Saturday, February 28, 2015

Two-minute drill: George Mason's Jasmine Jackson

We loved the way George Mason's Jasmine Jackson lit up when we asked her about her favorite TV show (though, unfortunately, it's not on the air anymore). Find out the show, what she likes to do in her spare time and the career plans for the 5-9 redshirt junior guard.

Also see:

Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Jazmen Boone
Two-minute drill: Longwood's Autumn Childress
Two-minute drill: George Mason's Taylor Brown
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liz Brown
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Kyla Kerstetter
Two-minute drill: James Madison's Lauren Okafor
Two-minute drill: Old Dominion's Jennie Simms
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Marlena Tremba
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Ashley Rininger
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Janelle Hubbard
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Gen Okoro
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Karly Buer
Two-minute drill: Longwood's Treasure Avery
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liv Healy
Two-minute drill: Norfolk State's Rae Corbo

Wanna nominate someone for Two-minute drill? Email us at or tweet us @ladyswish

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top 5 ODU wins under Karen Barefoot


Old Dominion's 72-71 victory over Louisiana Tech Sunday, which featured Annika Holopainen's breakout (in a Lady Monarchs uniform) performance, several other strong efforts and a last-second, contested, game-winning 3-pointer (Holopainen again), was surely among the team's best wins during the Karen Barefoot era (since 2011-12).

But was it the best? Hmmm....

Well, as long as you asked, here's how we'd rank the top five:

5. Old Dominion 68, Navy 60 
March 20, 2014

   - This WNIT first-rounder marked the Lady Monarchs' first postseason national tournament victory since 2010 (a 63-55 win over American, also in the WNIT first round). It was also the night Shae Kelley became the fifth player in the program's storied history to crack the 1,000-point barrier in her first two seasons. But the night belonged to senior point guard Michelle Brandao, whose career had been marked by misfortune virtually from the day she arrived on campus. An NCAA suspension cost her the first year and a half of her career; an ACL tear shelved her again eight games after she finally got back on the court. But just when the final curtain was about to fall, the Brandao story went from "what if?" to "watch this!" Pressed into full-time service after an injury to starting point guard Galaisha Goodhope, the Portuguese prodigy dissected Navy to the tune of eight points, nine assists and no turnovers in 37 where-did-that-come-from minutes. It turned out to be the final home game of Brandao's career. But what a way to go out, huh?

4. Old Dominion 92, Southern Miss 82 
January 15, 2014

 - Southern Miss came in having won 12 straight at home; the Lady Monarchs limped into Hattiesburg with a 7-9 record and after being spanked badly at the Constant Center by Charlotte (a 21-point loss) and Tulane (a 32-point setback) in their first two Conference USA games. And here's the thing - it wasn't as though the Lady Eagles had an off night. Old Dominion simply dialed up one of the best offensive performances in recent program history. Five Lady Monarchs - Shae Kelley, Chelisa Painter, Galaisha Goodhope, Tiffany Minor and Stephanie Gardner - all finished in double figures. And as a team, the Lady Monarchs shot an eye-popping 60.3 percent from the field, tied for the best by an ODU team in at least 10 years. Southern Miss would finish the year with a 25-7 record and an RPI of 36, making this statistically the program's best win in the Barefoot era.

3. Old Dominion 80, Florida International 67 
January 29, 2015

 - Not sure the game was that great, but it featured a performance for the ages - Jennie Simms etched her name in Old Dominion's star-studded record book by scoring 45 points, the second-most in program history. An effort like that deserves a spot on any list of superlatives.

2. Old Dominion 77, Alabama 76 
November 24, 2011

   - The Lady Monarchs were 0-4 when they arrived in the Virgin Islands for this Paradise Jam opener. The teams' play in the first half belied this, though, as the Lady Monarchs, while turnover-prone, shot a ridiculous 68 percent in an opening 20 minutes during which they led by as many as 14. The Crimson Tide scrambled back into it, and the two teams traded punches until a free throw with 11 seconds left put Alabama ahead 76-75. The sequence that followed was as surprising as it was stunning: forward Shakeva Richards, who wasn't exactly known for her ballhandling, dribbled upcourt and fed Becca Allison, a speedy attack-the-rim guard who wasn't exactly known for her jump shot. Naturally, Allison created space with her dribble and a spin move,then confidently drained a jumper from the left elbow with 1.2 seconds left for the game-winner. It was the team's first victory under Barefoot, and easily the most exciting until....

1. Old Dominion 72, Louisiana Tech 71 
February 22, 2015

 - Why this game for No. 1? Because while it's a great game in its own right, it also combines many of the best elements of the previous four. It has the unlikely hero virtue of the win over Navy. The road warrior element of Nos. 2, 3 and 4. And the quality win factor of the Southern Miss game - Louisiana Tech's RPI of 125 makes this Old Dominion's second-best RPI win of the season (VCU, 124) and best on the road. In addition, the game played out on regional television so even casual fans had a chance to check it out.

Here's hoping those that did stuck around for the fantastic finish.

So that's our five. What's yours?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Big South: Down the stretch

Big South 
Conference tournament - March 3, 5, 7-8, HTC Center, Conway, S.C.

Standings (conference records only): 1. Liberty 17-1; 2. Radford 13-5; 3 (tie) Campbell, High Point, Winthrop 12-6; 6. Presbyterian 9-9; 7. Gardner-Webb 9-10; 8 (tie). Coastal Carolina, UNC Asheville 6-12; 10. Longwood 3-16; 11. Charleston Southern 1-17

Who we're keeping an eye on:

LIBERTY (21-6, 17-1)
RPI: 88
Still to play: Tuesday vs. Winthrop; Saturday at Campbell
   - Clinched conference regular season title and No. 1 seed in Big South tournament. Will play the 8-9 winner (Coastal Carolina or UNC Asheville) in the first quarterfinal at noon on March 5. The Lady Flames have won 44 straight games against Coastal - the second-longest such streak in Division I - and eight in a row vs. UNC Asheville.
Postseason outlook: The Lady Flames did lose at Winthrop back in January and have looked vulnerable at times in recent victories against Longwood and Charleston Southern, so nothing is guaranteed. Still, Liberty will go into the league tournament as clear favorites to seize the title and advance to the NCAAs. If the Lady Flames slip up, they'll assume the league's automatic bid to the WNIT

RADFORD (16-11, 13-5)
RPI: 188
Still to play: Tuesday vs. UNC Asheville; Saturday at High Point
   - The Highlanders are in sole possession of second place and can lock down the No. 2 seed by winning out. While that's certainly doable, it doesn't figure to be easy - Radford beat Asheville by two points and High Point by three in the teams' previous meetings. A split of the two games or losses in both muddles the picture considerably as Winthrop, Campbell and High Point all sit a mere game back of the Highlanders with 12-6 conference marks.
Postseason outlook: The Highlanders have at least one win over every team in the league except Liberty, and they had a second-half lead on the Lady Flames in the teams' first meeting before things got away. In other words, it should surprise no one if the Highlanders advance to at least the final no matter what seed they wind up with. Finishing second should still be a coveted goal, though, especially since it would position Radford for the league's automatic WNIT bid if Liberty wins the Big South tourney. No matter what happens from here, the Highlanders have already dramatically exceeded its own league's expectations - Radford was picked to finish ninth of 11 teams by the Big South head coaches.

LONGWOOD (3-25, 3-16)
RPI: 346
Still to play: Saturday at Charleston Southern
   - Credit the severely undermanned Lancers for continuing to battle - just last week they got the better of Liberty for about 35 minutes before falling by five, then fell in overtime to Presbyterian. Granted, both those games, and most of Longwood's better outings, have come at home, as the Lancers are 0-16 on the road. But Saturday's season finale offers a great opportunity for a rested Longwood team to succeed away from home against equally snake-bitten Charleston Southern.
Postseason outlook: Win or lose Saturday, the Lancers will go into the league tournament as the No. 10 seed  and face the No. 7 seed - either Gardner-Webb or Presbyterian - in a first-round game on March 3.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Jazmen Boone

Her dad liked the name (and the funky spelling), she loves to draw and she's got a good question for Lebron. Get to know William and Mary senior Jazmen Boone in our latest two-minute drill.

Also see:

Two-minute drill: Longwood's Autumn Childress
Two-minute drill: George Mason's Taylor Brown
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liz Brown
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Kyla Kerstetter
Two-minute drill: James Madison's Lauren Okafor
Two-minute drill: Old Dominion's Jennie Simms
Two-minute drill: William and Mary's Marlena Tremba
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Ashley Rininger
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Janelle Hubbard
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Gen Okoro
Two-minute drill: Liberty's Karly Buer
Two-minute drill: Longwood's Treasure Avery
Two-minute drill: Richmond's Liv Healy
Two-minute drill: Norfolk State's Rae Corbo

Wanna nominate someone for Two-minute drill? Email us at or tweet us @ladyswish

Friday, February 20, 2015

Virginia joins the 'tough road loss' club

Hey, Virginia fans, frustrated by your team's inability to close out Pitt Thursday night?

Welcome to the club.

Pittsburgh's 68-63 overtime victory, a game in which the Panthers rallied from 12 down in the second half and never led until midway through the extra period, is just the latest in a series of stunning comebacks by home teams this season.

Now, this isn't to say the Cavaliers didn't contribute to their own demise. Surely there are some plays down the stretch they'd love to have back (a certain inbounds sequence quickly springs to mind).

Broaden out the lens a bit, though, and it seems as though these kinds of come-from-ahead losses by visiting teams are hardly uncommon, even to the best of teams. Shoot, just 24 hours prior, in men's basketball, we watched Duke erase a 9-point deficit in the final 2:23 of regulation, then claim a 92-90 overtime victory over what-just-hit-us North Carolina. At Duke, of course.

And the UConn women, they've had one close game all season. Honestly; their 25 victories include one by 16 points (St. John's), another by 18 (Notre Dame) and 23 others by 25 or more.

But in the one nail-biter, at Stanford, the mighty Huskies blew a six-point lead inside the final two minutes of regulation and fell in overtime 88-86.

Surely if it can happen to UConn, it can happen to anyone.

In this state, no team has seen this phenomenon play out as often as Richmond, and the latest occurrence came Wednesday at Duquesne. Led by a red-hot Janelle Hubbard (who made her first six shots, four from 3-point range), the Spiders built a 13-point lead. But Hubbard's shotmaking masked the fact that the rest of the Spiders were struggling to find the range. And once the Dukes got Hubbard under control, Richmond basically stopped scoring while Duquesne caught up. Richmond still found itself in position to essentially seal it at the free throw line up two with 13 seconds left. But Spiders star Genevieve Okoro missed two free throws, setting up a last-second, game-typing layup by Duquesne's Amadea Szamosi. Richmond then went scoreless in the entire extra period; the Dukes prevailed 58-51.

Now, Okoro is a 66 percent free throw shooter. Teammate Lauren Tolson, on the other hand, is one of the best free throw shooters in the United States of America (87.4 percent). But on Jan. 4 at Fordham, in an eerily similar situation (Spiders up two with 16 seconds left in overtime), Tolson missed a pair at the line. This time, Fordham's Danielle Padavano splashed a 3-pointer with one second left. Final: Fordham 65, Richmond 64.

Richmond currently sits in fifth place in the Atlantic 10, a game behind Fordham and two games back of Duquesne in the race for a coveted Top-4 seed. Oh, what might have been....

Now, no one questions Richmond's mental toughness and resolve; heck, these are the guys that a little over two weeks ago rallied from 20 points down to stun Saint Louis in overtime.

Of course, the Saint Louis comeback happened at home.

So by the time things started going sideways for Virginia Thursday night, it was disappointing, sure. But it was also nothing we hadn't seen before. It doesn't mean the Cavaliers lack heart or the "clutch gene. Nor does it have to define Virginia's season - Richmond won seven of its next nine conference games after the Fordham loss.

What it does mean is that if you play enough games, you're probably going to have one or two you steal at the end, and one or two that get stolen. The ones that slip away seem more likely to happen on the road. And these things tend to happen whether you're UConn or U.Va.

They don't tend to happen twice in a row, though, so we like Virginia's chances of making the plays they need to make Sunday against Virginia Tech.

Especially since the Cavs will be at home.

Radford hosts Campbell in huge Big South showdown

As the 2014-15 season has played out, we've marveled at how far Radford has come.

The question now is, how far can the Highlanders go?

To the WNIT tournament? Maybe even to the NCAAs?

Remarkably, it's all still possible for the Highlanders, who have gone from a 7-23 also-ran a year ago to youthful-but-legitimate Big South tournament contenders right now.

Now, the conference regular season title boat has sailed off to Lynchburg - loaded Liberty has that, as well as the top seed in the league tournament, after Tuesday's 65-60 decision over Longwood.

But second place - and the potential for an automatic bid to the WNIT - is still on the table, and with three games left the Highlanders are in prime position to seize it. Radford (15-11, 12-5 Big South) and Campbell (17-9, 12-5) are currently tied for the No. 2 slot, and the two teams meet Saturday at noon in Radford's Dedmon Center.

It's not a stretch to call this Radford's biggest regular season game in years.

It's also just the start of the Highlanders' season-closing three-game gauntlet, which continues Tuesday against UNC Asheville and ends Feb. 28 at High Point. All three games are rematches; check out what happened in the first meetings:

- Lost 65-62 in overtime at Campbell;

- Won 67-65 vs. UNC Asheville (freshman Claudia Quevedo career-high 19 points; freshman Janayla White delivers game-winning layup with 18 seconds left at one end, game-saving block at the other);

- Won 61-58 vs. High Point (Ayana Avery game-winning 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, snapping a 58-58 tie).

That's right, each game decided by three points or less, one in overtime. In other words, nothing close to a gimme for Radford from here on out. Also, High Point (16-11, 12-6) and Winthrop (15-11, 11-6) remain in hot pursuit. So while second place is still possible, sixth place is, too.

So consider this a clarion call to all Highlander fans within range of the Dedmon Center to show up Saturday (and Tuesday) and help push this team across the finish line. To support Big South Coach of the Year in-waiting Mike McGuire. To pay tribute to seniors Ayana Avery, Jordynn Gaymon and Keira McIvor (and you, too, La-She' Walker).

But mostly, to simply check out a pretty good basketball team. Because after a few lean years, it looks like Radford now really has one.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Veterans shine in Saturday's action

Old Dominion's Tiffany Minor
At this time of year, a team's success often hinges on the play of its veteran players. That certainly was the case Saturday - look how many times the words "senior" and "junior" come up in this recap of the day's action.

Old Dominion 79, UTEP 50: Jennie Simms (19 points) led the Lady Monarchs in scoring - again. But unlike 36 hours prior, the story of Old Dominion's offense didn't end there. You know how the Golden State Warriors have the "Splash Brothers?" For one game, at least, Old Dominion countered with the "Splash Sisters" - redshirt junior Ashley Betz-White, whose early bombs knocked UTEP down, and senior Tiffany Minor, whose late 3-pointers officially put the Miners out for the count. Minor finished with 17 points and Betz-White added 16; the two combined for just five points in Thursday's 52-51 loss to UTSA. A lot of folks besides Simms are going to have to come through if ODU is to make a late push, As fourth-year players getting starter's minutes, Betz-White and Minor are the prime candidates to lead the way. As Saturday's performances showed, both are fully capable.

By the way, apparently at least on Lady Monarch saw Betz-White's big game coming well before tipoff:

George Mason 86, VCU 79: It's often the Taylor Brown Show at George Mason. This time, though senior Sandra Ngoie seized the main spotlight, tying the school record for 3s in a game (7) during her 29-point, 10-rebound effort. Turns out the Patriots needed every bit of Ngoie's output, as the Rams stormed back from a 27-point halftime deficit and nearly chased the Patriots down. Of course, it helped the Patriots' cause that Brown was, well, Brown - the Atlantic 10's leading scorer finished with 20 points.

Liberty 63, Presbyterian 41: For some reason, Presbyterian had been better than most at bottling up Lady Flames senior center Ashley Rininger, who came in averaging just 8.3 points in her last three games against the Blue Hose. Presbyterian had no answers Saturday, though, and Rininger wasted little time in letting the Blue Hose know it - she had 10 points on 5 for 5 shooting before the game was four minutes old. Rininger finished with a game-high 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting for the Lady Flames (19-6, 15-1 Big South), who can clinch at least a tie for the Big South regular-season title with a victory Tuesday at Longwood.

Richmond 72, La Salle 60: The Explorers appeared to operate on the motto, "You can't stop Genevieve Okoro, you can only hope to foul her and make her earn it on the line." Well, Okoro earned it alright - the senior hit a Richmond school record-tying 19 of her 22 free throw attempts to highlight a career-high 27 point, season-high 15-rebound night. Other than that, Okoro was just OK in this contest.

Radford 64, Charleston Southern 57: Speaking of deadly free throw shooting, junior Aisha Foy went 12 for 14 from the line and made 10 straight down the stretch to help the Highlanders hold on. We could say more nice things about Foy, but we'll let Radford coach Mike McGuire take it from here: "I just cannot say enough about Aisha and her growth and development as a basketball player. She is an incredible leader on and off the court. I think we have become a better basketball team in a lot of ways because of her. In my opinion, she is one of the best point guards in the Big South."

Norfolk State 64, Morgan State 56: The MEAC's second-leading scorer was at it again, as senior Rae Corbo poured in a game-high 25 points. But although this story mostly highlights veterans, no report on NSU's success of late would be complete without a shoutout to freshman Kayla Roberts, who was at it again Saturday with 19 points and 9 rebounds. The rookie is averaging 19.5 points and 16.3 rebounds over her last four games.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

So, how's my team doing?

A breakdown of how Virginia's Division I teams stand as we head down the home stretch of the 2014-15 season:

(20-2, 11-0)
RPI: 21
CAA standing: 1st
Remaining schedule: Thursday at Towson (10-14, 6-6); Sunday vs. Delaware (12-11, 7-5); Feb. 19 at UNCW (8-14, 4-7); Feb. 22 vs. Hofstra (14-9, 7-5); Feb. 27 vs. Northeastern (4-18, 1-11); Mar 1 at Delaware (12-11, 7-5); Mar 4 vs. Charleston (4-18, 2-9)

   - Let's see....the Dukes have a four-game lead with seven to play in a league where their average victory margin is 19.4 points. Let's just say we like their chances. Now, would the Dukes get an NCAA at-large bid if the hard-to-imagine happens and they don't win the CAA tourney? Tough to say. One might think a Top-25 RPI would make JMU a shoo-in, and the folks that do mock brackets seem to agree. But actual selection committees have historically placed a premium on wins over NCAA tournament-caliber teams, and frankly we're not sure we see even one such win for these Dukes. Fortunately for JMU fans, if the Dukes keep playing to the standard they've set so far, they'll take the decision out of the committee's hands.
   Star turns: CAA Preseason Player of the Year Precious Hall (21.0 ppg) has so much looked the part one tends to forget she averaged just 13.5 ppg last year. Lady Okafor (13.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and Muff Mickens (7.6 assists per game, third in Division I) are also on first-team All-CAA trajectories. The Colonial hasn't had three all-league first-teamers from one squad since the 1999-2000 season, when Lucienne Berthieu, Natalie Diaz and Hamchetou Maiga all made it from Old Dominion. Should it happen again, it would represent yet another parallel between this era's JMU and the Wendy Larry-led ODU dynasty.

(18-6, 14-1)
RPI: 91
Big South standing: 1st
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Presbyterian (12-12, 7-8); Feb. 17 at Longwood (3-21, 3-12); Feb. 21 vs. Charleston Southern (5-18, 1-13); Feb. 24 vs. Winthrop (13-10, 9-5); Feb. 28 at Campbell (14-9, 9-5)

   - The Lady Flames have a three-game lead on second-place Radford with five to play. Given that they've already swept the season series with Highlanders, this race is all but done. Clinching the regular season would guarantee Liberty at least a WNIT bid; last year the Lady Flames weren't invited to that tournament despite a 20-11 record and an RPI in the 130s. But it will be a major disappointment if this loaded Lady Flames team winds up in that tournament. Liberty will also be prohibitive favorites to win the league tournament and invite itself to the NCAAs. And given that this is an uncommonly deep team with oodles of weapons, the Lady Flames' fun might not stop with simply getting an invitation.
   Star turns: The Lady Flames' success has come in such a balanced fashion it's conceivable the team could win the league race by five games yet not place a single player on the All-Big South first team. Ashley Rininger and Karly Buer can make the best statistical cases, but everyone on this team sacrifices minutes/stats for the greater good. We hope folks have also taken notice of the much-improved Sadalia Ellis, who for stretches has looked like the best two-way guard in the entire conference.

(15-8, 7-3)
RPI: 93
Atlantic 10 standing: Tied for 4th (Duquesne)
Remaining schedule: Wednesday at Dayton (17-5, 8-2); Saturday vs. La Salle (12-11, 3-7); Feb. 18 at Duquesne (15-8, 7-3); Feb. 21 at St. Joseph's (8-14, 4-6); Feb. 26 vs. George Washington (21-2, 10-0); Mar 1 at VCU (5-6, 14-10)

   - A Top-4 seed in the A-10 tourney - and the double-bye that comes with it - is clearly within reach, but it won't come easily given a grueling closing stretch that begins tonight at Dayton. Nothing has come easily for these Spiders, and this won't either. Then again, any team that can spot its opponent the first 20 points and still win, as the Spiders did Saturday against Saint Louis, figures to be capable of just about anything.
   Star turns: Janelle Hubbard (15.8 ppg, 91.7 FT percentage), Lauren Tolson (14.4 ppg) and Gen Okoro (11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg) have led the way, but no one player ever really goes off for this team. Like Liberty, the Spiders thrive through the collective strength of several.

(12-11, 8-2)
RPI: 96
MEAC standing: 1st
Remaining schedule: Monday at Morgan State (9-13, 6-4); Feb. 21 vs. Delaware State (5-17, 2-7); Feb. 23 vs. Coppin State (3-18, 2-8); Feb. 28 at Howard (3-20, 3-7); Mar 2 at Delaware State (5-17, 2-7); Mar 5 vs. Norfolk State (8-14, 7-4)

   - Two uncharacteristic stumbles aside, the Lady Pirates remain in their accustomed role as league frontrunner. It's going to be hard to move them off that spot, too, as of their remaining opponents only Morgan State and Norfolk State seem likely to provide anything more than token resistance. That Hampton-NSU season finale should be interesting, though. Brace yourselves, Spartans; we have a feeling the Lady Pirates will be just a bit focused for this contest.
   Star turns: The conference leader in points (21.9 ppg) and steals (3.7 spg), Malia Tate-DeFreitas is on the short list of MEAC Player of the Year contenders. Backcourt mate Kyani White is also making a push for All-MEAC honors, and the much-improved Ryan Jordan continues to a solid contributor.

(15-8, 5-5)
RPI: 97
ACC standing: Tied for 8th (Pittsburgh)
Remaining schedule: Thursday vs. Duke (18-6, 9-2); Sunday vs. Florida State (22-2, 9-1); Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh (15-8, 5-5); Feb. 22 at Virginia Tech (10-14, 1-10); Feb. 26 at North Carolina (19-5, 6-4); Mar 1 vs. Louisville (20-3, 8-2)

   - A year ago, the Cavaliers finished sub-.500 and even didn't qualify for the WNIT so it's definitely progress that this team is comfortably within range of a bid. That said, given the resources the school devotes to women's basketball, that's not the tournament this program shoots for. As we write this the Cavaliers have no NCAA tournament resume to speak of. But with four games against sure-fire NCAA qualifiers remaining - and the prospect for more in the ACC tournament - we may not have heard the last from the Cavaliers in this regard yet. Obviously the kickoff game of this stretch Thursday night against Duke is huge - here's hoping Cavs fans show up and do their part.
   Star turns: Faith Randolph ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring (16.9 ppg), Sarah Imovbioh is among the league's top rebounders, Breyana Mason has taken a big step forward as a sophomore and Mikayla Venson is an impact freshman with a big upside. Several nice pieces; just need one or two more.

(14-10, 5-6)
RPI: 121
Atlantic 10 standing: 7th
Remaining schedule:  Saturday at George Mason (12-11, 4-6); Feb. 18 vs. George Washington (21-2, 10-0); Feb. 22 vs. UMass (8-14, 2-8); Feb. 25 at Davidson (5-19, 1-10); Mar 1 vs. Richmond (15-8, 7-3)

   - The Rams have lost three straight, but their RPI still has them on pace for an at-large WNIT bid (historically eligible teams with RPIs of 130 or better have gotten bids). The remaining schedule is also shaped to allow the Rams to establish some winning momentum heading into the A-10 tournament, particularly if they can close by avenging last week's loss to rival Richmond.
   Star turns: Adaeze Alaeze and Isis Thorpe have been key contributors.

Old Dominion 
(13-8, 6-4)
RPI: 135
Conference USA standing: 4th
Remaining schedule: Thursday vs. UTSA (11-12, 6-5); Saturday vs. UTEP (9-11, 4-7); Feb. 19 at Southern Miss (15-7, 8-3); Feb. 22 at Louisiana Tech (11-11, 6-5); Feb. 26 vs. Rice (7-14, 2-8); Feb. 28 vs. North Texas (3-18, 2-8); Mar 5 at Marshall (14-8, 6-5); Mar 7 at Western Kentucky (20-4, 9-2)

   - Last season, something clicked in for the Lady Monarchs in mid-February - they closed the season on a five-game winning streak, won their C-USA tourney opener and knocked off Navy in WNIT first round. They could use a similar surge now as for the third year in a row the team hits the business end of its schedule in a bit of a gray area in terms of at-large WNIT prospects. The good news is the schedule provides plenty of opportunities to enhance their status, and possibly even make a legitimate push for the conference title. League leaders Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, while strong, have at least shown some vulnerability in conference play. And even if the Lady Monarchs can't catch those teams, hanging onto a Top-4 seed would put ODU on equal footing with the frontrunners in the conference tournament. The question is, can Old Dominion beat the caliber of team it'll need to beat to make a late run possible? To date, ODU's best RPI win came against VCU (121); 11 of the team's 13 wins have come against teams with RPIs of 176 or beyond - in other words, the bottom half of the Division I pool. We're not saying ODU isn't capable of beating teams in the RPI Top 100. They just haven't done it yet.
   Star turn: Jennie Simms, who lit up Florida International for 45 points a couple weeks ago, has been the focal point of the team all season and is a strong first-team All-C-USA candidate.

William and Mary
(11-12, 5-7)
RPI: 139
CAA standing: 7th
Remaining schedule: Friday vs. Delaware (12-11, 7-5); Sunday vs. Charleston (4-18, 2-9); Feb. 22 at Elon (14-8, 7-4); Feb. 26 at Charleston (4-18, 2-9); Mar 1 vs. Northeastern (4-18, 1-11); Mar 4 vs. Towson (10-14, 6-6)

    - If teams were ranked by how dramatically their contests unfold, the Tribe would be a Top-25 squad, maybe even Top-10. At this rate, we suspect Ed Swanson's hair to look like Steve Martin's by season's end. And things could get even more exciting if the Tribe can finish strong. A .500 or better final record could merit serious attention from the WNIT selection committee. It would also set them up as a dangerous CAA tournament team - especially if they can be in the opposite bracket of JMU. Of course, every team in the CAA wants that.
   Star turns: We're huge fans of Jazmen Boone, a high-motor/high IQ player whose impact on games extends far beyond what can be gleaned from a stat sheet. Also, the more we watch the Tribe, the more we notice how many good things sophomore Alexandra Masaquel does. Newcomers Jenna Green and Abby Rendle are building strong all-freshman team cases.

(14-10, 11-4)
RPI: 189
Big South standing: 2nd
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Charleston Southern (5-18, 1-13); Feb. 17 at Winthrop (13-10, 9-5); Feb. 21 vs. Campbell (14-9, 9-5); Feb. 24 vs. UNC Asheville (7-17, 6-9); Feb. 28 at High Point (15-10, 11-5)

   - The youthful Highlanders, who went 5-15 in conference last year, already have more conference wins than any season since 2010-11. If they can hold onto second place, they can leave themselves in great position for at least a WNIT bid (if Liberty won the Big South tournament, the league's automatic WNIT slot would go to the next-highest regular-season finisher). They're also on pace to show up at that tournament with just as good a shot as anyone not named Liberty of taking the crown (actually, they gave Liberty all they could handle when the teams met the first time, although the Lady Flames rolled in the rematch). In short, the rebuilding of Radford isn't on schedule; it's ahead of schedule.
   Star turns: Radford's "A Team" - Aisha Foy and Ayana Avery - are on track for all-conference honors. Radford's "J Team" - Janalya White and Jayda Worthy - are top candidates for all-freshman recognition.

Virginia Tech
(10-14, 1-10)
RPI: 205
ACC standing: Tied for 13th (Wake Forest, Clemson)
Remaining schedule: Thursday at Pittsburgh (15-8, 5-5);Sunday vs. Syracuse (17-7, 7-4); Feb. 19 vs. Louisville (20-3, 8-2); Feb. 22 at Virginia (15-8, 5-5); Mar 1 at Boston College (10-13, 2-8)

   - The struggle to gain consistent ACC traction continues. In fact, this year it's actually been a bit harder to find. I mean, Tech's last two ACC seasons (4-14 two years ago, 4-12 last year) could hardly be classified as breakthroughs. But if you looked carefully enough you could detect small signs of improvement. This season, though, Tech seems to have ceded the modest ground it appeared to have gained gained relative to its ACC foes. But enough about what Tech hasn't done. With five games left, here's what the Hokies can do. Even the least-successful Tech teams in recent years have managed to play above themselves and knock off one power team, a Vanderbilt, a Maryland, a North Carolina, a Florida State. Such a feat is still out there for these Hokies. Also, Virginia Tech has lost 17 straight games to archrival Virginia, a stat that must gall Tech fans everywhere. Wouldn't it be something if, after so many setbacks, this was the team that finally snapped that streak?
   Star turns: Frankly, ACC play has been tough on most of the Hokies. Vanessa Panousis, Taijah Campbell and Sidney Cook have all had their moments, though.

George Mason 
(12-12, 4-7)
RPI: 216
Atlantic 10 standing: Tied for 8th (Saint Louis, St. Joseph's)
Remaining schedule: Saturday vs. VCU (14-10, 5-6); Feb. 18 at St. Joseph's (8-14, 4-6); Feb. 21 at Saint Louis (11-12, 4-6); Feb. 25 vs. Fordham (17-7, 9-2); Mar 1 at George Washington (21-2, 10-0)

   - Wednesday's 85-79 overtime loss at UMass, a game the Patriots at one point led by 12, had to sting. Still, by the standard of a 2013-14 season in which the Patriots won just one regular season conference game, this campaign is already a success. And the remaining schedule offers some realistic opportunities to make even more noise. Then there's this - No George Mason team has finished a season with a winning record since 2003-04. Even after Wednesday's setback, these Patriots have a legitimate chance of breaking that streak.
   Star turn: Taylor Brown is averaging a league-leading 20.6 ppg in Atlantic 10 play. Best of all, she's specialized in producing must-have points down the stretch, something she displayed yet again Wednesday when, with 26 seconds left, Brown drained a 3-pointer UMass knew she wanted to take to force overtime. At this point it's hard to see anyone except George Washington's Jonquel Jones taking A-10 Player of the Year honors. But even if the Patriots don't finish in the top half of the league, Brown should be an easy choice for the All-A-10 first team.

Norfolk State 
(8-14, 7-4)
RPI: 288
MEAC standing: 3rd
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Morgan State (9-13, 6-4); Feb. 21 at Coppin State (3-18, 2-8); Feb. 23 vs. Delaware State (5-17, 2-7); Mar 2 at Howard (3-20, 3-7); Mar 5 at Hampton (12-11, 8-2)
   - Considering this team had a 2-11 record when it tipped off at Florida A&M on Jan. 10, the fact that the Spartans are in nominal contention for a MEAC title ranks up there with the turnarounds at Radford and William and Mary among the most pleasant developments in the state this season. Realistically, the Spartans will be hard-pressed to catch a Hampton team that is two games ahead in the loss column. But the top three seeds in the MEAC tournament earn first-round byes. If the Spartans can get one of those, in a tournament being played a Cardale Jones throw from campus at the Norfolk Scope, well, who knows?
   Star turns: Like Hampton's Malia Tate-DeFreitas, NSU's Rae Corbo is having a MEAC Player of the Year-caliber season. Meanwhile, freshman Kayla Roberts, who had 26 points and 25 rebounds against Hampton, looks like the frontrunner for Freshman of the Year honors. Also, in MEAC-only games, Jazamine Gray leads the conference in assists (6.0 apg).

(3-22, 3-13)
RPI: 346
Big South standing: 10th
Remaining schedule: Saturday at Coastal Carolina (10-13, 4-10); Feb. 17 vs. Liberty (18-6, 14-1); Feb. 21 vs. Presbyterian (12-12, 7-8); Feb. 28 at Charleston Southern (5-18, 1-13)

   - Key injuries short-circuited Longwood's 2014-15 season just when it was getting started. Credit the remaining Lancers for hanging in there and making opponents earn whatever they get over the past several weeks. A healthy Longwood team will be a handful next season.
   Star turn: Quiet as it's kept, in Big South play Raven Williams ranks third in the conference in scoring (15.2 ppg) and minutes played (34.5), fourth in assists (3.31), sixth in free throw percentage (75.0), seventh in steals (2.13) and 10th in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage. Other than that, opponents have pretty much held her in check.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Calling all Cavaliers for Payback Thursday vs. Duke

Calling all Cavaliers - your Virginia women's basketball team needs a signature victory on Thursday night.

And look who's coming to John Paul Arena.

That would be mighty Duke, sporting a No. 11 national ranking and and fresh off a 39-point spanking of didn't-know-what-hit-'em Clemson. A tall order, no question. But for a Virginia team running out of time to launch a serious push for ACC and NCAA tournament relevancy, the high-flying Blue Devils are hitting town at just the right time.

Now we know these Cavaliers will bring the effort and want-to. And of course, they'll always have Faith. But against a team of Duke's caliber, that may not be enough.

That's why we're calling all Cavaliers - the women's basketball fans, naturally, but the men's basketball and football faithful, too, the frat boys and sorority girls, leather-lunged children in and around Charlottesville, anyone with even a modicum of U.Va. loyalty - to show up loud and proud to put some wind at their Cavaliers' backs and make this Payback Thursday.

What's Payback Thursday? Well, remember football season? The Cavaliers were 4-2 heading into their showdown at Duke; they fell 20-13 (to a backup QB, no less) and finished the year 5-7 and out of the bowl game mix. Virginia fans can blame a lot of things for having to sit out yet another gridiron postseason. Why not blame Duke?

And Virginia's 21-1 men's basketball team; remember who dealt the Cavaliers that lone blemish, stealing victory with some unconscious 3-point shooting in the final minutes? When what looked for all the world like a glorious ESPN Gameday showcase morphed into simply another notch in Coach K's 1,000-notch belt?

Cavaliers fans, surely you don't want to see this ugly trend continue. To paraphrase the late, great Al Davis, this time Duke must go down, and Duke must go down hard.

Now, these Blue Devils won't rattle easily. But that doesn't mean thousands (and thousands! as the Rock might say) shouldn't come prepared to try and rattle them anyway. Of course, we don't advocate taunting; we'd like to think of fan interaction as more of a public service. See, JPJ is such a cozy, inviting venue the Blue may go through pre-game warmups feeling as though they're at home. But if thousands of fans unleash a double-barreled shot of boos so fierce it makes the blue hairs stand up on the back of their necks, well, shoot, that's not taunting. That's just letting 'em know that "hey, guys, this ain't Durham."

And suppose, say, Duke guard Ka'lia Johnson jacks up a shot that misses everyone, but she thinks it may have grazed the rim. If thousands of fans scream "Aiiiir-ballllllll!" well, shoot, that's not taunting. That's just helping the young lady out.

So scarf up those tickets, folks, and fill up JPJ Thursday night. Boyle's Brigade, Sarah's Soldiers, Faith's Faithful, call yourselves what you will. Just be there.

The women's basketball team needs to beat Duke. Virginia needs to beat Duke.

Help make it happen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

VCU, meet Richmond. Richmond, VCU. Now let's get it on!

Like superheroes, rivalry games deserve theme songs. With that in mind, this N'Sync classic - a bit of an oxymoron, sure, but bear with us - is as good as any for Wednesday night's VCU-Richmond showdown (7 p.m., Robins Center).

As we hit the halfway point in the Atlantic 10 schedule, both the fifth-place Spiders (13-8, 5-3) and sixth-place Rams (14-8, 5-4) are in hot pursuit of byes in next month's Atlantic 10 tournament, conveniently held once again at the Richmond Coliseum. The top four seeds begin tournament play in the quarterfinals, three games away from the title. Seeds 5-10 start out four games from glory while seeds 11-14 face an unlikely five-game trek.

Now, it's going to be tough to catch current league-leaders George Washington (19-2, 8-0) and Dayton (16-4, 7-1). But the Spiders and Rams don't have to. Securing Top-4 seeds would put them on equal tournament footing with the A-10 powers - with the bonus of hometown advantage - in the chase for A-10 supremacy and an NCAA tournament bid.

The hunt for a prime tournament spot continues tonight, and neither team has much margin for error. Tonight's game is particularly important to the home team Spiders as most realistic scenarios for success involve protecting home court and "stealing" a few on the road. Richmond has already lost one conference home game (a week ago vs. Dayton). A second conference home loss would be tough to overcome in the Top-4 race.

That said, VCU already has four conference losses so the Rams need this one badly, too.

Historical numbers often have little to do with the game in front of us. But these are kinda cool:

- The teams have met 70 times previously, with each team winning 35;

- Last year the teams played three times in three different venues (Robins Center, Siegel Center, Richmond Coliseum), with the Rams taking two of the three;

- As best we can determine, VCU's last victory in this series at the Robins Center came on Jan. 7, 2000.

And of course, intra-city bragging rights are on the line - at least until the teams meet again on March 1 at VCU.

Now if any of these subplots gives the players extra motivation - or teases fans to check this one out - great. But in terms of the prime importance of tonight's contest, well, take another look at the video above.

Justin Timberlake says it best.

Players to watch

RICHMOND: Janelle Hubbard is averaging a team-best 14.9 ppg while shooting 40.5 percent from 3 and knocking down nearly 90 percent of her free throws...A-10 Most Improved Player Award candidate Lauren Tolson may be averaging "only" 13.3 ppg, but every time we watch the Spiders she strokes it like Steph Curry...Liz ("Dirk") Brown can be a difference-making caliber shooter - when she remembers to pull the trigger. Let it fly, Liz!

VCU: Nice feature story in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch on homegirl Ashley Pegram on her convoluted-yet-rewarding journey to becoming a Ram...In addition to having one of the sport's most charming names, Adaeze "Dukes" Alaeze also has a major impact on winning - the Rams are 12-2 when she scores in double figures...Chadarryl Clay, a transfer from Auburn, is coming off a career-high 19-point effort in Saturday's 74-65 loss to La Salle.