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.


  1. Your ODU bias is showing. Yes,
    prior to Cal Odu was 4-0 against weak programs; none of which have winning records. Now they will face a 1-4 Dartmouth squad. Not exactly a demanding schedule!

  2. Actually, our bias extends to all 13 of Virginia's D-I teams. We realize this is a hard concept to grasp for fans of just one team, because often by definition that involves rooting against some of the others. And that's OK. But believe it or not, we honestly root for all of these teams.
    In the particular case of Old Dominion, no, the Lady Monarchs' wins haven't come against the toughest foes. But understand that two of their four wins (Virginia Tech, UMES) came on the road against teams that beat them last year at ODU. So I think everyone would agree that if nothing else the Lady Monarchs have improved significantly in a year's time. And isn't that one of the goals of every team? So yeah, we think it's worth pointing out. If something cool is happening with the team you root for, we'd like to point that out, too. And if we miss it, just let us know.