Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hampton's Hamilton a shot-blocking marvel

If the term "shot-blocking point guard" seems like an oxymoron, that's because it usually is. Or at least it was, until Hampton coach David Six crossed his fingers and gave natural two-guard Nicole Hamilton the keys at the start of the 2012-13 season.

Opposing guards are probably still trying to figure out what hit them.

Last season, Hamilton blocked 48 shots, a stunningly high number for a backcourt player who stands just 5-foot-8. But that was merely the warm-up. Through 20 games this season, the Lady Pirates senior is already at 50 blocks.

Now, there are entire teams that don't have 50 blocks. The Virginia Cavaliers, for example, all 12 of them, have combined for 22.

Of course, we all know that the Cavaliers don't have a lot of size. But then, neither does Hamilton. Not your typical shot-blocking size, anyway. Yet only one Division I guard in the country blocks more shots than Hamilton - Florida Gulf Coast's Whitney Knight - and she's 6-3. And of the 21 D-I players at any position who have eclipsed Hamilton's 50 blocks, the shortest is 6-2, a half-foot taller than our girl Nicki.

As shot blockers go, Hamilton is the shortest player among D-I's Top 50, Top 100 or Top 150. Simply put, no one her size is doing anything like this. You know how boxing has its pound-for-pound champion? Well, inch-for-inch, Hamilton is Division I's queen of rejection.

Remember, though, Hamilton only moonlights as a shot blocker. In her day job as Hampton's point guard, she's leading the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in assists, pacing the Lady Pirates in steals and hauling down nearly 6 rebounds a night, all while logging a MEAC-high 36.7 minutes per contest.

Oh, and then there's her scoring. Despite a shooting touch that can come and go, Hamilton averages a healthy 13.4 points per game and needs just six more to reach 1,000 for her career.

On nights when her shot is falling - 27 points at LSU, 24 vs. Kansas State - Hamilton's high-level impact at both ends is in the class of UConn's Breanna Stewart and Central Michigan's Crystal Bradford - arguably the two most gifted all-around performers in the country.

And when her shot is off, Hampton has to settle for having a high-level shot-blocking, ball-hawking, rebounding playmaker running its show.

Somehow, the Lady Pirates get by.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

JMU ready for Drexel this time...we think

It may not be the most glamorous game on JMU's schedule, but Thursday night's home showdown with Drexel is certainly among the most interesting.

The Dukes (13-4, 3-0 CAA) spent the preseason establishing themselves by any reasonable standard as no worse than a Top-40 team nationally, and have been nothing short of spectacular through the early stages of Colonial Athletic Association play. But in recent times Drexel (8-8, 3-0) has been JMU's Kryptonite, the team that turns an otherwise high-powered Dukes squad into the gang that can't shoot straight.

Last March, we detailed how the Dukes had more or less become allergic to Dragons:

Consider that in the past two seasons, JMU has lost five games by 16 points or more. Three of those losses have come to Drexel. Two years ago, the Dragons held JMU to just 43 points, the Dukes' lowest point total in three seasons. This season, JMU's two lowest point totals (34, 46) have come against Drexel, and the 34 points they produced in the CAA (Tournament) semifinals represented their most meager output in coach Kenny Brooks' 11 seasons.

The Dragons have also prevailed in their last two trips to Harrisonburg in addition to being the team to evict JMU from the last two CAA Tournaments.

So far this season, it's the Dukes that have been doing the manhandling, particularly in CAA play. They opened by absolutely crushing Delaware, and are coming off a 27-point road beatdown of Hofstra. In addition to her defensive and shotblocking skills, Nikki Newman is making like Magic Johnson with all these assists. Jazmon Gwathmey is holding block parties; Toia Giggetts is a rebounding fool. And Kirby Burkholder - KIR-BEE!! - and Precious Hall have been a devastating scoring combo.

But Drexel is still, well, Drexel, and this year's bunch appears to be following the typical trajectory of a Denise Dillon-led squad. Watch the Dragons in November and you're kind of like, eh. Catch 'em again 10-12 games in and it's more like, hmmm.... Come March, it's, uh-oh.

It's not March yet, but these Dragons appear to be increasingly comfortable running Dillon's stuff and will bring a three-game winning streak into the Convocation Center. They'll also bring the knowledge that their system, properly run, has a recent history of bringing JMU to its knees.

Then again, JMU hasn't been totally powerless against these guys, as they do have two wins over Drexel the past two years. And given that this Dukes team has shown the potential to challenge for the title of the finest Brooks has ever assembled, it's hard to imagine Drexel flat-out having its way in Harrisonburg once again.

Still, weird things have happened when the Philadephia gang shows up, and that's why, as early regular-season conference games go, this one has more than the usual intrigue. The Dukes don't have to win Thursday - the real "big" games are still weeks away. Nor is JMU going to be presented the CAA title if they do emerge victorious.

But we're sure JMU fans - not to mention the Dukes themselves - wouldn't mind putting this whole Drexel hex stuff to bed for a while.

Thursday's games

Maryland at Virginia, 6:30 p.m.

Drexel at JMU, 7 p.m.

William and Mary at UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.

Longwood at Liberty, 7 p.m.

Radford at High Point, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

CNU star Schweers opts to play instead of coach

Player or coach?

For the foreseeable future, former Christopher Newport University star Chelsie Schweers sees herself as a player first. Schweers announced earlier this week that she will leave her position as first-year girls basketball coach at her alma mater, Hickory High, to play basketball overseas.

Schweers leaves Sunday for Iceland and will play for Hamar (7-12). She will play her first game on Jan. 29; the regular season concludes on March 10. She is exploring the possibility of returning to Australia for more basketball after her season in Iceland concludes. Schweers played for the Toowoomba Mountaineers in Australia last summer and previously spent a season in Greece.

It's been a stressful week, admitted the 24-year-old guard, the leading scorer in CNU history who also holds the mark as the all-time leading scorer in the state. Schweers led CNU to the Division III Final Four in 2011.

Schweers accepted the coaching position at the Chesapeake high school amid a whirlwind last July, thrilled to be starting out at program she played for. Shortly after, she turned down an opportunity to play in Germany, but the thought of returning to the court nagged her.

"My mom and I decided then that I was going to stay in coaching, but we left it as if another opportunity came up, it was meant for me to go," Schweers said. "I started to wonder, 'What if I don't get another chance?' I might not always be able to coach at Hickory, but coaching jobs will always be there. I have a short window to keep playing."

Schweers said she received full support from the Hickory principal and athletic director and is grateful for how receptive the Hawks were when she told them the news about Iceland.

"I was concerned with the parents, and how they were going to take it," Schweers said. "I was concerned, too, about the girls on the team. They're 14 and 15 years old. I was concerned they'd think I didn't care about them or I was putting them on the back burner. They did not take it like that at all. Of course, we all cried. They supported me 100 percent and told me to go make them proud."

As far as Iceland, Schweers knows little, having learned much of what she does know from a current Hickory player from Iceland. "The whole country has 300,000 people," she said. "It's going to be cold and windy."

Language won't be a barrier -- most are fluent in English and Danish -- and the country, which is close to the Arctic Circle, is known for its stunning landscape.

Schweers will be the lone American on the team, as former Mississippi State guard Diamber Johnson is returning to the United States.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Family-first Hampton guard not your typical freshman

For a kid who's all about family, it's no wonder Hampton's Malia Tate-DeFreitas returned to her roots for college.

"I was born in Hampton," says the soft-spoken 5-8 freshman guard.

"Newport News," says her mother, Jennifer, a Pirates alum from 1994 and a nurse today. "I met her father when I was a freshman there. He was in the Marine Corps. in North Carolina. We married when he was a junior, and I had Malia my senior year."

Hampton's family environment appealed to Malia - a kid who's all about family -- "My immediate family – there might be like 40 of us -- I see every day when I'm home," she says. "We have dinner together every day. My aunt cooks for everybody, and everybody’s invited."

She visited Pitt and Albany, and St. John's and Hofstra were in the mix. But she found the right fit at Hampton, where she felt an immediate bond with coach David Six and departed Pirates assistant Ashlee Finley, who she describes as a big sister.

As a player, Malia has flourished in a manner atypical of most freshmen in Six's program, who often spend much of their first year on the bench. She's started every game, averaging 19.3 ppg and .758 from the free-throw line, and while shooting just .356 from the field, Malia has the green light to shoot. Three times, Malia has been MEAC Rookie of the Week, and this week was named Player of the Week for the second time thanks to her 24 points and seven boards against Coppin State. Malia has a string of seven straight 20-point game and counting.

 "I haven't had a freshman like her," Six says. "She's a good basketball player regardless of her age. She's got things you can't teach."

Malia is unflappable -- donning a game face that even startles Six, who notes he gets the same expression whether he's yelling at her about her defense or complimenting her for a good shot. Pressure situations don't deter her -- no surprise for a player comfortable in the cooker. She is the ninth player in Pennsylvania history to have eclipsed the 3,000-point mark in high school.

"You'll never know if she's upset because she doesn't show it," her mom says. "When she tore her ACL when she was in high school that was probably the first time and the last time I saw true expression. She was so mad because they wouldn't let her go back in the game. She ripped the ice off and ran back in the game, and realized going down the court that she couldn't play."

"I think I tore my meniscus when I went back in," Malia says.

She continues to wear a sleeve on her left knee, which admittedly doesn't have full range of motion. But Malia rebounded from the injury to finish her high school career in glorious fashion. During her sophomore year, she led the Lady Steamrollers of Steelton High to their first Class A state title, averaging 23.9 ppg -- lofty enough for a mention in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd. As a junior, her average ballooned to 34 ppg, and by her senior year, Malia had another state title and was named a Parade All-American.

While she wasn't initially drawn to basketball -- she cheered, danced, played piano and had a special affinity for tennis -- basketball was clearly her sport.

"Basketball grew on me," says Malia, who played in the Stephon Marbury league in Coney Island -- quite the hike from her Harrisburg, Pa. home. "I didn’t like it right away because I played with all boys. I was the only girl in the league. They were overly aggressive."

Off court, she drifts toward talk of her family. Eighteen of them traveled to Los Angeles for Hampton's Thanksgiving trip. Nearly 30 were in the stands for the game at Delaware State. Malia talks to her mom at least three times a day and is eager to share the stories that come with the family funeral business. Her grandfather, father and aunt are all morticians.

The Winfield Funeral Home is a second home to her and was once the real deal. "We lived upstairs," she says. The double A-framed  home is an actual brick home on a two-lane road on Front Street. While many see the funeral business as something macabre, Malia says the family business has a welcome feel. 

"There's nothing creepy about it," she says. "At most funeral homes, the cars are black. Ours are white. We release doves. I will probably work there at some point in time."

For now, her business is basketball, and this kid is just getting started.

Monday, January 20, 2014

ODU assistant loses her uncle in tragic way

We don't have enough prayers to send to ODU assistant Trina Patterson, who lost her uncle on Sunday when he was shot driving home from church in Newport News.

Joseph Henry Williams Jr. was 71 years old. He was driving in the East End of the city when he was caught in crossfire. He was a deacon at Triumph Christian Center.

"He was a mentor to people in the church,"pastor Reginald Dawkins told the Daily Press. "He will be missed. He was a pillar of this congregation."

Our thoughts and prayers to Patterson, a native of the area and first-year assistant to ODU coach Karen Barefoot.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Saturday's five-spot: what to watch for

First of all, a big shoutout to the Radford Highlanders, who bagged their first Division I victory Thursday by shutting down Longwood 57-51. Ayana Avery had 20 points and Breshara Gordon (11) and Rachael Ross (10) also scored in double figures, but Highlanders coach Mike McGuire said it was his team's defensive chops that keyed the victory. That the undermanned Highlanders could endure 15 straight losses and not only keep fighting but remain willing to do defensive dirty work says a lot about these players.

Now, five things we'll be keeping an eye in Saturday's games:

Norfolk State - road warriors? - We'd mentioned more than once about how the Spartans hadn't won a true road game since the end of the 2011-12 season, so we were pleasantly surprised to see NSU leave home last weekend and come back with a pair of wins at Maryland-Eastern Shore and Delaware State. The victories boosted the Spartans to 3-1 in the MEAC heading into Saturday's home date with a Morgan State team that has lost four straight and has just one win all season against Division I opposition. Obviously the Spartans can't take anything for granted, but if they can keep up their recent form they're positioning themselves to be real factors in the conference race.

A "motivated" Longwood - Lancers coach Bill Reinson didn't mince words when assessing his team's performance in the loss to Radford. "We took a huge step backward this evening and may have to shake things up a bit," the coach said after Longwood shot 24 percent in defeat. If Reinson said this publicly, one can only imagine the message he delivered in the postgame locker room. So while Saturday's assignment - at Winthrop - is a tough one, we expect the Lancers to come out with fire in their eyes for this one.

Crosstown showdown - The fact that George Washington and George Mason are now in the same conference adds some juice to the "Battle of the Orange Line" (or is it the "Revolutionary Rivalry?). The Patriots were floundering but put together their best effort in weeks in Wednesday's 67-64 overtime loss at Richmond. Mason will look to build on that performance Saturday against a Colonials' team that beat them by 16 points last month.

Reaganomics - Liberty guard Reagan Miller has been a big key to the five-game winning streak that has catapulted the Lady Flames into sole possession of first place in the Big South. The junior is averaging 12 points and is shooting 52 percent from 3-point range during this span. On Thursday, Miller scored all 17 of her points after halftime as the Lady Flames outlasted Winthrop 77-70 in overtime.

Still streakin' - Hampton will put its 33-game winning streak against MEAC opponents on the line Saturday when Coppin State visits the HU Convocation Center. Coppin was the last conference team to defeat the Lady Pirates after engineering a 69-66 victory in Hampton during the 2011-12 season.

Saturday's games

Longwood (6-11, 3-5 Big South) at Winthrop (12-5, 6-2), 1 p.m.

Liberty (11-6, 7-1 Big South) at UNC Asheville (7-10, 4-4), 2 p.m.

VCU (15-3, 3-2 Atlantic 10) at UMass (3-15, 0-4), 2 p.m.

Coppin State (6-9, 3-0 MEAC) at Hampton (12-4, 3-0), 4 p.m.

Morgan State (2-13, 0-2 MEAC) at Norfolk State (7-8, 3-1), 4 p.m.

Florida Atlantic (11-5, 1-2 Conference USA) at Old Dominion (8-9, 1-2), 7 p.m.

George Washington (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) at George Mason (6-12, 0-5), 7 p.m.

Lights-out shooting boosts ODU

Galaisha Goodhope
The number leaps off the page every time we look at the boxscore - 60.4.

That was Old Dominion's shooting percentage in Wednesday's 92-82 victory at Southern Mississippi, a win the Lady Monarchs hopes pushes the reset button on their debut season in Conference USA.

Now, 60-percent shooting games are extremely rare. In fact, it's just the third time in the last 10-plus seasons an Old Dominion team has cracked the 60-percent barrier. On both other occasions, Towson was the victim - on March 8, 2012 in a 72-58 victory over the Tigers in the CAA Tournament first round; and on Feb. 15, 2007 in an 82-42 thumping of Towson at the Constant Center. (Note to you lottery players out there: In each of the three games, ODU's shooting percentage was exactly 60.4 percent).

Heading into the Southern Miss game, this season's Lady Monarchs were shooting 39.5 percent, had only reached 50 percent once (50.9 percent on Nov. 24 in an 89-82 loss to Marist) and had shot less than 40 percent 10 times.

So what happened in Hattiesburg? Well, we didn't see the game, but we know that forwards Shae Kelley and Chelisa Painter attack the rim and rarely shoot from the perimeter. That these two players accounted for more than half of ODU's field-goal attempts (25 of 48) suggests the Lady Monarchs declined settling for jumpers and were aggressively seeking high-percentage looks. So, too, does the fact that ODU attempted a season-high 39 free throws.

It also helped that all five starters were feeling it. Painter, in particular (a season-high 17 points on a season-high 13 field goal attempts), imposed herself on the proceedings in a way the Lady Monarchs would clearly love to see going forward. Of course, Kelley was Kelley (25 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks). But Tiffany Minor did her thing, too (14 points, 4 of 6 3-pointers), as did Stephanie Gardner (11 points).

And then there was Galaisha Goodhope. After last Saturday's 30-point loss to Tulane, normally ultra-positive ODU head coach Karen Barefoot made it clear she wasn't happy with the play of her point guards. And on her radio show Tuesday, Barefoot candidly spoke about how Goodhope was capable of better performances, and that she'd expressed as much to the sophomore in a long phone conversation the day after the game.

The tough love approach appears to have worked, as Goodhope responded to essentially being called out with her best all-around performance of the season - 15 points, 6 assists, 6 steals and 5 rebounds in 38 minutes.

So what should fans expect when the Lady Monarchs (8-9, 1-2 Conference USA) return to the Constant Center Saturday to take on Florida Atlantic (11-5, 1-2)? Well, probably nothing like 60.4 percent shooting. Even UConn doesn't live in that neighborhood. But if the aggressive, confident approach that led to that number is on display, ODU women's hoops figures to be a whole lot more interesting - and competitive - than it looked seven days ago.

Note: Saturday's 7 p.m. game also serves as Alumni Night for the ODU program. Click here for a list of the former players expected to be on hand.

A few extras

- Division I-wide, there have been 58 times a team shot 60 percent or better through games of Jan. 16 out of 5,605 opportunities. So essentially, teams shoot less than 60 percent 98.9 percent of the time. Once in every 100 occasions, what ODU did occurs.

- Hard to believe a team can shoot 60 percent and lose, but it's happened twice in the 58 times this season.  San Diego State fell to run-and-gun Sacramento State and Maine lost by a point to Yale despite lights-out shooting.

- San Diego State shot a Division I season-high 65.9 percent (for games involving two D-I teams) in a 71-67 victory over UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 30.

- This season's lowest field goal percentage was turned in by Alcorn State, which shot 13.5 percent in a 76-31 loss to Michigan on Dec. 28. Five weeks earlier, poor Alcorn had been held to 15.2-percent shooting in a 112-28 loss to Illinois.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wednesday's 5-spot: What to watch for

Bet the kids will love Gen Okoro's athleticism.
Fans in the stands! - It's "Dream Big Day" at Richmond, so hundreds of elementary school kids will be encouraged to do just that while taking in the Spiders game against George Mason at noon. The players should get something out of it, too - the chance to play in front of a sizable - and noisy - crowd. The attendance at last year's "Dream Big" game was 1,334, a figure that's more than double Richmond's average gate this season (647).

Can the Patriots recover?  - George Mason rolled into December with a 5-2 record, but the Patriots have gone 1-9 since and are coming off a particularly ugly 59-40 loss at Rhode Island. And while this stretch started with the Patriots losing close games, each of Mason's four Atlantic 10 losses have come by at least 15 points. With obvious depth issues and the natural adjustments to a new coaching staff, no one was expecting the Patriots to go unbeaten this season. But they're better than they've played lately. Here's hoping the Rhode Island loss was rock-bottom and the Mason turnaround starts Wednesday.

Defense first - Old Dominion's recent stretch of surrendering at least 80 points in four of its last five games - all double-digit losses - hasn't left the Lady Monarchs much to be proud of. Getting back to the kind of aggressive, often-disruptive style ODU has employed with some success under coach Karen Barefoot could help ignite a team that, while still rebuilding, can produce much better results than it has in some of its recent performances.

Atlantic 10 Player of the Year showdown - If the award was being handed out today, we're pretty sure it would go to a Ram. But which Ram? We think the line ought to form behind VCU's Robyn Parks. But clearly Fordham's Erin Rooney is building one heck of a case, too. The New Zealand native is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest while leading Fordham to victories in 13 of its last 14 games. Parks' Rams will face Rooney's Rams at the Siegel Center Wednesday, and while the team result is obviously paramount, which one of these stars gets the individual edge could be pivotal in determining who gets the league's top player honors come March.

Keira's droppin' dimes - Speaking of individual honors, VCU freshman Keira Robinson has a leg up on the league's top newcomer award after the 21-point, 10-assist effort against St. Joseph's cemented her conference-high third A-10 Rookie of the Week award. It was the third double-digit assist effort in less than a month for Robinson, who is averaging 8.4 helpers over her last nine games. Granted, her turnover count is a little high, too. But remember, folks, she's just getting started.

Today's games

George Mason (6-11, 0-4 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (7-10, 1-3), noon

Old Dominion (7-9, 0-2 Conference USA) at Southern Miss (13-2, 2-0), 8 p.m.

Fordham (14-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) at VCU (15-2, 3-1), 7 p.m.

Catching up with ex-Hokie coach Beth Dunkenberger

LadySwish had a chance to get up with former Virginia Tech coach Beth Dunkenberger, in Norfolk for Old Dominion's Conference-USA opener against Tulane. Dunkenberger, who coached the Hokies from 2004-11, is now an assistant basketball coach at Tulane to head coach Lisa Stockton. Initially, Dunkenberger was hired as director of operations, but moved up to assistant coach last season. She handles game planning, recruiting and academic progress for the Green Wave.

What's it like at Tulane?

I love Tulane. It's a great school in a wonderful city and I get to work with my best friend in the whole world (Stockton).

Was it an adjustment moving to New Orleans?

I had lived in tiny college towns my entire life. There's so much to do in New Orleans -- food, music, shopping, different lifestyles. The thing I like about New Orleans is it's not a huge city like New York or Atlanta with all that traffic.  It's really a big small town. You can head to a show after the game or go see a jazz band. There's always things to do.

Does New Orleans really have the best creole?

Jambalaya, etouffee -- I've got to get on the elliptical just thinking about it.

When you think back to Tech, are they good memories?

Absolutely. I loved it there. I loved the people. Great memories. Sometimes things don't work out. They needed a new direction and I needed a change. Change can be for the better and the 16 years I spent there were some of the best years of my life.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ex-Cavalier Fioravanti transferring to St. Joseph's

Amanda Fioravanti, who announced her intent to leave the University of Virginia after one semester, will play for Cindy Griffin at St. Joseph's.

"I really like the team, the coaches and the academics," Fioravanti said. "They have a really good education department, and I want to be a teacher."

Fiorvanti said St. Joseph's was the initial offer she received as a high school player at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Frederick, Md., where she averaged 19 points and eight rebounds as a senior. She is the 2012-13 Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year and a 2012-13 Parade All-American.

Fioravanti played in eight of 13 games at Virginia, averaging 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds.

"It just wasn't the best fit for me," Fioravanti said of Virginia. She will begin classes at the Philadelphia school on Thursday.

Virginia is 8-8, 1-2 in the ACC. St. Joseph's, the defending Atlantic 10 Tournament champion, is 12-4, 2-2.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The lost connection: ODU past and ODU present

Here's the reality of playing for Old Dominion that perhaps is getting lost amid a season of unspectacular results.

When you wear that uniform, it isn't just about you. It's about national titles won by Nancy, Anne and Inge. It's about Marianne Stanley and Wendy Larry. It's about Ticha, Clar and Mery and a 1997 NCAA runner-up finish. It's about Lucienne and Tanty and the Elite Eight. It's about TJ, Megan and Shahida returning ODU to the Sweet 16 -- about that sweet 3 from Jazzmin Walter against Virginia.

Indeed this is history, but we worry that it's becoming ancient history -- a subject hard for today's player to relate to in any specific way.

Maybe it's not fair, but playing with heart, grit, determination -- all admirable qualities that this team rarely fails to demonstrate -- aren't enough to whet the appetite of anyone familiar with Old Dominion lore.

Losing by 24 to Duke isn't a crisis by any means, but nor is is worth patting anyone on the back for. A 21-point loss at Charlotte is hard to stomach in the conference opener. Getting crushed by 30 on your home court by Tulane a few days later is even worse.

The truth is this ODU era isn't connected to the others -- yet, at least. The amnesiac waking up from a five-year slumber would have trouble reconciling this ODU team and program with the ones from the past. It's a new coaching staff, an almost entirely new cast -- though Becca Allison, Ashley Betz White and Tiffany Minor were all recruited by Wendy -- and a new conference with no familiar rivals, no home-and-home with James Madison. Tennessee doesn't come to town anymore and a home schedule featuring the MEAC, Radford and UMass-Lowell doesn't cut it for a team that had regular play dates with the likes of Rutgers, Texas Tech and North Carolina.

Growing pains happen with transition, and these Lady Monarchs have made tremendous strides with their academics. They remain an active, welcome presence in the Hampton Roads community. Karen is a coach whose enthusiasm would wear down the energizer bunny -- she's hard not to like, hard not to root for. But ultimately it's the results on the court that matter, and it's safe to say that those haven't come as quickly as many would have hoped given the rhetoric of a coach who talks passionately about conference titles and NCAA Tournament wins.

The reality is this Lady Monarch team is not as good as the one last year, which wasn't as good as the 20-win one that beat Louisville and Georgia Tech during Wendy's final season two years before. It's January -- still early, admittedly -- and ODU's best result is an OT loss to Marist on a neutral floor. Two blowout losses came to Virginia Tech and VCU -- teams ODU owned last season. And consider that while this VCU team didn't play the type of non-conference schedule that would catapult its RPI, the very young Rams under second-year coach Marlene Stollings are 14-2, a record the Lady Monarchs can only envy.

So if you're concerned for the Lady Monarchs, there's good reason. If you're overly alarmed, consider there's more than a glimmer of hope. It's been a rough three years indeed, but Karen has been a winner as a high school player at Menchville, as a collegiate star at Christopher Newport, as a championship coach at the Apprentice School and at Elon, a program she transformed. Shae Kelley belongs in the class with many of the greats we mentioned above, and she's only a junior. We're somewhat over the phrase "highly touted recruiting class," as most recruits sound good on paper, but West Virginia transfer Jennie Simms along with four others of promise could transform this team into a contender as early as  next season.

High expectations and potential surround this program, and Karen has magnified both with her relentless enthusiasm and desire. But at some point, the results have to match that or at least come close. Yep, Duke is Duke, but Charlotte and Tulane are not. Expectations come with wearing an ODU uniform by an educated fan base that was treated to some of the best the game had to offer over nearly a 30-year span.

Right now the connection to that glorious past is only in the history books.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Saturday's five-spot: What to watch for

Old Dominion's Stephanie Gardner 
Five things we'll be keeping an eye trained on during this huge day in hoops:

- Old Dominion's 3-point shooting: So far this season, there's been a strong correlation between the quality of the Lady Monarchs' long-distance shooting and the quality of their performance. Think about ODU's most encouraging efforts this season, outside of the games against opponents they could overmatch physically. The 89-82 overtime loss to Marist? ODU hit a season-high 14 3-pointers and shot 48 percent from deep. The victory at Boston University was aided by 46-percent 3-point shooting. And they were at 40.9 percent at Duke. Now look at the more disappointing outings. They shot 22 percent from three against Virginia Tech, 25 percent against Bowling Green, 26 percent at Pittsburgh and a measly 18 percent in Wednesday's 21-point loss at Charlotte. Obviously there are other factors involved in the wins and losses. But to this point ODU has held its own against its stiffest foes only on days/night when the long-range shots have fallen at a healthy clip. So if you tell us ODU will shoot in the 40-percent range on 3-pointers Saturday against Tulane, we're pretty confident the Green Wave will have all it can handle. But if the Lady Monarchs' deep shots aren't falling, the numbers suggest they could be in for a long afternoon.

By the way, here's Tulane coach Lisa Stockton's take on the Lady Monarchs: "They're very athletic. They're going to get up and defend us. We're going to have to really take care of the ball. We're going to need the type of team effort in scoring (in Thursday's 77-61 win at Marshall) and that balance against them. It's a great program. There's going to be a good crowd and we're excited to go up there."

- Will this be "the day" for Radford?: The Highlanders continue to battle and produce strong efforts, including a near-miss Thursday against Big South co-leader Winthrop. Yet the team is still in search of its first victory over a Division I team. Today's opponent, UNC Asheville, can feel Radford's pain, as it went 0-16 in league play last year. Now these are much-improved Bulldogs. But we keep saying the Highlanders are competing too hard not to pick off someone eventually. Ironically, UNC Asheville is the last Division I team Radford defeated, in the first round of the 2013 Big South Tournament.

Tyler Hobgood
- Tyler Hobgood's development at Hampton: The 6-1 redshirt sophomore forward from Oxford, N.C. began her college career at Miami, where she was briefly a teammate of Old Dominion's Stephanie Gardner, and established eligibility at Hampton after the first semester. Between seeing limited minutes as a freshman at Miami and not playing at all last year, Hobgood hasn't been involved in live competition in a long time and is being eased into the Lady Pirates' rotation. We suspect that process will be accelerated beginning today when Hampton visits Delaware State. The Lady Pirates have won 11 straight against the Lady Hornets and 32 straight against MEAC foes.

- Liberty's dominating post trio: Anyone that's watched the Lady Flames recently can clearly see that Ashley Rininger, Catherine Kearney and Katelyn Adams are all kicking butt down low. But thanks to Liberty sports information ace Paul Carmany, we can back this up with numbers. The trio has combined for 36.5 points, 28.5 rebounds and nine double-doubles in six Big South games. That's getting it done, folks.

- A whole different ballgame: A few days after having to deal with one of the nation's highest scoring teams (Dayton), George Mason will travel to one of its least potent in injury-ravaged Rhode Island, a team that has scored 44 points or less in each of its three Atlantic 10 games. Even with their shorthanded roster, the Rams still do a pretty good job of getting games played on their own low-possession terms. But with Taylor Brown, Janaa Pickard and Sandra Ngoie leading the way, the Patriots should have enough firepower to get out of Rhode Island with their first A-10 win.

Today's games

Hampton (11-4, 2-0 MEAC) at Delaware State (4-9, 0-2), 2 p.m.

Norfolk State (5-8, 1-1 MEAC) at Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-10, 0-2), 2 p.m.

UNC Asheville (6-9, 3-3 Big South) at Radford (2-14, 0-7), 2 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (9-6, 4-2 Big South) at Longwood (5-10, 2-4), 2 p.m.

Tulane (10-4, 1-0) at Old Dominion (7-8, 0-1), 2 p.m.

George Mason (6-10, 0-3 Big South) at Rhode Island (5-11, 0-3), 2 p.m.

Richmond (7-9, 1-2 Atlantic 10) at Fordham (13-3, 2-1), 2 p.m.

Presbyterian (3-12, 1-5 Big South) at Liberty (9-6, 5-1), 7 p.m.

JMU's Evans coming home for kidney transplant

Former James Madison point guard Dawn Evans will leave France to undergo surgery in the United States, according to a statement released Friday afternoon by Jean-Louis Monneret, president of the French club Arras. Evans had been playing basketball for the French club for the last two seasons.

"Dawn called me to tell me she had just had the results of (her) final exams and they were not good,''  Monneret said. "Of course, I told her she would not play against Lyon ( Friday night). ... We were well aware that it could happen, and she herself knew it would happen one day. But Dawn(wants) neither pity nor misery,  and personally, I insist that there is no criticism, either. I have a deep admiration for this girl over her career. I hope she can go back to Arras."

Evans, 24, is averaging a team-high 14.7 ppg for Arras. She also spent time with the Connecticut and Los Angeles WNBA teams. She had just returned to France on Jan. 7 after a holiday break.

The 2012 CAA Player of the Year suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis,  a disease that has the effect of altering kidney filtration. Former NBA player Alonzo Mourning suffers from the same disease and returned to the court after a transplant.

LadySwish wishes Dawn the speediest of recoveries.

Tough, tough loss for Virginia Tech

Virginia's Ataira Franklin was huge at Virginia Tech Thursday.
Hey, it happens, Hokies.

That 17-point lead Virginia Tech blew, er, lost against archrival Virgina at home in Thursday night's 67-60 loss? Play enough games and that kind of come-from-ahead setback will wind up on anyone's resume. In fact, several other teams right here in Virginia have already felt a similar sting.

The five toughest losses (so far) for the LadySwish 13:

5. UNC Greensboro 73, Norfolk State 66, Nov. 20

- For all of Norfolk State's struggles the past two seasons, the Spartans actually have been a pretty solid team in their own building (16-16 at Echols Arena since the start of 2012-13; 2-20 everywhere else). And they seemed on their way to one of their better homecourt efforts when they seized a 12-point lead and were still up nine with less than eight minutes to go. But then the Spartans went cold, UNCG forward Janae Stevenson headed up and those other Spartans wound up not only winning, but winning going away.

4. Marist 87, Old Dominion 82 OT, Nov. 24

-The Lady Monarchs led 71-70 with 13.4 seconds left in regulation then proceeded to go 1-of-4 from the free-throw line, and the Red Foxes forced the OT with a game-tying shot with 1 second left. Marist started the extra period on an 8-0 run, and it didn't help that ODU went 1-of-6 from the line in OT to finish the game 10-of-22 on freebies. The win would have been coach Karen Barefoot's best in her three years at ODU. The Red Foxes, regulars in the NCAA Tournament, upset Oklahoma a few weeks later.

3. George Mason 66, Longwood 65, Nov. 26

- The Lancers missed the front end of one-and-ones twice in the final 27 seconds with a one-point lead, setting the stage for Sandra Ngoie's game-winning jumper with two seconds left. Making the loss even more painful was the fact that the Lancers led by 16 in the first half and were still up 11 with less than eight minutes left in the second. Longwood came in with a three-game winning streak; this loss triggered an eight-game losing streak. The Patriots, meanwhile, appeared to display a knack for making plays down the stretch. That is, until....

2. Delaware State 90, George Mason 83 (OT), Dec. 4

- The Patriots were up 10 and less than 90 seconds from the finish line. Who knew the Hornets would swish three 3-pointers in a 33-second span, then get a layup with 25 seconds to go to cap an 11-1 run and tie things at 74 at the end of regulation? Credit Mason for shaking that off and going up four inside the first minute of overtime. But then the Patriots committed turnovers on their next six possessions as the Hornets pulled away.

1. Virginia 67, Virginia Tech 60, Jan. 9

- Sorry, Tech. Credit the Cavaliers coaching staff for some canny adjustments, the players for never-say-die resiliency and senior Ataira Franklin (23 points, 19 in the second half, 7 in the final 1:42) for being a flat-out stud down the stretch. But if you're the Hokies and you've lost 14 straight to these guys and you're determined not to fall to 0-2 in the ACC and you're at home and your own stud (Uju Ugoka) is going off and you're up 17 early and double digits after the break but go the final 7:28 without a field goal....well, it doesn't get much tougher than that.

That said, although it was a spectacular loss, that's all it was - one loss. Whether this represents a defining moment in the Hokies season or just one ugly bump in an otherwise successful campaign is entirely up to the players and their collective mindset going forward.

So what's it going to be, Hokies?

Click here for a full recap of Virginia's victory.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday five-spot: What to watch for

Virginia's Sarah Imovbioh
Five things we'll be keeping an eye on Thursday:

Is it finally Tech's time? Virginia Tech has lost 14 straight to Virginia and hasn't beaten the Cavaliers in Cassell Coliseum since Dec. 3, 2002. We wonder, though, with just one player from the state (Kelsey Conyers) on the roster, do these Hokies feel the pain of this losing streak the same way Tech fans surely do? Whatever the case, Tech may very well turn their Commonwealth fortunes around Thursday as it's been a long time since the Hokies have been this well-equipped to defend their home court. But we're also expecting a spirited Cavaliers effort, and not just to maintain bragging rights. Given the strength of this year's ACC, a team intent on making noise in the conference can't afford to be losing at home to a relative league lightweight like Pittsburgh (no disrespect). That's what Virginia did Sunday, though, and so we're expecting the Cavaliers to be extremely hungry - famished, in fact - to get to 1-1 in league play. The Hokies, who didn't exactly distinguish themselves by losing at Boston College Sunday, need to be just as hungry, rivalry or no rivalry.

Free Liberty basketball: Can't beat the price - free - to watch Lady Flames basketball this season. Recently the school announced seven more games to be streamed on ESPN3, adding to a package that already included Thursday night's showdown with Gardner-Webb. The games are also streamed free on the Big South Network.

Big South Thursday: This conference got a jump on the action and all of its members have already played at least five league games. Liberty, Gardner-Webb, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop all share the lead with 4-1 records. History says this is often about the time that Liberty begins separating itself from the Big South pack. But the Lady Flames can't overlook Gardner-Webb. And we're really excited about next Thursday's Liberty at Winthrop showdown.

Healthy Longwood: Three games into the season, the Lancers lost guard Raven Williams, who was averaging 14 ppg at the time, to injury. Later, leading scorer Daeisha Brown missed four games, and second-leading scorer Kyndal Skersick missed three. And just as those two were coming back, leading rebounder Khalilah Ali went down for two games. On Saturday, for the first time since Nov. 16, all four of these players were available to play. We doubt it was coincidence that the Lancers put up a season-high 78 points in a victory over Charleston Southern. Longwood (5-9) is now 3-1 in the four games these four have played together. If the Lancers can keep these guys on the floor, this can be a very dangerous team.

Latrice getting it done: Looks like William and Mary freshman guard Latrice Hunter is really starting to figure Division I basketball out. After not scoring in double figures in any of her first nine games, Hunter has scored 10, 11 and 17 points in her last three while making 11 of 19 shots over that span. She's also dished out 10 assists in the three games.

Thursday's games

Virginia (7-7, 0-1 ACC) at Virginia Tech (10-4, 0-1), 7 p.m.

Gardner-Webb (9-5, 4-1 Big South) at Liberty (8-6, 4-1), 7 p.m.

Winthrop (10-4, 4-1 Big South) at Radford (2-13, 0-6), 7 p.m.

UNC Asheville (5-9, 2-3 Big South) at Longwood (5-9, 2-3), 7 p.m.

Delaware (9-3, 1-0 CAA) at William and Mary (3-9, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wednesday five-spot: What to watch for

Richmond's Genevieve Okoro
Five things we're keeping an eye on in Wednesday's games:

- A more aggressive Tiffany Minor: On two occasions late in Sunday's victory over North Carolina Central, Old Dominion's junior forward passed up a 3-point attempt to put the ball on the deck and finish at the rim. We were so pleased we almost violated the "no cheering on press row" rule. You see, while Minor is a fine 3-point shooter (25 of 76, 32.9 percent), she actually has a variety of offensive skills. Yet despite averaging nearly 30 minutes a game, Minor has attempted just 12 free throws and dished out only 15 assists in 14 games. Now if all she was capable of was shooting threes, fine. But Minor's simply too talented to not have a larger, more diverse impact on the Lady Monarchs offense, particularly in the halfcourt. So when the Lady Monarchs make their Conference USA debut Wednesday at Charlotte, here's hoping Minor's recent late-game assertiveness was a sign of things to come.

- Can George Mason hold up defensively?: Dayton ranks fifth in Division I in scoring (89.0 ppg) and has all five starters averaging double figures. The Patriots certainly have their share of weapons, too, in Taylor Brown, Janaa Pickard and Sandra Ngoie. But they haven't always been as successful stopping people - Mason has surrendered 85 or more points four times over a stretch in which they've gone 2-8 since Nov. 23. To be fair, two of those 85-plus games were in overtime. But if the Patriots don't have a strong defensive effort, Dayton won't need five extra minutes to put up a big number Wednesday at the Patriot Center.

- A resurgent Genevieve Okoro: The Spiders senior missed all but six games in 2012-13 after suffering an ACL injury but appears to be back in All-Atlantic 10 form. She averaged 15.3 points in a six-game stretch heading into Sunday's contest against Rhode Island, and while she had just 7 points in the low-possession 49-43 Spiders victory, she did haul down 12 rebounds and also converted the key three-point play with 1:56 remaining that finally put down the Rams.

- Free Richmond basketball: We don't get as many opportunities to see Richmond games as we'd like, but St. Bonaventure streams all its home games free of charge, so we're looking forward to checking this one out on the ol' laptop. Visit this page and click on the Live Video link to find the stream. By the way, Spiders point guard Keri Soppe hails from Rochester, N.Y., which is just a couple of hours and change away from St. Bonaventure. Tipoff time - 4:30 p.m. as the opener of a women's-men's doubleheader - isn't ideal, but it would be nice if Soppe had some hometown support (Soppe's Soldiers? Keri's Contingent?) in an otherwise-hostile Reilly Center.

- How VCU handles being the hunted: Not sure Atlantic 10 teams got too fired up for VCU last season. But this year's squad has won 13 straight and bagged a big win at Duquesne. Stories about the new and improved Rams are starting to pop up. Heck, they're even getting a little USA Today Top-25 poll love. So no way La Salle's Explorers are sleeping on this VCU. In fact, they're probably thinking, "Hey, let's make a name for ourselves and knock these guys off." Add in the fact that the Rams have a huge home game on Sunday against defending conference champion St. Joseph's and Wednesday's trip to La Salle has all the elements of a trap game. Don't fall into it, VCU.

Wednesday's games

Richmond (7-8, 1-1 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (11-5, 0-1), 4:30 p.m.

Old Dominion (7-7, 0-0 Conference USA) at Charlotte (6-7, 0-0), 7 p.m.

Dayton (7-4, 0-0 Atlantic 10) at George Mason (6-9, 0-2), 7 p.m.

VCU (14-1, 2-0 Atlantic 10) at La Salle (7-7, 2-0), 7 p.m.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Statistical leaders - through Jan. 5

Old Dominion's Shae Kelley

Division I leaders among Virginia schools in the Triple Crown stats (points-rebounds-assists) through the games of Jan. 5:


1. Robyn Parks, VCU                               15   355   23.7
   - Earned her fourth Atlantic 10 Player of the Week award after three monster game in a six-day span.

2. Uju Ugoka, Virginia Tech                      14   271   19.4
   - Has led or tied for the Hokies' scoring lead in 11 straight games.

3. Taylor Brown, George Mason               15   280   18.7
   - The Atlantic 10's third-leading scorer.

4. Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton           15   272   18.1
   - Ranks sixth among all Division I freshmen in scoring and second in minutes played (36.3). Georgetown's Natalie Butler (Lake Braddock) is at 36.9.

5. Kirby Burkholder, JMU                        14   252   18.0
   - Leads the CAA in scoring and 3-pointers per game (2.6) and ranks second in free throw percentage (86.7).

6. Daeisha Brown, Longwood                    10   178   17.8
   - Tied a career high with 29 points in Saturday's 78-71 win over Charleston Southern.

7. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton                        15   250   16.7
   - Has notched a double-double in four of her last five games and seven times overall.

8. Shae Kelley, Old Dominion                    14   229   16.4
   - Has led ODU in scoring nine times and in rebounding 11 straight games and 12 out of the 13.

9. Ashley Rininger, Liberty                        14   219   15.6
   - Has recorded nine double-doubles. Had 27 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in Thursday's 92-69 rout of Charleston Southern.

10. Janaa Pickard, George Mason             15   225   15.0
   - Leads the Atlantic 10 in rebounding and blocked shots (2.2 bpg) and ranks in the top 10 in scoring and field goal percentage. Also makes 79 percent of her free throws.

11. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton                   15   210   14.0
   - Also leads the Lady Pirates in assists (5.5 apg), steals (2.3 spg), blocks (1.9 bpg) and minutes played (37.1) while chipping in 5.6 rebounds per game.

12. Ayana Avery, Radford                           15   202   13.5
   - Has made at least three 3-pointers in five straight games and eight of her last 10. Scored a career-high 24 points on Dec. 30 against Charleston Southern.

13. Isis Thorpe, VCU                                    15   200   13.3
   - Is shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range (40 of 99).

Others (at least 10 ppg playing at least half their team's games): Rae Corbo, Norfolk State 13.2; Marlena Tremba, William and Mary 12.9; Toia Giggetts, JMU 12.6; Kaitlyn Mathieu, William and Mary 12.5; Ataira Franklin, Virginia 12.4; Genevieve Okoro, Richmond 12.1; Sandra Ngoie, George Mason 12.0; Liv Healy, Richmond 11.9; Jazmen Boone, William and Mary 11.8; Keira Robinson, VCU 11.5; Faith Randolph, Virginia 11.5; Precious Hall, JMU 11.4; Kyla Kerstetter, William and Mary 11.4; Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech 11.1; Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia 11.0; Jessica Pellechio, VCU 11.0; Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State 10.9; Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech 10.8; Kristina King, Richmond 10.6; Ebony Brown, Norfolk State 10.2.


1. Rachel Gordon, Norfolk State                13   161   12.4

2. Shae Kelley, Old Dominion                     14   150   10.7

2. Uju Ugoka, Virginia Tech                        14   150   10.7

4. Janaa Pickard, George Mason                15   157   10.5

5. Ashley Rininger, Liberty                         14   141   10.1

6. Robyn Parks, VCU                                  15   145     9.7

7. Alyssa Bennett, Hampton                        15    136     9.1

8. Brielle Ward, Hampton                           15    129     8.6

9. Genevieve Okoro, Richmond                  15    121    8.1

10. Kirby Burkholder, JMU                       14   112     8.0

11. Katelyn Adams, Liberty                        14    110    7.9

12. Talisha Watts, George Mason                15    121    7.7

13. Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia                       14   107     7.6

13. Kaitlyn Mathieu, William and Mary     12     91     7.6

Others (at least 5 rpg): Taijah Campbell, Virginia Tech 7.4; Liv Healy, Richmond 7.3; Hannah Young, Virginia Tech 7.0; Catherine Kearney, Liberty 6.6; Khalilah Ali, Longwood 6.5; Toia Giggetts, JMU 6.4; Liz Brown, Richmond 6.4; Ayana Avery, Radford 6.3; Nicole Hamilton, Hampton 5.6; Daeisha Brown, Longwood 5.6; Jordynn Gaymon, Radford 5.5; Quineshia Leonard, Norfolk State 5.5; Sandra Ngoie, George Mason 5.4; Rachael Ross, Radford 5.3; Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton 5.1; Chelisa Painter, Old Dominion 5.1; Nikki Newman, JMU 5.0


1. Keira Robinson, VCU                              15   97      6.5

2. Nicole Hamilton, Hampton                      15   82      5.5

3. Taylor Brown, George Mason                  15   75     5.0

4. Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech              14   68     4.9

5. Monet Tellier, Virginia Tech                    14   58      4.1

6. Angela Mickens, JMU                              14   56      4.0

7. Emily Frazier, Liberty                              14   51      3.6

7. Rae Corbo, Norfolk State                          13   47      3.6

9. Sadalia Ellis, Liberty                                 14   47      3.3

10. Kelsey Wolfe, Virginia                             14    45     3.2

11. Breshara Gordon, Radford                     14    43     3.1

12. Galaisha Goodhope, Old Dominion        14    42     3.0

12. Daeisha Brown, Longwood                     10    30     3.0

VCU's Parks - Oh, what a week!

We're running out of words to describe what VCU's Robyn Parks is doing on a basketball court these days. In fact, on Saturday night, after she'd carried the Rams to a come-from-behind win at Duquesne, this was all we could come up with:
Pretty lame, huh? Well, it took us a while, but we think we've finally settled on a word that accurately conveys the impact Parks is having this season in general and last week in particular.

I mean, the numbers are strong by themselves. She had 27 points and 11 rebounds against Old Dominion, 22 and 7 against UMass and 31 and 9 vs. Duquesne, while shooting 59.6 percent from the field over the three games.

But Parks didn't just stuff the stat sheet. She flat-out took over when the Rams most needed a boost. Last Monday, for example, after a late 6-0 Old Dominion run cut VCU's lead to just four at halftime, Parks scored 12 straight VCU points before the first media timeout of the second half. The Rams went on to win by 13.

Against UMass, well, every Ram went off against UMass. But on Saturday, with the Rams trailing by 9 in the second half at Duquesne, it was as though Parks said, "Get on my back, ladies, we ain't losing this puppy." She scored eight points in the 10-0 run that gave VCU a short-lived lead. Her steal and fastbreak layup with 1:15 left got the Rams within one. And her three-point play with 45 seconds left put VCU ahead to stay. In the Rams' 71-68 victory, 22 of Parks' 31 points came in the second half.

The performance was so good, it deserves a musical tribute.

So yeah, it all left us pretty speechless for a while. But then it came to us, the ideal term to describe the superstar turns Parks is routinely delivering. It's a word we don't toss out casually - no one should - but in this case, it fits like Serena's catsuit.


By the way, we noticed that ESPN named Baylor's Odyssey Sims its national player of the week. Now, our stance has been misunderstood about this before so we want to make this clear - Sims is without question a great player, and we're sure the folks at ESPN take their work seriously.  But when you hand out a national award, you're essentially saying you've looked everywhere before weighing in. Do the voters understand what kind of week, what kind of impact, Parks had? Was she even considered?

Then again, we're pretty sure Parks isn't too bothered. A year ago we tried to get her to open up about scoring 30-something points in a game the Rams lost, and she looked at us like we were crazy. The young lady's all about wins, not stats, and with the Rams sitting at 14-1 (2-0 Atlantic 10) with a school-record 13 straight victories, who cares who gets the credit, right?

So if she isn't sweating individual accolades, we won't either.

But it was still one heck of a week.

Kinda like Mike.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday five-spot: What to watch for

Tiffany Suarez
Five things we'll be watching for today:

 - Is Suarez the answer?: After being used sparingly initially, Virginia rookie point guard Tiffany Suarez blew up with 16 points and 6 assists against Coppin State in last week's Cavalier Classic. "If anybody's watched us, the pace picks up when she comes in," Cavaliers coach Joanne Boyle told the Daily Progress. "I feel like people get easier shots. We're playing at a faster pace, and we need that. There's just a better flow out there when she's in there." Suarez will be holding it down at the point again when the Cavaliers (7-6) kick off ACC play against Pittsburgh (8-7, 0-1 ACC) at John Paul Jones Arena. For more on the Cavaliers heading into this game, check out this other Daily Progress story.

Fast starting Hokies: Hampton outplayed Virginia Tech pretty significantly in the first half Wednesday en route to a 70-60 victory. A lot of the credit for this belongs to the Lady Pirates. But we doubt the Hokies (10-3) enjoyed watching that first-half tape. So look for them to come out with tremendous energy and want-to in their ACC opener at Boston College (9-5).

- NSU's road woes: Norfolk State (5-7) is 0-3 in true road games this season. Last year, they were 0-13. In four-plus seasons under head coach Debra Clark, the road record is 8-48. In the two seasons before Clark arrived, it was 2-27. Not sure today's opponent, Penn (6-2), is the ideal candidate to reverse this trend, especially with the Quakers coming off a win over ACC middleweight Miami. Now Norfolk State did beat Penn last year, but of course, that was at home. At Penn? Well, let's just say history isn't on the Spartans' side.

- Knocking 'em down: Old Dominion's LaQuanda Younger and Tiffany Minor shot with confidence and accuracy Thursday in a 24-point loss at Duke. Good thing, too, because the Blue Devils neutralized ODU star Shae Kelley and forced other Lady Monarchs to get it done. To their credit, Younger and Minor stepped up. N.C. Central (5-6) obviously won't have Duke's answers for Kelley, but here's hoping ODU's perimeter players rise to the occasion again anyway. Too often this season ODU (6-7) has struggled for long stretches until Kelley bailed them out, and this is as big a reason as any why the Lady Monarchs have yet to record anything resembling a quality win. With all due respect to these Lady Eagles, a win today won't change that. But while ODU is the heavy favorite, this N.C. Central team is much improved over the offensively challenged outfit that went 2-28 last season and got thumped 59-33 at ODU. Note: Nice touch by Old Dominion having a moment of silence for longtime Monarchs/Lady Monarchs supporter Arthur Lovisi prior to Saturday night's men's basketball game against George Mason. Lovisi passed away last month.

- Snakebitten Spiders: You are what your record says you are, so Richmond is a 6-8 team (0-1 Atlantic 10), period. It's worth noting, though, that the Spiders lost by four at Georgetown, by four against UAB, by two against Pacific and by five Thursday against St. Joseph's in a game in which Richmond led the entire second half until the 1:03 mark. So a case can be made that Richmond is actually a 9-5 or 10-4 team disguised as a 6-8 team. Of course, you don't get partial credit in sports. But there's nothing stopping the Spiders from making the rest of their season special. Anyway, we're not expecting a nailbiter today when the Spiders host Rhode Island (5-9, 0-1) as Richmond has won 13 straight in the series. Then again, you never know, so if it winds up being a tight one, here's hoping the Spiders are able to close one of these out.

Sunday's games

Virginia Tech at Boston College, 1 p.m.

Rhode Island at Richmond, 2 p.m.

North Carolina Central at Old Dominion, 2 p.m.

Pittsburgh at Virginia, 2 p.m.

Norfolk State at Penn, 2 p.m.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saturday's five-spot: what to watch for

George Mason's Sandra Ngoie (left); Longwood's Heather Tobeck

Five things we're focused on in Saturday's games:

- The 40 club: Liberty will take a 40-game winning streak against Coastal Carolina into battle today when the teams met at the Chanticleers' HTC Center. It's the second-longest active winning streak by one team over another in Division I. Despite the series history, this one doesn't figure to be a gimme as the Chanticleers (8-5, 4-0 Big South) have come together nicely under first-year coach Jaida Williams. By the way, Coastal's last victory over Liberty came on Feb. 19, 1996.

- First team to 40?: Radford ranks 322nd out of 343 Division I teams in scoring offense, while Presbyterian checks in at 340th. So we're not exactly expecting a shootout when the teams square off at Presbyterian. The Highlanders (2-12, 0-5 Big South) will look to bag their first Division I victory.

Ram tough: VCU puts its school-record 12-game winning streak on the line at Duquesne. Read more about the Rams' remarkable play so far here.

- Ms. Consistency: Longwood sophomore Raven Williams averaged 14 points through three games before being sidelined with an injury. Williams returned to action Monday and scored 14 points against Campbell. And on Thursday, she scored 14 points as the Lancers snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 46-43 win over Presbyterian. So we're going out on a limb and putting Williams down for exactly 14 points when the Lancers visit Charleston Southern. And we're writing it down in ink. By the way, welcome back, Daeisha. And hurry back, Khalilah.

- Home sweet home: After a stretch of seven straight road games, George Mason will be playing in its Patriot Center for the first time since Nov. 26 when A-10 foe La Salle comes calling. The Patriots are 4-0 at home; 2-8 on the road.

Saturday's games

Liberty at Coastal Carolina, 2 p.m.

Radford at Presbyterian, 2 p.m.

Longwood at Charleston Southern, 2 p.m.

La Salle at George Mason, 7 p.m.

VCU at Duquesne, 7 p.m.

Friday, January 3, 2014

VCU: Bring on the A-10!

This VCU stuff is crazy, isn't it?

I mean, 12 straight victories, from a team that only won 11 all of last season? A 58-point rout in the Atlantic 10 opener? Nine straight 20-point games from Robyn Parks?

Evidently, "Fury" isn't just a catchy nickname. When it comes to these Rams, it's the damn truth.

At least so far.

Now comes the hard part - the meat of their Atlantic 10 schedule.

Yes, the Rams (13-1, 1-0 A-10) have proven they've got the hang of their high-octane style and can use it to pummel teams into submission. But while few could have predicted VCU would have this much success, head coach Marlene Stollings acknowledged that, with eight new players to fold into the system, the non-conference schedule was shaped to give the youthful Rams ample opportunities for success.

"It was designed in such a way so the newcomers could get used to this level without beating them down," she said.

Couldn't have worked out better. Now it's time to start stepping up in class, beginning with Saturday's game at Duquesne (9-4, 1-0). Stollings said the Dukes, a perennial NCAA Tournament at-large bubble team who start three seniors (and sophomore point guard April Robinson from Springfield), are probably the toughest team VCU has faced so far.

Stollings identified three keys for continued success as the schedule toughens:

-  Making reads. Stollings said the better conference teams are good enough to take away first and second options. The Rams must react smartly and decisively when this happens;

- Defensive stands. "We need to be able to string together consecutive stops," Stollings said.

- Poise, please. The Rams can't count on being up 20 or 30 every night (we don't think) and will likely encounter their share of adverse moments during the run of play. Maintaining poise through the ebbs and flows of tight games will be crucial, the coach said.

Regardless of what happens going forward, though, it's safe to say that the transformation of VCU women's basketball is already a huge success. We went back and looked at the kind of team Stollings promised at her introductory press conference back in 2012 - uptempo, lots of points, fun to watch.

Lots of coaches say this kind of stuff when they take over; it's red meat for the new fan base. But at VCU, it was more than just talk. Because a year and half later, that's exactly the kind of team that's in place.

Rams notes

- Stollings said in addition to improved conditioning, Parks is excelling because of a laser-like focus and the sense of urgency that comes with being a senior. "She really has zeroed in," Stollings said. Parks is averaging 23.1 points - tops in the A-10 and 11th in Division I - and 9.7 rebounds.

- Last season, Duquesne spanked the Rams 73-51 in Richmond during the regular season, then pulled out a 64-58 triumph in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.

- Sophomore shooting guard Jessica Pellechio, who started and made the A-10 All-Rookie team last season, is now an extremely dangerous option off the Rams bench. Just ask UMass - Pellechio had 18 points - 6 3-pointers - in 18 minutes in Thursday's 112-54 victory. The Rams are also getting quality minutes from redshirt sophomore forward Melanie Royster, who had 6 points and 6 boards in Monday's victory over Old Dominion.

- Freshman point guard Keira Robinson had "just" five assists Thursday, snapping a string of five straight games in which she'd dished out at least eight. But seeing as the team racked up a season-high 25 assists, we suspect she's OK with it. For the season Robinson is averaging 6.5 dimes per contest, 15th in Division I.

- VCU's 112 points, the 62-point first half and the 14 3-pointers against poor UMass were all program records.