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.

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