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.


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