Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hampton on defense - it's a beautiful thing

Poor Delaware State.

The Lady Hornets have a fine women's basketball team. But when Hampton unleashes its rangy, springy, determined Lady Pirates in defense mode, it's over.

The end came quickly for Del. State Wednesday, as the Lady Pirates nearly forced more turnovers (27) than they allowed points en route to a 63-28 beatdown in a MEAC Tournament quarterfinal at the Norfolk Scope.

For the game, the Lady Hornets shot 25 percent. But it wasn't because they can't shoot. The problem was they barely had room to breathe with Lady Pirates smothering anyone with the audacity to catch the basketball.

If you get a chance to watch Hampton, focus on how relentlessly Lady Pirate defenders keep their feet moving. All five defenders, all 10 feet. And each sub enters the game with that same intensity. Double-teams are applied with a fury, in conjunction with rotations that demand split-second decision-making from the opposing ballhandler. The Lady Hornets couldn't make these decisions anywhere near fast enough.

The Lady Pirates also defended with equal ferocity whether they were up five or 35. And even when things seemed to work out, Hampton coach David Six was quick to point out how it could have been better. On one occasion we watched the Lady Pirates finish off what we thought was an excellent defensive series by forcing a turnover, only to look over and see Six barking at one of his players. We're like, "What, that wasn't good enough?" But the player nodded her head in agreement with the coach as she sprinted back downcourt.

Former UConn star Maya Moore used to say her Huskies were in search of the perfect game. These Lady Pirates operate as though they're hell-bent on shutting someone out.

"Coach Six "has found a way to get athletic, talented players to play hard and buy into a defensive philosophy," Delaware State coach Tamika Louis said. "You do that and you're going to win a lot of ballgames. We just weren't ready for it."

In Louis' defense, few teams are. Hampton ranks second in Division I - not the MEAC, all of Division I  - in scoring defense (48.0 ppg allowed), and lately they've ratcheted things up even more. Wednesday's quarterfinal marked the third straight game an HU opponent has been held to 30 points or less.

Thirty or less, in a 40-minute game? Get outta here!

For the record, Alyssa Bennett and Olivia Allen each scored 13 points to lead Hampton's offense, and MEAC Player of the Year Keiara Avant added 11. But frankly, it's hard to remember much about the points the Lady Pirates scored, and that's not something we usually say. Typically we prefer a good offensive show, with lots of fastbreaks and 3-point shots.

But after spending a couple of hours watching the Lady Pirates dig in and downright suffocate yet another foe, we have to admit that defense can be a beautiful thing, too.

The three-time defending tournament champion Lady Pirates will have a day to fine-tune things before returning to action for the semifinals Friday at noon. Hampton will face the winner of Thursday's quarterfinal pitting fifth-seeded Coppin State against No. 4 South Carolina State.

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