, we can hear every word the coach is saying. Often we can do our own head count. And while we take a statewide approach to our teams in the Commonwealth, we find that to be one that few fans embrace. They love their team and only their team. While it's easy to find a Virginia fan or an Old Dominion fan, it's not so easy to come by a fan of women's basketball. That's most evident during the NCAA Tournament, when empty seats are more the norm than the exception especially for the early rounds but too frequently at the regional level as well.

To be fair, the sport has enjoyed commendable growth over the three-plus decades that the NCAA has been involved. But the game can only sell itself to a point, and it appears as though we've reached that point.

So what should you do about this? Our thoughts:

*Find more creative ways to get fans in the door. Think out of the box or sometimes think simply. Hot dog night drew in excess of 10,000 fans a couple years ago at John Paul Jones Arena. Years ago, we attended a charity event by tennis player James Blake that combined the music of John Mayer with the tennis of James Blake and Andy Roddick. Fans of two completely separates interests combined to enjoy one gala event. We wonder, might Victoria Justice get a few fans in the door?

*Women's basketball needs students in the seats. Students can get inside the head of other students. Let student clubs, and on campuses where Greek life is  do the marketing for you. Get a pool of the top student clubs at each university and ask each club to be responsible for promoting one game. Incentivize it. The club responsible for bringing in the most fans receives something of value -- simple recognition isn't enough --  at the end of the season.

*Women's basketball players are largely excellent role models. Engage women's leadership organizations to partner with women's hoops players. Pursue sponsorships with those groups. Tailor your marketing to different professional groups as well. Make one night a "Music teachers night," another a "Dental hygienists night." Give discounts.

*Use your alumni base. Schedule alumni events at games and theme the games around those events. If it's classes from the '70s, include some KC and the Sunshine Band over the PA.

*Schedule a skills camp after an afternoon game and market to middle school, high school and recreational teams. When the kids are there, make sure the players are fully engaged with them.

*Contests, promotions, giveaways -- everybody likes to get something for very little.

*Make the experience memorable for the fans who do come. Too often women's games lack atmosphere. While it's hard for every school to match the mirth that goes on during timeouts at Thompson-Boling Arena, too often there's nothing at women's hoops games beyond the game. Make every second fun; involve kids in on-court contests.

*Buy one, get one. Buy three, get two. Make a dollar night. It's a bad economy. Make it easier -- and cheaper -- to go to the games.

*Use your players to build a grassroots presence in the community. Almost every school has its players engage in some type of community service, but that's not enough. Players need to be visible around campus recruiting fans in dining halls, dorms, outside of classroom. Make women's basketball cool.

*Should the rim be lowered? We hear advocates in support of that, and while we don't think lowering the rim a few inches would cause Armageddon, we're not sure it would have much impact on attendance. Again, this goes back to one thought: The product -- and we stress it's a product we love -- doesn't sell itself in this case. You've got to find some other way to get them in the door.

*Social media is the rage. Use it as a marketing tool and engage the players in social media, too. We know how overloaded players are with priorities during the season, but we also know that the cell phone rarely leaves their hand. Increasing attendance isn't just a marketing issue. It's an issue that affects the future of the sport, and the current ambassadors of the sport are its coaches and players.

*One more thing. We don't have all the answers. In fact, we might not have any of them. So ask questions. Engage the marketing staff to ask those who don't go to women's games why they don't and then ask quite simply, what would it take? We might all learn something that way.

We wish you great success in the position, Val. We'll be rooting for you.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

You can't win them all or can you? These 4 teams haven't lost

Unbeaten teams
Total: (through Jan. 6): 1
- Duke (13-0)
(Jan. 10 vs. Clemson)

Winless teams
Total (through Jan. 6): 5
Big Sky
Weber State (0-13)
St. Peter's (0-13)
North Carolina Central (0-14)
Ohio Valley
Jacksonville State (0-15)
Alcorn State (0-12)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

King, Wann lead Richmond past JMU

As writers, we cringe when players and coaches used the phrase "we stepped up." It's the ultimate sports cliche, a phrase so overused it's pretty much lost all meaning.

That said, every once in a while, the tired old line actually fits. So with apologies to journalists everywhere, here goes: Kristina King and Becca Wann really stepped up in Richmond's 70-66 victory at JMU Sunday.

That's right, we said it. You see, over the Thanksgiving weekend the Spiders saw junior forward Genevieve Okoro go down for the season with an ACL tear. Already an all-conference performer, Okoro seemed poised for her best season yet. And while the Spiders have plenty of good players, they don't really have another Okoro, someone with that combination of athleticism and hops. She seemed to be the one player the Spiders couldn't replace. That is, unless one of two of the other Spiders started doing stuff they'd never done before.

Which is precisely what happened Sunday. I mean, Kristina King is a very nice player who has really come into her own this season. But a career-high 29 points, 11 more than she'd ever scored in a college game before? Damn, girl! Oh, and Spiders coach Michael Shafer said she did a great job defensively, too. Meanwhile, all Richmond got from Wann, who moved into the starting lineup after Okoro's injury, was a career-high 21 points and 15 rebounds. You know, Delle Donne numbers.

Now, no one expects these two to go off like this every night (right?). But it's clear the Spiders understand that in order to get the team results they covet without Okoro, everyone else is going to have to do a little more. This time, King and Wann did a lot more.

In short, (gulp) they stepped up.

Still, the biggest shot of the game came from ol' reliable Rachael Bilney, who drained a 3-pointer - her only one of the game - with 2:26 left to vault her Spiders ahead 63-61. Bilney's shot came 18 seconds after the Dukes, who trailed the entire second half, had finally forged ahead on a Tarik Hislop layup. Richmond would not trail again.

Hislop finished with 22 points. But it was an otherwise tough day for the Dukes. In addition to the obvious defensive struggles against King and Wann, JMU was also beaten on the boards and generally lost the battle of physicality, according to Dukes coach Kenny Brooks.

"Richmond was tougher than we were," Brooks said during his postgame radio interview.

Brooks' track record suggests he'll find the appropriate corrective measures. It will help if he can have his whole team available for practices. Freshman point guard Angela Mickens has only recently returned to action after battling injuries, and sophomore forward Toia Giggetts missed time after suffering a concussion.

In other games Sunday:

George Mason 58, UAB 55: In her first game since dropping a career-high 33 points on Drake eight days ago, Patriots senior Rahneeka Saunders scored seven straight points in the final 1:34 to wipe out a four-point deficit. Saunders finished with a team-high 16 points, Amber Easter added 13 points and 9 rebounds and Janaa Pickard had 11 points and 11 boards.

Old Dominion 73, Dartmouth 59: A career-high 23 points from redshirt senior Mairi Buchan led the way for the Lady Monarchs, who also scored 28 points off 23 Dartmouth turnovers. Jackie Cook added 19 points, Tiffany Minor chipped in 10 and Shae Kelley pulled down 12 rebounds.

No. 25 West Virginia 54, Virginia 47: Would have loved to see the Cavs get a win here, but we're not surprised they struggled to score. Most teams do against the rugged Mountaineers, one of the most physical teams in the country.

Saturday's shoutouts

Devon Brown, Liberty: Scored 9 of her game-high 28 points in the final 4:45 as the Lady Flames rallied for a 67-65 victory at Radford in an exciting Big South opener. Liberty trailed the entire second half until Tolu Omatola scored with 43 seconds left.

Alyssa Fenyn, Virginia Tech: Tied her career high with 17 points and added 7 assists and 4 rebounds as the Hokies topped Longwood to win for the third time in a seven-day span. Fenyn got strong support from Monet Tellier (13 points, 8 assists) and freshman Lauren Evans (10 points, 10 assists). Notice that's 25 assists from three players.

Da'Naria Erwin Spencer, Radford: Scored a season-high 21 points in the near-miss to Liberty while moving into seventh place on the Highlanders' all-time scoring list with 1,215 career points.

VCU's "high octane" style: Looks as though the Rams age getting the hang of this uptempo approach as it yielded five double-figure scorers in an 86-57 victory over Florida A&M - Robyn Parks (19 points), Jessica Pellechio (14), Kaneisha Atwater (13), Janniina Koivunen (12) and Robyn Hobson (10). Also, Shekinah Henry grabbed 14 rebounds.

Kenia Cole, Hampton: The sophomore guard poured in a career-high 20 points as Hampton kicked off MEAC play with a 59-46 win at South Carolina State. By the way, it's pronounced Ka-NEE-yuh. Nice double-double by Keiara Avant, too (12 points, 12 rebounds).

Crystal Smith, Longwood: The senior's season-high 26 points in the loss at Virginia Tech were produced in part by a career-high 5 3-pointers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

25 things about...the ODU-Cal show

- From Day One as the Old Dominion head coach, Karen Barefoot has pledged the Lady Monarchs will become the hardest-working team in the country. Based on Friday night's results, this group is well on its way to fulfilling that pledge. Off-the-charts effort exerted, by both sides, actually.

- Add in an enthusiastic crowd - thank you, Girl Scouts - a nationally ranked opponent and some fierce resistance by the home team and, at times, it started to feel a bit like the good ol' Lady Monarchs days at the Constant Center. "Everyone talks about the past," Lady Monarchs star Jackie Cook said. "We want to bring the past back."

- The Lady Monarchs were borderline heroic on defense, forcing 25 turnovers and generally making things uncomfortable for the talented Golden Bears throughout the night. The performance kept them in the game and actually put them in position for an upset until....

- After cutting a 13-point second-half deficit to four, ODU went the final 8:26 without a single point. Barefoot called it a drought, but when you're scoreless for that long, that word doesn't seem quite strong enough, does it? Offensive dehydration, perhaps?

- The players weren't the only ones leaving everything out there. Judging from how she sounded post-game, Barefoot left most of her voice in the Constant Center during the ODU-Cal scrum, too. Wonder if there's a throat lozenge allowance in her contract.

- Cal's massive rebounding edge (66-33) tells us a lot of things, including the fact that both teams missed a ton of shots. And the players didn't discriminate on the misfires, as they struggled from 2-point range, 3-point range (a combined 1 of 16) and even the free-throw line (each team at 50 percent, causing one scribe to crack they should change the name to "relatively inexpensive" throws).

- Said Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb: "The Basketball Hall of Fame's not going to be asking for this tape anytime soon."

- But man, did those teams play hard.

- By the way, we've just added the engaging Gottlieb, a self-described "basketball nerd," to the list of people we'd love to spend an hour talking hoops with.

- The rebounding numbers aside, ODU did have a few clever ways to combat Cal's size advantage. On several occasions, a Cal post player caught the ball in the low post and prepare to go up for a layup, only to be thwarted by one of ODU's little guards diving down and stripping the ball before the post could ascend.

- When it comes to the raw ability to vault off the ground like a human pogo stick and corral a rebound, few do it better than Cal's ridiculously springy Gennifer Brandon (17 rebounds, 14 in the first half). Think Nneka Ogwumike. Or a young Dennis Rodman. Seriously. She's that unique of an athlete.

- ODU forward Shae Kelley didn't exactly dominate in ODU's first four games, no doubt in part because she didn't have to. But in each game, she'd make two or three plays where you'd think to yourself, that'll work against anyone. Friday, she made a bunch of those plays against the talented Golden Bears. In one tantalizing stretch in the second half, Cal simply couldn't stop Kelley (21 points, 7 rebounds) from beating her (wo)man off the dribble, getting to her spot and finishing. "She almost singlehandedly had 'em go on that run," Gottlieb said of Kelley, who bunched 14 of her points into a 9-minute stretch after intermission. "You can tell she's going to be a kid that rises to the level of competition."

- Finishing against the bigger Golden Bears was considerably more challenging for most of the Lady Monarchs, though. The good news is ODU's players often succeeded in compromising Cal's defense with drives to the basket. It seemed to us that on a few of these occasions, the Lady Monarchs might have been better served kicking the ball out to an open shooter than trying to finish over size. But since we don't break down the film, we'll leave the game-planning to Barefoot and Co.

- We were interested to see if all the energy and enthusiasm the Lady Monarchs displayed during their four blowout victories, in-game and on the bench, would also be in evidence on a night when they were struggling. We're pleased to report that it was. Shakeva Richards in particular was as vocal and demonstrative, on court and on the bench, as we've ever seen her.

- Sure, Skylar Diggins, Odyssey Sims and Chelsea Gray are great. But let's put it this way. If we've got the fourth pick in a four-team draft of point guards and the only one left is Cal's Brittany Boyd, well, don't bother feeling sorry for us. The Cal star can ball, y'all - and she's just a sophomore.

-  In addition to her on-court brilliance, ODU's Kelley also displayed a winning personality in her brief remarks during the press conference and even had some fun with the fact that the teams combined to miss 29 free throws. "I think the rims were moving," she said. And that wasn't even Kelley's best line. "This was probably the best team we've played so far," she said. Probably, Shae?

- Heading into Friday, ODU was one of four unbeaten Division I teams from non-BCS conferences. And now there are three - Dayton (7-0) from the Atlantic 10, Pacific (6-0) from the Big West and JMU-conqueror Quinnipiac (4-0) from the Northeast.

- Cal (6-0) remains among the 22 unbeaten Division I teams overall.

- As the Golden Bears dribbled out the final 20 or so seconds, Barefoot applauded her team and shouted "Good job!" to her players on the bench. She would go on to say that she could not be more proud of her team, and that the Lady Monarchs proved they could play with anyone in the country.

- But lest anyone think the Lady Monarchs were happy losers, Cook made it clear they realize there's still work to be done to become the team they want to be. "We're pleased with how we played...but we need to get better. We will get better," she said. "There's so much room for improvement."

- Remember, too, that this ODU team isn't even whole yet. In January, Miami transfer Stephanie Gardner and Portugal's Michelle Brandao will be added to the mix.

- Meanwhile, Gottlieb said the Golden Bears got pretty much everything they wanted out of their trip to Norfolk - a victory after a stern test on the road in the lead-up to Sunday's showdown at No. 3 Duke. "We won through foul trouble, through a rough shooting night and through a team that threw a lot of things at us that were troubling," she said. "I'm proud of the way our kids hung in and pulled away at the end."

- Finally, after the game we met Cook's mother, Donna, who along with her husband Chris routinely makes the 8-hour drive from Ohio - "we drive really fast" - to root the Lady Monarchs on. Donna Cook is the type of person who after talking to her for five minutes has made you feel as though you've known her for 20 years. So when our "old friend" asked us to use all our influence to get the Colonial Athletic Association to allow ODU to play in the conference tournament, how could we say no?

- So we said it to Momma Cook, and now we're saying it to the world: We promise to use every bit of our influence with the CAA to get ODU in the tournament.

- Wish us luck. We'll need it.