Sunday, November 30, 2014

ACC/Big Ten Challenge headlines week in hoops

A look at this week's matchups:

Monday, Dec. 1

Virginia Tech at Florida, 9 p.m.
A lot depends on the availability of starting forwards Taijah Campbell (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Regan Magarity (14.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg), both of whom sat out Saturday’s victory over East Tennessee State. Campbell has missed three straight games after suffering a concussion. Sophomore point guard Vanessa Panousis scored 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting in Tech’s 71-59 victory over Florida in Blacksburg last season. After this quick trip to Gainesville the Hokies will begin a stretch of six straight games at Cassell Coliseum.

Tuesday, December 2

Hampton at Lehigh, 11 a.m.
Another tough matchup for Hampton (0-4), whose first four opponents were a combined 18-4 through Saturday’s games with victories over then-No. 10 Maryland (Washington State) and then-No. 18 DePaul (Northwestern). The Mountain Hawks (5-0) are off to their best start since current Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw was in charge 30 years ago. Hampton sophomore guard Malia Tate-DeFreitas has scored exactly 20 points in three straight games after getting 23 in the Lady Pirates’ opener. But the Lady Pirates have had virtually no other firepower – the team's second-leading scorer is at 5.8 ppg, and as a team Hampton is shooting just 24.1 percent from the field, easily the lowest of 349 Division I schools.

Longwood at High Point, 7 p.m.
The Big South opener for both. Expecting a much more determined effort here from the Lancers (0-5), who were humbled by 35 points Saturday at William and Mary – the same William and Mary High Point nipped by seven in overtime on Nov. 23. The Big South defending regular-season champion Panthers were picked to finish second to Liberty this season (Longwood was 10th) and are led by sophomore guard and preseason conference player of the year Kaylah Keys.

William and Mary at Radford, 7 p.m.
Intriguing matchup featuring two teams coming off rousing victories. On Saturday, the Tribe pounded Longwood by 35; the following day, the Highlanders (2-3) went on the road and outdueled Appalachian State. A year ago, Radford lost at home to App State by 23. William and Mary will be looking to post its third straight victory over an in-state foe (VCU, Longwood).

VCU at UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m.
The Rams (3-3) look to get back on track after a nightmarish 32-turnover performance at William and Mary on Thanksgiving Eve. In fairness, the Rams were dealing with a compressed schedule that often had them playing a game every other day (6 games, 13 days) - hardly ideal when you’re trying to master a new system under a new coach. Perhaps now they’ve had sufficient time to work out some kinks. The Seahawks (2-3) have dropped three straight at home, including both games in their own holiday tournament, despite having halftime leads each time.

Wednesday, December 3

Howard at Old Dominion, 11 a.m.
An early wake-up call for the Lady Monarchs, who will try to rebound from Sunday's humbling overtime loss to Rider during the fourth annual Education Day game in front of thousands of energized Norfolk elementary school students. Last year, a Constant Center-record 8,086 fans saw ODU trounce UMass-Lowell 90-57 – a turnout bolstered by nearly 6,200 students, teachers, staff members and volunteers from 32 elementary schools. There's a reason Howard (0-6) was scheduled for this game, but after the Rider debacle, nothing should be taken for granted. Still, something tells us the Lady Monarchs will be especially ready to play this game.

East Tennessee State at George Mason, 5 p.m.
The Patriots are averaging a robust 80.6 points per game and have put up at least 70 in every game. That they also rank last in the A-10 in scoring defense (76.3 ppg) suggests fans should be braced for yet another shootout. Say this for the Pats - they keep things interesting. ETSU (3-4) is coming off Saturday's 72-65 loss at Virginia Tech.

Richmond at JMU, 7 p.m.
The Dukes (5-1) have gone 12-0 against Virginia Division I programs since a 60-48 home loss to Liberty nearly two years ago to the day (Dec. 4, 2012). Two days before that (Dec. 2, 2012), Richmond also went to Harrisonburg and knocked off JMU 70-66.  

Virginia at Illinois (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), 8 p.m.
We never detect much buzz surrounding these annual ACC/Big Ten showdowns, but for those keeping score, Virginia is 5-2 lifetime in ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups after losing at home to Michigan by 20 last year. The 5-2 record of Illinois includes a 77-71 victory over then-No. 9 Kentucky and an overtime loss to Oklahoma. Both games were played in the Virgin Islands' Paradise Jam. Virginia is 5-1 after splitting two games over the holiday break in the FIU Thanksgiving Classic.

Thursday, December 4

Northwestern at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.
The first of six straight home games for the Hokies features by far the most formidable foe of the bunch as Northwestern’s 5-0 record includes a 97-91 victory at then-No. 18 DePaul. Virginia Tech has a 2-5 record in career ACC/Big Ten Challenge games after dropping last year's matchup at Indiana 71-65. By the way, not surprisingly the ACC is 6-0-1 lifetime in the series.

Friday, December 5

VCU at Old Dominion, 7 p.m.
A lot certainly has changed since the Rams last visited the Constant Center on Nov. 17, 2012 - only one of the 10 starters (ODU's Ashley Betz-White) and just three of the 22 who saw action (Betz-White, ODU's Tiffany Minor and VCU's Adaeze Alaeze) are still around. And of course, VCU has since changed head coaches. Other than that.... 

Hampton at Penn, 7 p.m.
The Lady Pirates are on the road for the sixth time in their first seven games. Defending Ivy League champion Penn has gone 3-0 against MEAC teams the past two seasons, including a victory over Howard in the first round of the 2013 WNIT.

Saturday, December 6

William and Mary at La Salle, 1 p.m.
The Exporers topped the Tribe 72-59 when these teams met in Williamsburg last season.

Longwood at Virginia Tech, 2 p.m.
Tall task - literally - for the undersized Lancers, 

Liberty at Radford, 2 p.m.
The Big South opener for both. Liberty has won 15 of the previous 16 meetings. including last year's 90-46 decision that Radford coach Mike McGuire accurately summed up as "complete domination by Liberty."

Delaware State vs. Virginia, 2 p.m.
Could be a good day statistically for several Cavaliers as the freewheeling Hornets can score in bunches but also give up points in even bigger bunches (82.7 ppg allowed). Case in point - earlier this year against George Mason, they racked up 91 points and still lost by 19.

Morgan State at Norfolk State, 4 p.m.
The MEAC opener for both. NSU was picked to finish eighth in the preseason while Morgan State was relegated to 13th in the 13-team league.

George Mason at St. Francis (Pa.), 5:30 p.m.
The Patriots crushed St. Francis 97-62 when these teams met in Fairfax last season. This year the Red Flash took an 0-4 record into Wednesday's game at Tennessee.

Hampton at Richmond, 7 p.m.
Only the third non-conference game against an in-state rival in the past three-plus seasons for the Lady Pirates, These two teams haven't met since a 71-43 Richmond victory in 2010. Then-freshman Genevieve Okoro had 9 points and 2 steals in 18 minutes in that one.

Sunday, December 7

JMU at Davidson, 2 p.m.
After this one the Dukes, like most schools, will break for exams. JMU's next game will be Dec.15 at Ohio.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Who's next in the 1,000-point club?

Learning that Richmond's Genevieve Okoro scored her 1,000th point Thursday night got us wondering: who are the top active scorers among Virginia's Division I schools? Well, here's the list - with the cutoff being at least 400 career points - with games played and point total through Thanksgiving Day's action (stats courtesy of

1. Rae Corbo, Norfolk State -                 91   1,082
   - Cracked the 1,000-point plateau as part of a 24-point effort in NSU's final game of the 2013-14 season.

2. Genevieve Okoro, Richmond  -         102  1,009
   - Both Corbo and Okoro are (New) Jersey girls and redshirt seniors who have rebounded strongly from season-ending ACL injuries early in the 2012-13 season.

3. Toia Giggetts, JMU -                          108   919
   - Estimated 1,000-point game: Jan. 6 vs. UNCW

4. Precious Hall, JMU -                          75     915
   - Estimated 1,000-point game: Dec. 7 at Davidson

5. Ayana Avery, Radford -                     92     901
   - Poised to become the 21st member of Radford's 1,000-point club. Is also just a few games away from setting a Radford record for career 3-points (Avery has 194, the record is 203).

6. Taylor Brown, George Mason -         68     835
   - Includes one season at Georgetown. 

7. Karly Buer, Liberty -                       107     823
   - Includes 773 points in three-plus seasons at Missouri State

8. Daeisha Brown, Longwood -             59      804
   - Brown suffered a season-ending injury in the Lancers' third game. If she receives a medical           redshirt waiver, she will have two full seasons to build on this total.

9. Ashley Rininger, Liberty -                   69     737

10. Sarah Imovbioh, Virginia  -               65     708

11. Malia Tate-DeFreitas, Hampton -     37    679
   - Only a sophomore. There's a decent chance that Tate-DeFreitas, who scored over 3,000 points in high school, will be closing in on 2,000 college points late in her junior season.

12. Jazmen Boone, William and Mary -    89   619

13. Jazmon Gwathmey, JMU -                 74   615
   - With Hall and Giggetts seemingly shoo-ins for the 1,000-point club, Gwathmey, at her current pace of 12.8 ppg, would become JMU's third member this season if the Dukes play 30 more games. So if the Dukes win the CAA tournament and advance to the NCAA Sweet 16, book it. 

14. Kyla Kerstetter, William and Mary -  89   603

15. Faith Randolph, Virginia  -                 65   597

16. Tiffany Minor, Old Dominion -          101   596

17. Emily Frazier, Liberty  -                       94   531

18. Kenia Cole, Hampton -                          84   519

19. Ebony Brown, Norfolk State -               81   513

20. Chelisa Painter, Old Dominion -          88    483
   - Includes two seasons at George Washington

21. Marlena Tremba, William and Mary - 34   467

22. Isis Thorpe, VCU  -  38   444

23. Vanessa Panousis, Virginia Tech -       35   435

24. Ashley Betz-White, Old Dominion -    65   432

25. Liz Brown, Richmond -                        81   431

26. Raven Williams, Longwood -              57   419

27. Keira Robinson, VCU  -                      38   403

28. Janelle Hubbard, Richmond -             34   400

Thanksgiving blessings from Liberty

Thanksgiving blessings from Liberty and coach Carey Green. Wishing the Lady Flames everything good for today's 2 p.m. game against Penn State in the Georgia State Thanksgiving Tournament.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Richmond!

Is that the Spiders practicing on Thanksgiving day? Hey, we understand. Tipoff against Central Michigan in the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas is at 8 p.m. Watch out for Crystal Bradford, and good luck Spiders!

Happy Thanksgiving from George Mason

Happy Patriot Thanksgiving from George Mason, who will play Abilene Christian  in the UMKC Plaza Lights Classic at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. Good luck, Patriots. As always, we're rooting for you!

Happy Thanksgiving from James Madison

Our top-ranked James Madison Dukes play No. 10 Maryland in the San Juan Shootout on Friday at 2:30 p.m. We wish them luck and hope they enjoy their tropical Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Longwood loses Brown for season with ACL injury

An ACL injury in her right knee will shelve Longwood star Daeisha Brown for the rest of the season, the school announced Tuesday.

Brown, a junior guard and a preseason All-Big South selection who averaged 23.0 ppg in her first two games, suffered the injury during Thursday's game against Richmond. The school will apply for a medical redshirt.

"The injury to Daeisha is extremely unfortunate," Lancers coach Bill Reinson said. "She was terrific in our first two games and finally looked like the Daeisha Brown from early last season. Dae Dae is a tough-minded young woman and I have no doubt that she will approach her rehabilitation with the same level of determination and energy that she gives every day in practice. I expect that she will return next season stronger than ever."

While obviously a tough blow for Brown, the injury is also a bad break for women's basketball fans as few players in the sport are as much fun to watch. And of course, it removes the key cog from a Lancers team that was shaping up to be a dangerous team.

To their credit, the Lancers played inspired ball for long stretches Monday night against UNC Greensboro before fading down the stretch and falling 70-64. Longwood clearly isn't the same team without Brown. But the Lancers have enough experienced talent left to re-tool slightly and still have something to say about the Big South race.

Read Longwood's release on Brown here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

JMU vs. Maryland highlights big week of hoops

A rundown of this week's games involving programs from across the state:

Monday, November 24

UNC Greensboro at Longwood, 7 p.m.
   - The injury bug, which hit Longwood hard last season, took another bite last week when Lancers star guard Daeisha Brown went down with an apparent knee injury. The exciting Brown was off to a sizzling start, averaging 23 ppg in her first two games. As to the extent of her injury, Longwood head coach Bill Reinson said via e-mail that Brown will definitely not play tonight and her status going forward will be determined within the next day or so. An extremely tough break first and foremost for Brown, who again appeared poised for her best season yet. And it's obviously a huge setback for the Lancers, who have other talented players but no one else quite like Brown.

Tuesday, November 25

Old Dominion at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m.
   - Strange rivalry in that the road team has won this matchup by double figures all three times Karen Barefoot's Lady Monarchs have faced Dennis Wolff's Hokies. ODU has tended to play to the level of its competition - which was a good thing Thursday against Duke - while the Hokies appear to be gradually coming together around impact freshmen Regan Magarity (15.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and Rachel Camp (a career-high 22 points Sunday against at Providence). Tech also recently gained the services of Seton Hall transfer forward Sidney Cook, who late last week was granted a waiver and instant eligibility by the NCAA. In her Tech debut Sunday at Providence, Cook had 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals in 21 minutes.  

George Mason at Navy, 7 p.m.
   - Through four games, guard Taylor Brown leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring (23.3 ppg). The Patriots have scored at least 70 points in every contest and topped out at 110 last week in a 19-point decision over Delaware State.

Washington State at Hampton, 7 p.m.
   - Finally a home date for the re-tooling Lady Pirates (0-3) after a rugged opening stretch - at Northwestern, at preseason co-MAAC favorite Quinnipiac, at Kansas State, teams with a combined 8-1 record so far. Then again, these Pac-12 Cougars (3-1) aren't exactly pushovers, either, and games against new AP No. 1 South Carolina, at JMU and at DePaul await on Hampton's absolutely killer non-conference schedule.

Liberty at Elon, 7 p.m.
   - The loaded Lady Flames' first road test comes after back-to-back victories over Atlantic 10 foes (VCU, St. Joseph's). But the Phoenix (3-0) is coming off a 13-point victory over the same Charlotte team that nipped Liberty by two in the teams' season opener.

Wednesday, November 26

Radford at Pittsburgh, 2p.m.
   - Tough road test for the young Highlanders (1-2) who will need to put a complete 40 minutes together to pester the ACC's Panthers.

VCU at William and Mary, 7 p.m.
   - Not sure how the Tribe let Sunday's game against High Point get away, but for the most part we've loved what we've seen from this much-improved group. As for VCU, we haven't quite gotten a read on these Rams under new coach Beth O'Boyle so we'll be keeping a close eye on this one.

Thursday, November 27

Richmond vs. Central Michigan in South Point Shootout (Las Vegas), 8 p.m.
   - The Spiders, who are receiving a couple of AP Top 25, will deserve quite a few more if they can prevail against these Chippewas, who are coming off a three-point loss at Top-10 Kentucky and feature a player who for our money - granted, it's not much - is one of the 10 best players in the country in Crystal Bradford. Go get 'em, Spiders.

Friday, November 28

   JMU vs. No. 10 Maryland in San Juan Shootout, 2:30 p.m.
   - A matchup with a national powerhouse on a neutral court early in the season when you've got veterans and they're still sorting things out.? Now we're not saying JMU should beat Maryland. But these are prime conditions for an upset - if the Dukes play their fannies off. By the way, big ups to JMU guard Precious Hall, who was named Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Week after her career-high 34-point eruption Sunday at Pitt's expense. 

Liberty vs. Penn State in Georgia State Thanksgiving Tournament, 2 p.m.
   - Same song, different verse as the JMU-Maryland deal. At this stage of the season the veteran Lady Flames have a much better sense of who they are than the Nittany Lions. But we're pretty sure that, after a string of quality wins the past few years, JMU will take the court honestly believing it can beat Maryland. Will the Lady Flames hit the floor truly feeling the same way against Penn State? We really hope so, because that's a big part of getting it done.

George Mason vs. Abilene Christian in UMKC Plaza Lights Classic, 4:30 p.m.
   - The first of a potential confidence-building two-game set for the Patriots, who after facing the Southland Conference's Abilene Christian will play the SWAC's Mississippi Valley State.

Virginia vs. Toledo in Florida International Tournament, 8 p.m.
   - Encouraging 4-0 start by the Cavaliers has featured Faith Randolph averaging 20.0 ppg and Sarah Imovbioh scoring at a 17.8 ppg clip (on 67.4 percent shooting) while hauling down 14.8 rebounds.

Saturday, November 29

Longwood at William and Mary, 2 p.m.
   - Last season, the Lancers rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to top the Tribe 59-52 in Farmville. 

George Mason vs. Mississippi Valley State in UMKC Plaza Lights Classic, 2 p.m.
   - MVSU plays a lot of revenue-generating games against power conference teams. Not sure if the Devilettes really believe they can win those games, but we suspect they'll think they have a chance in this one. The Patriots need to be prepared for MVSU's best effort.

Norfolk State at Tennessee State in Tennessee State Tournament, 3 p.m.
   - The Spartans (0-4) are developing a nice inside-outside duo in guard Rae Corbo and freshman forward Kayla Roberts

Richmond vs. Arkansas in South Point Shootout (Las Vegas), 4 p.m.
   - The Razorbacks, who won their first four games, will be coming off Friday's game against nationally ranked Iowa.

East Tennessee State at Virginia Tech, 5 p.m.
   - A reasonably rested Hokies squad will host a ETSU team appearing in its fourth road game (covering Pennsylvania, Indiana and Virginia) in nine days.

JMU vs. Houston in San Juan Shootout, 5 p.m.
   - Win or lose against Maryland, JMU must guard against an emotional letdown against these Cougars. 

Sunday, November 30

Virginia vs. Arizona or Florida International in FIU Tournament, 11:30 a.m. or 2 p.m.
   - FIU took an 0-3 record into this tournament; Arizona was 0-2 heading into Tuesday's game against UC-Santa Barbara. 

Norfolk State vs. Nicholls State in Tennessee State Tournament, noon
   - The Spartans are going to have to deal with Nicholls State forward Emani White (23.5 ppg), who already has a 37-point game this season.

Liberty vs. Georgia State or Samford in GSU Thanksgiving Tournament, 12:30/2:30 p.m.
   - Georgia State features two players from Virginia - senior guard/forward Miranda Smith of Roanoke and junior guard Gaby Moss of Alexandria.

Rider at Old Dominion, 2 p.m.
   - The Broncs of the MAAC went 0-3 in the Preseason WNIT, falling at Seton Hall and Towson before losing a neutral-site affair vs. St. Francis (N.Y.).

Radford at Appalachian State, 2 p.m.
   - As we're sure every Highlander fan knows, Mountaineers star Maryah Sydnor grew up in Radford, Va. and was a high school star at Radford High.

Two-minute drill: Norfolk State's Rae Corbo

NSU's Rae Corbo
Great subject, poor production values.

That about sums up Episode One of the Two Minute Drill (excuse the football parlance), our soon-to-be regular crack at getting to know some the state's terrific players. See, as writers, we certainly know our way around a keyboard. But when it comes to video technology - even the basic stuff - well, Bo, we don't know Diddley.

I mean, poor Rae Corbo. She's patiently sitting there after a tough game against Hofstra, and we're like, "How do you hold the camera?

"Where should I stand?"

"Where should she look?"

Pretty embarrassing stuff, no question. But hey, most 12-year-olds have shooting video from a phone down cold, and we're college graduates. How much longer can it take for us to figure it out?

By the way, do you know of any 12-year-olds with free time on their hands?

Anyway, with a huge assist from Norfolk State's Mike Bello, we were finally able to get a few thoughts from one of the top players in the state in the can. Thanks, Rae. It was fun learning a bit about a player we've enjoyed watching the past few years.

Oh, and ladies, if you think you still have a chance with Kevin Durant, forget about it.

Evidently, he's taken.

Friday, November 21, 2014

ODU vs. Duke: A sign of things to come?

Karen Barefoot likened it to a boxing match.

Going with the Old Dominion coach’s analogy, our takeaway from Thursday night’s Duke-Old Dominion showdown is that the Lady Monarchs can take a pretty mean punch – and can throw a few stiff ones, too.

The No. 7 Blue Devils brought their early season “A” game – or something pretty close to it – to Norfolk Thursday night. But they also brought out the highest level we’ve seen from these Lady Monarchs, who gave as good as they got for long stretches before bowing 82-66 at the Constant Center.

Consider that the No. 7 Blue Devils shots 54.7 percent, were plus-15 in on the boards, got a monster game from Virginia Beach’s own Elizabeth Williams (22 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks) and an even more monstrous effort from point guard and former Thomas Dale High star Ka’lia Johnson (18 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists).

In other words, Duke was Duke.

Now the Old Dominion team that misfired repeatedly in the season opener against  Presbyterian,  or the one that struggled to handle the ball (25 turnovers) Monday against William and Mary wouldn’t have been able to stand up to this.

But Thursday, the Lady Monarchs looked like a group that belonged on the same floor with one of the elite teams in the country.

The difference in ODU’s level of performance had Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie scratching her head.

“I don’t understand their game against William and Mary because they didn’t play that well, nothing like they did tonight,” McCallie said. “They have tremendous potential.”

Now the goal is to win, so given this program’s history it wouldn’t be very Old Dominion-like to break out champagne after a 16-point loss. That said, there’s no question this represented progress.

Last season, for example, too often Old Dominion’s offense could have been titled “Shae and the Kelley-ettes.” But with Duke’s talent and skill demanding a more diverse approach – or else - several Lady Monarchs put their hands on the rope, even if they had to step out of their comfort zone to get the grip.

Forward Chelisa Painter, who normally operates in the low box, took her game to the perimeter and burned the Blue Devils with three jumpers, including a 3-pointer (Didn’t know she had it in her). Yes, Tiffany Minor buries four of her patented 3s. But she also put the ball on the deck a couple of times and attacked the rim (Knew she had it in her, thrilled to see it on display).

Another 3-point specialist, LaQuanda Younger, got both of her field goals inside the arc. Yet another long-distance shooter, newcomer Annika Holopainen, skied (relatively speaking) for a offensive rebound and got a stickback in traffic. And on and on it went.

“I like them. I think they’re better than last year,” McCallie said. “I think they have more players who can score.”

Of course, Duke has players who can score, too. A lot. Old Dominion’s defense was rock-solid against Presbyterian and William and Mary, and the defensive effort was there Thursday, too. But against the lethal-at-all-five-positions Blue Devils, effort wasn’t quite enough.

The homegirl Williams dominated the proceedings like a female Tim Duncan – flash-free but brutally efficient (no jumpers off glass, though). As for Johnson, well, a year ago at this time Duke’s point guard slot was manned by All-American Chelsea Gray and All-American-in-waiting Alexis Jones. Both are no longer in Durham, but after watching Johnson stuff last night’s stat sheet, let’s just say the position remains in extremely capable hands.

 That Old Dominion was able to hang around against this onslaught – the Lady Monarchs were within five at halftime and as close as 10 late in the second half – provided an encouraging glimpse of this team’s upside.

But just as we were careful not to read too much into ODU’s less-than-overwhelming efforts in its first two games, we shouldn’t automatically assume performances like Thursday’s are what we’re guaranteed to get from the Lady Monarchs every night from here on out, either.

A year ago, when Old Dominion visited Duke, the post-game talk from Camp Lady Monarchs was about how well the team played in a 24-point defeat. That sounded good until six days later, ODU opened Conference USA play with a 21-point loss at Tulane. Three days after that, the Lady Monarchs lost by 30 at home to Tulane.

 Last year’s Duke game turned out to be an outlier. Will this one be more of a sign of things to come?

The relentlessly optimistic Barefoot certainly believes so. She insisted that Thursday’s performance against Duke was much more competitive (we agree), and that this is simply a better team than the 2013-14 edition.

The Lady Monarchs certainly appear to have the pieces to eventually prove their coach right. But for now, ODU fans should keep in mind that we’re still only three games into a season with a group that’s still learning to play together.   So far it’s pretty clear this team will always play hard. Playing hard and effectively, every time out, may remain a work in progress.

But at least we've seen what this group is capable of. And if (when?) the Lady Monarchs get to the point where they can consistently produce performances like the one we saw Thursday, watch out.


Monday, November 17, 2014

W&M's Hunter, JMU's Hall lead way on opening weekend

Notable happenings from around the state after the first weekend of women's basketball action:

Weekend heroine

William and Mary guard Latrice Hunter may not start, but she sure knows how to finish. On Friday, the 5-5 sophomore went from zero to 94 (feet) in less than four seconds for the game-winning layup in the Tribe's season-opening 72-71 victory over Loyola (Md.). A year ago, Hunter was also pivotal in William and Mary's first victory, as she drained a pair of free throws at the end of regulation to force overtime in an eventual Tribe win over UMass. The difference was that last season, it took six games before W&M got into the win column. Hunter's coast-to-coast dash made the Tribe 1-for-1 this year with momentum and a quiet confidence heading into Monday night's game at former CAA rival Old Dominion (1-0). When the teams met last season, the Lady Monarchs rode a plus-29 rebounding advantage to an 11-point victory in Williamsburg.

Runner-up: Upon first seeing the box score of JMU's 91-87 victory over UCLA and noticing Precious Hall's 25 points came on 6-of-26 shooting, we went, "Huh?" But Hall also went 12 of 12 from the free throw line. In addition, of her 20 field goal misses, eight led to Dukes offensive rebounds (led by Lady Okafor and Toia Giggetts, JMU finished with 23 o-boards against the Bruins).In other words, given the way the Dukes crash the boards in a way Hall was creating offensive opportunities even when her shot didn't go down. We're big into efficiency here at LadySwish so it's usually tough to reconcile 6-for-26 shooting. But this isn't the first time we've seen JMU thrive anyway. In previous years we've seen the Dukes prevail despite occasionally getting similar numbers from high-volume gunner Dawn Evans and, to a slightly lesser extend, the post-Evans Tarik Hislop and Kirby Burkholder. Hall is an excellent shooter so she's not going to make 6-for-26 a habit. But even if she did, given how well this team reacts to its own missed shots, we're not sure they still wouldn't get away with it.

Names and games

- Virginia's Sarah Imovbioh, who used to deliver some crazy rebounding numbers during her days at St. Anne's-Belfield, was up to her old high school tricks Friday as she hauled down a school-record 24 boards in the Cavs' encouraging 87-82 victory over Ohio State. Heading into the season our sense was that Imovbioh was primed for a breakout season. So far, so good....
   By the way, Imovbioh would have made a fine LadySwish weekend heroine, but we went in another direction. Guess she's just have to settle for being ACC PLAYER OF THE WEEK!

   - Speaking of rebounding beasts, JMU's Okafor grabbed 16 boards in Friday's victory over UCLA, then snatched 14 more in Sunday's dismantling of St. Bonaventure.

Upset Central

- It wasn't quite as seismic as the St. Louis Rams holding Peyton Manning's Broncos to seven points, but we definitely did a double-take at George Mason 77, Virginia Tech 69. It certainly helped that the Patriots had the most productive player on the floor in Taylor Brown, who flat-out went off for 35 points and 11 boards. With all due respect to the youthful Patriots, though, honestly we were expecting a little more from Tech at this stage of their reconstruction. Hey, it's only one game. But it's also yet another example of why fans should put absolutely no stock in exhibition-game results. In its lone preseason contest, Mason barely survived Division II Bowie State 83-81. Meanwhile, Tech absolutely obliterated Division III Washington and Lee 93-12. Frankly, if I'm a coach I'd rather my team struggle a bit in its exhibition - that way, I'd have their full attention when I'm yelling at them through the next day's film session.

- Fortunately for the Hokies, a home date two days later against Maryland-Eastern Shore allowed them to get the foul taste of defeat out of their mouths (Tech 63, UMES 41). We still like the pieces Dennis Wolff has assembled. So let's see where it goes from here....

No offense, but....

Let's not overreact to Old Dominion meager offense totals in Friday's 41-26 win over Presbyterian. Sure, there were a bunch of shots the Lady Monarchs should have made. That said, the Blue Hose play at an extremely deliberate pace - last year they ranked dead last in Division I in possessions per game - and defend in such a way that opponents are forced to really grind out possessions, too. In short, it's hard to get into a rhythm against these guys.

Of course, the opposite is also true - since the Blue Hose play at such a snail's pace with one of Division I's least-potent offense, we shouldn't read too much into the Lady Monarchs holding this team to 26 points. A lot of teams are going to post season-best defensive numbers against Presbyterian.

So let's just call it what it was - a 15-point victory at home in the season opener - and see what happens next.

First takes

Newcomers who rock 'n' rolled right out of the box:

      - Virginia Tech's Regan Magarity: 17.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg through two games and probably the lone bright spot in the George Mason disaster (25 points, 7 boards).

      - Radford true freshman Janayla White had 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in Sunday's loss at Virginia. Watch out, Big South foes.

      - VCU's Despite coming off the bench, Ashley Pegram is tied for second on the Rams with 10.5 ppg after victories over Wagner and Presbyterian.

Beasts of the Big East?

   - Forget the Dallas Cowboys. We nominate Richmond as the new "America's Team" on the theory that while fans all have their favorite teams, everyone has a soft spot for these Spiders after the tragic events of last spring. So it was great to see Richmond, who Genevieve Okoro and super sophomore Janelle Hubbard leading the way, spank Providence and Georgetown over a three-day span to surge out to a 2-0 start (who knew the best team in the Big East was in the Atlantic 10?).

By the way, the Spiders made 75.5 percent of their free throws in the two victories. We're sure Ginny Doyle, who made an then-NCAA-record 66 straight free throws in 1991-92, would approve of that message.

The one that got away

Led by star guard Daeisha Brown (19 of her game-high 29 points in the second half), Longwood positioned itself to within three points of a statement-making victory down the stretch Saturday at the ACC's Wake Forest Saturday afternoon. But despite holding the Deacs to just one point over the final 2:06, the Lancers couldn't close the deal and fell 64-60.

While the Lancers deserve full credit for hanging in there, their winning opportunity was created in part by the absence of Wake Forest star Dearica Hamby, the ACC's leading scorer and rebounder a year ago. Which brings up a personal pet peeve. Wake spent the days and weeks understandably hyping up Hamby, featuring her at the league's media day and heavily on their web site. Then Hamby doesn't play the opener, and the school doesn't mention a word about why in its game notes, the multiple in-game Twitter updates or the game story. In fact, the team's Twitter and game story don't mention Hamby at all. A reporter from the Winston-Salem Journal tweeted that Hamby's didn't play because of a "coach's decision," but that raises even more questions, right?

That's weak, Wake.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Whoa! Big wins by James Madison, George Mason

Confession time.

We were in the midst of writing this post about the potential for this James Madison team to upset No. 23 UCLA and we were looking for pics to go with it. It was a little after 2 p.m. on Friday and guess what we didn't realize? The game started at 1. A glance at the halftime score had us deflated. It was 40-28 UCLA.

It's early, we reminded ourselves. This JMU team still has plenty of time to ..... wait a minute. They're coming back. In case you missed it, as we almost did, it was JMU 91, UCLA 87 in overtime.

Now just as we weren't going to make a huge deal had JMU lost, well, we won't get too carried away with the win. After all, we don't really call it an upset. JMU advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. UCLA didn't have a winning record. But this will no doubt an eye-opening win for the Dukes, who bested the team that boasts the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in a trio of freshmen who are McDonald's All-Americans.

But at the Convo on Friday, it was a veteran Dukes cast that shined, as in 25 points and 12-of-12 from the line for Precious Hall. As in 16 points and 16 boards for senior Lauren Okafor. As in 16 points for Toia Giggetts. As in nine points and seven assists for Angela Mickens. As in 15 points for Jazmon Gwathmey, and as in sure, Destiny Jones had 10 points, but man, what a steal at just the right time to put JMU in position to tie it up in regulation.

If there were any questions about JMU post Kirby and Nikki, they were answered in this one. We miss those guys for sure, but these guys are going to be all right this season -- versatile, balanced and already battled tested one game into the season. Sure, we'd like to see JMU improve from behind the arc (4-of-20) and Okafur (4-of-10 FT) needs to work on the freebies, but we'll take this win and look for another against an underrated St. Bonaventure team on Sunday.

And while this was our game of the night, we also salute George Mason for its 77-69 victory over Virginia Tech -- the biggest victory in the short tenure of Coach Nyla Milleson. Hard to do much more than gawk at Taylor Brown's effort of 35 points and 11 boards (though we're sure Dennis Wolff wasn't thrilled about the Hokies going to the line eight times compared to the Patriots' 32 trips). The good news for Tech is that freshman Reagan Magarity tallied 25 points with seven boards in her collegiate debut.

The better news is it's only just beginning.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

James Madison, Liberty, Hampton 1-2-3 in LadySwish rankings

The season is upon us, which means it's time for our inaugural 2014-15 rankings. Without further ado:

1. James Madison: Can you imagine a Dukes team minus Kirby and Nikki? Yep, we know it's hard and how we'll miss watching the JMU team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. But we expect great things from this balanced squad led by preseason CAA Player of the Year Precious Hall; Toia Giggetts, who gets better every year; and Jazmon Gwathmey, who perhaps has the most upside of anyone on the roster. Angela Mickens brings speed at the point and an emerging DeeDee Griffin should play a bigger role for the Dukes, picked to defend their CAA crown. Love, love, love the JMU nonconference sked that Kenny Brooks said was inspired by Wendy Larry. Consider the foes: UCLA, Maryland, Vandy, St. Bonaventure and Richmond to name a few.

Opener: At home vs. UCLA, Nov. 14

2. Liberty (last year 20-11)

The Flames didn't make it to the postseason last year for only the second time in 18 years, but we're betting that's not the case this season given the return of a core of vets and a healthy Jasmine Gardner and Catherine Kearney. Ashley Rininger (16 double-doubles as a sophomore)  is among the state's elite, and Liberty has added transfer Karley Buer (Missouri State), who can break up the zone with her long ball. No surprise that the Flames got the nod to win the Big South.

Opener: At home vs. Charlotte, Nov. 14

3. Hampton

The five-time defending MEAC champs were actually picked second in their own league to North Carolina A&T. Chemistry will be key for the Pirates, who will incorporate transfers Kyani White (East Carolina), Jackie Marshall (Iona College) and Kristine Rose (Xavier) into a lineup led by the reigning league Rookie of the Year, Malia Tate-DeFreitas. The 5-8 sophomore averaged 18.1 ppg as a freshman and Hampton will need her points and then some to compete in the nonconference slate that David Six put together with, are you ready? -- South Carolina (Dawn Staley's powerhouse comes to town Dec. 17), Kansas State, James Madison, DePaul and Princeton.

4. Virginia

Joanne Boyle enters her fourth season still looking for her first NCAA Tournament appearance as head coach of the Cavaliers. The newbies are going to have to pull Virginia out of the bottom half of a loaded ACC, and 5-7 guard Mikayla Vinson is among those expected to make an immediate impact. A concussion and recurrent symptoms limited her action in high school; Venison played her last game at Yorktown High in Arlington in 2011. She's been coached by her dad, but now the reins go to Boyle, who has another potential star in Alijah Huland El, a 6-1 wing who thrives in transition. Virginia's last postseason appearance was Boyle's first year as coach when the Cavs advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT.

Opener: At home vs. Radford, Nov. 14

5. Richmond

Ask us who is the best player in the state and we wouldn't shy from saying Genevieve Okoro, who's looked super in early Spiders' practices. Olivia Healy was the most promising newcomer in the state last year before an ACL tear ended her season in January. How quickly she returns to the lineup at full strength is critical for these Spiders (she will dress but not play in the opener), picked sixth in the A-10. Anticipating sophomore Janelle Hubbard, who scored in double figures in the Spiders final 12 games, to pick up where she left off and great to see Liz Brown healthy again.

Opener: At home vs. Providence, Nov. 14

6. Old Dominion

Hard to figure out how good these Lady Monarchs will be given the departure of Shea Kelley to Minnesota to play out her senior year and guard Galaisha Goodhope, gone for disciplinary reasons. We're eager to see what Jennie Simms will bring and good to see a healthy Ashley Betz-White return to action after missing all of last season with an injury. Chelisa Painter (8.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) returns as the most productive player from last year's team that won a game in the WNIT, and we expect Odegua Oigbokie to be a bigger offensive threat. We're anxious to see whether the Lady Monarchs can surprise a Conference USA league that has picked them to finish sixth.

Opener: At home vs. Presbyterian, Nov. 14

7. Virginia Commonwealth

Beth O'Boyle is the new coach in the state, taking over a program that only belonged to Marlene Stollings for two seasons. Stollings recruited a bunch of young talent, and all have remained, but the Rams will miss Robyn Parks, the leading scorer in the Atlantic 10 who is now playing professionally in Spain and Jessica Pellechio, a viable three-point threat, who transferred to Drexel. Nonetheless, double-figure scorers Keira Robinson and Isis Thorpe return and hometown girl Ashley Pegram, a junior college transfer, make these Rams a sleeper in a league that Dayton should dominate.

Opener: At home vs. Wagner, Nov. 14

8. Virginia Tech

We're not making any assumption about the Hokies from the 93-12 exhibition win over Washington & Lee. Like Boyle at Virginia, Dennis Wolff is in his fourth year and the Hokies are still trying to make their way into the top half of the ACC. The graduations of Uju Ugoka and Monet Tellier leave the Hokies relying heavily on Vanessa Panousis and Hannah Young for points. How soon can the newcomers, Brielle Blaire and Rachel Camp among them, make a difference?  If it's early, perhaps Tech can improve on last season's 14-16 record.

Opener: At George Mason, Nov. 14

9. George Mason

The Patriots open with Tech and we're eager to see the collection of talent Coach Nyla Milleson has put together in action. Two transfer, Kristi Mokube (Florida State) and Jasmine Jackson (Georgetown) add depth, though Jackson will miss the opener with an injury sustained in practice. Add in a healthy Rachel McNair and the continued development of Reana Mohamed, and the Patriots should have the depth to make Taylor Brown and Sandra Ngoie more consistent in their roles.

Opener: At home vs. Virginia Tech, Nov. 14

10. William and Mary

It's only Coach Ed Swanson's second year, but he returns a better conditioned Tribe, which for the first time had the majority of its players compete in the Norfolk summer league. Jazmon Boone and Kyla Kerstetter will captain this young team that will still likely struggle with the growing pains rebuilding. But the Tribe is on the upside, and we expect Marlena Tremba (13.2 ppg) to follow up on her CAA Rookie of the Year honors with an even better sophomore season.

Opener: Loyola (Md.), Nov. 14

11. Radford

It's only Mike McGuire's second season as head coach, so our expectations are in check for the Highlanders, 7-23 last season and picked to finish ninth in the Big South. Looking forward to seeing what kind of season 5-5 guard Ayana Avery can put together; she set a single-season mark with 95 3-pointers a year ago. We're expecting an impact season from Kiera McIvor, the only Highlander to play and start in all 30 games last year. Newcomer Claudia Queveedo of the Canary Islands shot high percentages from the field -- consistency that the Highlanders would welcome.

Opener: At Virginia, Nov. 14

12. Longwood

Daeisha Brown was terrific as a sophomore, and the Lancers return plenty of experience but they'll need to find some firepower to make up for an ailing offense and a struggling defense, both near the bottom of the Big South last season. We're especially excited to see 5-10 guard Autumn Childress on the roster. The freshman received plenty of interest from bigger schools that waned after a pair of knee injuries. If healthy, Childress could be the difference maker Longwood needs.

Opener: At Wake Forest, Nov. 15

13.  Norfolk State

Oh how the Spartans will miss rebounding machine Rachel Gordon, who graduated last spring. Also gone: Quineshia Leonard (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Logan Powell (8.1 ppg, transfer to Kentucky State). The offensive burden falls on Rae Corbo who needs help from a trio of newcomer bigs -- freshman Kayla Roberts, freshman Shayla Tanner and sophomore Nia Roberts (transfer from Buffalo who is eligible second semester).

Opener: Morehead State, Nov. 14

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Remembering my mom: 03-03-32 -- 11-05-14

Mom, Dad and me at my high school graduation.

I teach an English class at Old Dominion and on the last night of every semester, I talk for a few minutes about what I call the rules of life. One of those rules is if you still have a mom or a dad, cherish that relationship. Friends come. Friends go. You only have one mom. You only have one dad.

Today I have neither. I lost my dad 17 years ago. I lost my mom this morning. And here again, I am reminded of another of my rules: Remember when it’s time to lose someone you truly love that it was never enough time. We always want one more day, one more visit, one more hug, one more “I love you.”

It was only two weeks ago when Mom and I were talking. I could call my mom at any time of the day. Like me, she was a night owl. My son has mono, and even though neither my sister or I ever had it, I knew my mom had some advice to help with the sore throat from hell that had my son in agony.

Chloraseptic throats drops are best, she said.

My mom was amazing, and not because she baked cookies or was overly affectionate or knew the right answers about homework. We butted heads when I was little – she’d often remind me that I was a “surprise” 10 years behind my sister. She didn’t always give me what I wanted when I was a kid, but she made sure of this: I was educated. My mother attended minimal high school. She always said she hated the inside of the school, and schools had certain smells. My sister graduated from MIT before getting her MBA. My master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri followed my bachelor’s from George Washington University. My mom stood on her feet as a cashier at a wine and cheese shop, I liked to say – at a liquor store, she would say – to pay for private high school so my sister and I would have those opportunities. She never made more than $5 an hour.

A therapist once asked me to describe my mom in a word and I said “hard.” She was, and I can’t sugar coat that. But she softened with the death of my dad followed by the birth of my first son 11 days later. I remember how she scooped up baby Harry – named for my father – and took a lawn chair to sit under a tree in my back yard. She held him in a way I’ll never forget, speaking softly under the warm breeze. When Ben was born three years later, she was here the next day, instantly attached – this from a woman who said she would never be the typical grandmother. Perhaps not, but her apartment was something of a shrine to those two boys. Becoming a mother myself made me understand and appreciate her perspective in a way I never thought possible.

When a gall bladder attack sent my mother to the hospital nearly a month ago, and complications developed, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into her sixth floor room. She was crying – something I had only seen when she lost her siblings – and she was scared. I held her hand. She wanted to give up. The next day wasn’t much better until we started to talk. Really talk. I asked questions I had always wanted to know the answers to about when she was young. We talked about me –the raw pain I felt when losing that newspaper job that was part of me for 20 years, the depression that has often prevented me from seeing what’s right in front of me.

She told me I was never supposed to make it – all 4 pounds of me – as they cut her open when she was pregnant to remove a tumor.

She said the most amazing words that afternoon to me: “Now I know why I got sick. So we could have this conversation.”

I thought she was getting better. So did she. She went home and almost made it a week before an unforeseen setback sent her back to the hospital. Even then, I believed there was hope, realistic hope of a full recovery. The news came yesterday that it wouldn’t be more than 24 hours.

She died shortly after 5 a.m.

I wish we had one more Thanksgiving, one more Christmas. My mom was a great gift giver, someone who prided herself in finding the un-findable and surprising you on Christmas morning. When you’d ask where she got it, a smug “trade secret” would be her only response. I loved her cooking. Her fried cabbage is my favorite food on the planet, and her stewed tomatoes over fried potatoes ranks a close second. I loved when the daytime soaps were on, and we’d talk endlessly about the characters I had grown up with. We felt the same way about Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson. We made the same jokes about Dad. We played Pinochle until all hours and a game only she knew called Liverpool. We sang HTTR when they beat Dallas in Dallas a few Thanksgivings back.

 I loved talking to my mom about everything, but I especially liked talking to her about nothing.

I don’t have a dad anymore. Or a mom. I have the biggest ache in my heart. I have the memories. And I cherish each of them.