Thursday, April 20, 2017

JMU grad Okafor bound for med school and she could use your help
















Dr. Lady.

We like the sound of it.

If you followed James Madison women's basketball when Lauren "Lady" Okafor played, you know this. In addition to being a beast on the court, she was a brain off it -- a pre-med and psychology major with plans to become a doctor.

Okafor played with the WNBA's Atlanta Dream for a season after her 2015 graduation from JMU (that included back-to back trips to the NCAA tournament under Kenny Brooks) before deciding she didn't want to put her medical career on hold any longer.

She completed the graduate biomedical sciences program offered by Georgetown and George Mason and began studying for the MCATs while holding down two jobs in Richmond. One allows her to do research for VCU's School of Medicine and the other is a full-time position as a case manager for a behavioral health agency.

The great news is she's bound for the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University this fall.

After an interview back in October, she got the offer just 11 days later.

"I loved the school; it was my sister's alma mater," she said. "It was awesome to go there and get my own perspective on the place."

Okafor considered continuing her playing career overseas, but her academics has always been front and center. At JMU, she was the Mama Bear who had in book in hand during road trips. Late games meant late nights at the library. Don't forget also, Okafor's long list of accolades at JMU include the Dean Ehlers Leadership Award and the CAA's Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2015.

"I've never been an instant gratification kind of girl," she said. "If I had played another year, that could have meant two or three years until I gained entrance to medical school and another half year to year until I start medical school. I just decided to charge forward."

But here's the deal. Medical school costs big bucks. She's started a gofundme page trying to raise $20,000 for a tab that will be upwards of $324,000 once it's all said and done.

Okafor is interested in surgery or family medicine with a sports medicine focus. She wants to use her sports background and remain involved with young athletes.

"I've always wanted to be a doctor," she said. "I've always been intellectually curious in biomedical science, the ones who asks the doctor a billion questions. I've always loved medicine."

Now she needs a little help to study it.

To read more on Okafor's plans and to make a donation (even a little bit helps), check out her page here.

Good luck, Lady! Let us know when we can officially add the Dr. to your name.






Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Division I award winners - the best and the brightest


First of all, a special shoutout to Old Dominion star Jennie Simms, who was named an Associated Press honorable mention All-American to break a five-year drought for Virginia's Division I schools. Simms is this state's first D-I All-American since ex-VCU star Courtney Hurt received honorable mention status in 2012.

We were concerned that Old Dominion's failure to secure a postseason bid might work against Simms when it came to receiving national accolades. In this case, it looks as though it didn't. Still, it's interesting to note that of the 38 All-Americans, only Simms played on a team that wasn't invited to either the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT (Northwestern's Nia Coffey also didn't play in a postseason tournament, but that's because the Wildcats declined a WNIT bid). Fair or not, team success typically factors in heavily when handing out these awards.

Simms was also one of two conference players of the year among Virginia performers, along with JMU's Precious Hall.

The following is a school-by-school list of all the conference award winners, both for performance and academics.

Radford 

Destinee Walker, 5-11 Soph. G/F, Florence, S.C. - first team All-Big South
     - Averaged 14.1 points and 6.2 rebounds and finished among the league's top 10 in five other categories during a breakout campaign. Came in third in Big South Player of the Year balloting.

Jayda Worthy, 6-0 Jr. F, Toledo, Ohio -first team All-Big South
     - Averaged 12.0 points on a league-leading 59.3 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds (4th in the Big South), all while contributing her usual array of intangibles.

Janayla White, 6-2 Jr. F, Virginia Beach - honorable mention All-Big South
     - Overcame nagging injuries to finish third in the Big South in rebounding (7.8) and second in blocks (1.5). Also chipped in 8.8 ppg.  Has made an all-conference team in each of her three seasons.

Khiana Johnson, 5-7 Fr. G, Chesapeake - Big South All-Freshman
     - Former Western Branch High star ranked fourth on the Highlanders and third among all Big South freshmen in scoring (7.5 ppg).

Rachael Ross, 6-2 R-Sr. C, Naperville, Ill. - Big South All-Academic
     - A two-time all-academic team selection, Ross already has her bachelor's degree in communication and is carrying a 3.66 GPA while pursuing a graduate degree in corporate and professional communication.


Liberty


Keyen Green, 6-1 Fr. F, Philadelphia - Big South Freshman of the Year, second team Big South
     - Liberty's first conference freshman of the year since 2001-02 (Kristal Tharp). Won a conference-record eight freshman of the week awards. Went into the conference tournament leading the Big South in rebounding (8.0), ranking second in field-goal percentage (58.8) and ninth in scoring (12.3).

Iva Ilic, 5-7 Fr. G, Koprivnica, Croatia - Big South All-Freshman
     - Led all Big South freshmen with 40 3-pointers. Ranked fourth among conference freshmen in assists (2.0) and fifth in points (7.3).

Ola Makurat, 6-2 Fr, G/F, Sierakowice, Poland - Big South All-Freshman
     - Ranked third among Big South freshmen in rebounding (5.1) and fifth in scoring (6.8). Earned the conference's Keyen Green, er, we mean Freshman of the Week award for the final week of the regular season.

Audrey Rettstatt, 6-0 Sr. G/F, Galena, Ohio - Big South All-Academic
      - The Lady Flames' lone senior and a three-time Big South Presidential Honor Roll member, Rettstatt owns a 3.88 GPA as an exercise science major and is on track to graduate in May.

Longwood

Micaela Ellis, 5-5 Jr. G, Oak Park, Mich. - Big South All-Academic
     - Ellis made the all-academic team for the second straight year and had a breakout season on the court, highlighted by a school-record 15 assist effort in a win over Winthrop. She finished second in the Big South in assists and assist-turnover ratio.

Richmond

Janelle Hubbard, 5-8 Sr. G, Glenn Dale, Md.- third team All-Atlantic 10
     - An all-conference pick for the third straight year, Hubbard averaged a team-best 14.1 points per game. She finished her career with 1,717 points, the fifth-most in program history.

Jaide Hinds-Clarke, 6-1 Fr. F, Westwood, N.J. - Atlantic 10 All-Rookie
     - A three-time Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week pick, Hinds-Clarke averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 17 minutes per game. Richmond's first all-rookie team selection since 2011-12 (Liz Brown).

George Mason

Kara Wright, 5-11 Sr. G/F, Louisville - third team All-Atlantic 10
     - All Wright did was lead the Patriots in scoring, rebounding, assists, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Jacy Bolton, 6-0 Fr. guard/forward, Drexel, Mo. - Atlantic 10 All-Rookie
     - Ranked third on the Patriots in scoring and rebounding and led the team in steals.

VCU

GG Goodhope, 5-5 R-Sr. G, Norfolk - Atlantic 10 All-Academic
     - Goodhope already has a degree in biology and is set to earn a second bachelor's in psychology in May. She currently carries a 3.85 GPA.

Old Dominion

Jennie Simms, 6-0 R-Sr., G, Accokeek, Md. - C-USA Player of the Year, first team All-C-USA
Division I's No. 2 scorer (26.0 ppg) and one of only two players to average at least 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. A three-time first team All-C-USA pick.

Destinee Young, 6-1 Sr. F, Hoffman Estates, Ill. - second team All-C-USA, C-USA All-Defensive
     - The only player in Conference USA to average a double-double (10.9 points, 11.1 rebounds). Led C-USA in rebounding and finished fourth in blocks (1.6).

JMU

Precious Hall, 5-8 R-Sr. G, Tallahassee, Fla. - CAA Player of the Year, first team All-CAA
     - A two-time CAA Player of the Year (2015), Hall averaged 23.3 points during the regular season, the fifth-best mark in Division I. After leading her team to the WNIT round of 16, Hall finished her career with 2,347 points, second only to Dawn Evans in JMU history.

Lexie Barrier, 5-10 Fr. G, Ironton, Ohio - CAA All-Rookie
     - A two-time CAA Rookie of the Week selection, Barrier's 7.0 points per game averaged ranked third among conference freshmen.

Kamiah Smalls, 5-10 Fr. G, Philadelphia - CAA Rookie of the Year, CAA All-Rookie
     - A six-time CAA Rookie of the Week and the unanimous pick as the league's top newcomer, Smalls led CAA freshmen in rebounding and ranked third in assists.

William and Mary

Alexandra Masaquel, 5-10 Sr. F, Honolulu - second team All-CAA, CAA All-Academic
     - Led the Tribe in scoring and rebounding in CAA play and ranked among the league's top 10 in rebounding, field-goal percentage, steals and offensive and defensive rebounds. Became the 18th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points. She finished her career with 1,030.

Marlena Tremba, 5-9 Sr. G, Vienna, Va. - second team All-CAA, CAA All-Academic
     - Led William and Mary in scoring in each of her four seasons and finishes third in program history for career points with 1,595. Ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring, assists, free-throw percentage, minutes played, steals and 3-pointers made.

Abby Rendle, 6-4 Jr. C, Reston, Va. - CAA All-Defensive
     - A two-time All-Defensive team member, Rendle set the school's single-season record for blocks (101) and ranked sixth nationally with 3.26 blocks per game. For the second straight year, she also recorded a triple-double; Rendle has the only two of those in Tribe history.

Jenna Green, 5-9 Jr. G, Clifton, Va. - CAA All-Academic
     - Green ranked third in the CAA in assists (4.4 apg). The finance major has also won a pair of provost awards for having a 3.5 GPA or better.

Norfolk State

Kayla Roberts, 6-1 Jr. F, Miami - first team All-MEAC
     - The fourth Spartan to receive first-team All-MEAC honors, Roberts led the Spartans in scoring (12.1 ppg) and ranked third in the conference in rebounding (9.0). Roberts has since announced plans to transfer.

Jordan Strode, 5-8 R-Sr. G, Charlotte - second team All-MEAC
     - A transfer from St. Joseph's, Strode stepped right into the NSU starting lineup and delivered 11.9 points per game, second among Spartans, in her final season of eligibility.

Hampton

Kaylah Lupoe, 6-2 Jr. F, Phoenix - second team All-MEAC
     - A third-team all-conference pick as a sophomore, Lupoe followed up by averaging 8.0 points and 5.9 rebounds while rejecting 66 shots, the fourth-highest single-season total in program history.

Ashley Bates, 5-7 Fr. G, Hopkins, Minn. - MEAC All-Rookie
     - Bates' finished with modest averages - 5.8 points and 3.2 rebounds - but delivered 13 points and six boards a night during one five-game stretch before her season was cut short by injury.

Virginia

Jocelyn Willoughby, 6-0 Fr. G, East Orange, N.J. - ACC All-Freshman; ACC All-Academic
     - Willoughby led the Cavaliers and ranked second among all ACC freshmen in rebounding. She is the first freshman to lead Virginia in rebounding since 2002 (Brandi Teamer). Also led all conference rookies in steals per game (1.7 spg).

Dominique Toussaint, 5-9 Fr. G, Staten Island, N.Y. - ACC All-Freshman
     - Toussaint finished third among ACC rookies in scoring (9.5 ppg) and had several clutch performances, including drilling a 3-pointer to force overtime against Syracuse, dropping 12 of her career-high 19 points in overtime in a win over Wake Forest and scoring a team-high 14 points in the Cavaliers' upset of then-4th-ranked Florida State.

Breyana Mason, 5-8 Sr. G, Woodbridge, Va. - ACC All-Academic team
     - A three-time all-academic team honoree, Mason is one of only three Virginia athletes in any sport to receive a 2017 ACC Weaver-James-Corrigan postgraduate scholarship for performing with distinction in the classroom and the playing field while displaying exemplary conduct in the community. Oh, and she also finished her career with 1,080 points.

Lauren Moses, 6-2 Jr. F, Mount Holly, N.J. - ACC All-Academic
     - A debut all-academic team member, Moses contributed another solid season on the court as she ranked second among Cavaliers in rebounding (5.7 rpg) and third in scoring (9.5 ppg). She also notched her career high in scoring by delivering 27 points at Richmond.

Virginia Tech

Vanessa Panousis, 5-7 Sr. G, Sydney, Australia - ACC All-Academic
     - The most prolific 3-point shooter in Virginia Tech history, Panousis connected on a program-record 269 triples in her career. This is also the third straight year Panousis has made the all-academic team.

Samantha Hill, 5-10 Sr. G, Toronto, Canada - ACC All-Academic
     - Rewarded with increased playing time, Hill flourished in her final season as she averaged 10.4 points - more than four times greater than the 2.5 ppg she produced as a junior.

Regan Magarity, 6-3 R-Soph, F, Norrkoping, Sweden - ACC All-Academic
     - Set a program record by recording a double-double in seven straight games. Also averaged a double-double in ACC play (13.8 ppg, 10.3 apg).



Thursday, March 23, 2017

JMU, Virginia Tech resume play in WNIT




Virginia Tech and JMU return to action Thursday night as the Women's National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) rolls on Thursday night with eight round of 16 matchups. A look at tonight's schedule:

Virginia Tech (19-13) at Penn State (21-10), 7 p.m.

 - Virginia Tech's challenge became more daunting when hosting privileges were awarded, as Penn State has won nine straight at home and is 16-1 at Bryce Jordan Center this season. Only Duke and Bucknell, both 16-0, have more wins with fewer losses at home among Division I teams. Virginia Tech is 15-0 against non-ACC opponents this season, but only three of those games (Auburn, Charleston, UCF) were on the road. Tech did prevail at Penn State last year, nabbing a 64-59 victory on Dec. 3, 2015. Four of the Hokies' current five starters logged at least 23 minutes in that game and the fifth, Sidney Cook, played 16. Game will showcase three sensational sophomores - Penn State's Teniya Page and Virginia Tech's Chanette Hicks and Regan Magarity. Page, a first-team All-Big Ten pick who has already joined her school's 1,000 career points club, is averaging 19.8 points per game and has been particularly tough in late-game situations. The dynamic Hicks leads the Hokies in scoring and ranks fifth nationally in steals per game. And Magarity, a redshirt sophomore, just broke Tech's single season record for rebounds (300) and has scored at least 24 points in each of her last three games. Both teams own a signature early season home win over Tennessee; The Nittany Lions beat the Lady Vols the Sunday before Thanksgiving; the Hokies did likewise three days after the holiday.

Next up: The winner will face Thursday's Michigan-St. John's winner in the WNIT quarterfinals.

Villanova (18-14) at JMU (26-8), 7 p..m.

- These teams have never played before. But the Dukes have played Drexel at least two times a season - three in 2016-17 - for years, and there are a lot of similarities between the two Philadelphia schools. Drexel coach Denise Dillon starred at Villanova under long-time coach Harry Paretta, and she borrowed liberally from the Wildcats' playbook when establishing her own program. Obviously the personnel is different and it's not a perfect match. But like Drexel, Villanova makes you defend deep into the shot clock, hoists a lot of 3-pointers, makes its free throws and doesn't beat itself with turnovers. The Wildcats lead Division I in fewest turnovers per game and have paced Division I in this category in five of the past eight seasons. The Wildcats are statistically a subpar rebounding team, though, so the Dukes could enjoy a significant edge on the boards. JMU also has one of Division I's top closers in guard Precious Hall, who has been fearless - and money - in clutch situations all season.

Next up: The winner faces Thursday's Indiana-SMU winner in the WNIT quartefinals.

Other WNIT games Thursday (Eastern time)

St. John's at Michigan, 6 p.m.
SMU at Indiana, 7 p.m.
Middle Tennessee at Georgia Tech, 7 p.m.
Tulane at Alabama, 8 p.m.
Colorado at Iowa, 8 p.m.
UC Davis at Washington State, 10 p.m.

Complete WNIT bracket

Top scorers remaining in WNIT

1. Precious Hall, JMU - 23.7 ppg (3rd in Division I)
2. Tori Jankoska, Michigan - 22.6 (9th)
3. Alex Johnson, Middle Tennessee - 20.6 (16th)
4. Katelynn Flaherty, Michigan - 19.8 (21st)
5. Teniya Page, Penn State - 19.8 (22nd)
6. Kolby Morgan, Tulane - 18.9 (35th)
7. Megan Gustafson, Iowa - 18.7 (40th)
8. Tyra Buss, Indiana - 18.4 (47th)
9. Ty Petty, Middle Tennessee - 18.4 (51st)
10. Kennedy Leonard, Colorado - 17.4 (74th)



Friday, March 17, 2017

Even minus Tate-DeFreitas, Bates and Green, this Hampton team can play a little, too



The last time Hampton visited Duke for an NCAA Tournament game, the Lady Pirates had the nation's best scoring defense, three all-conference performers, including the league's player of the year, and a resume featuring victories over LSU and at Mississippi State.

The Blue Devils won anyway.

Four years later, the Lady Pirates are back in Durham. The defense isn't quite as stingy, the resume not nearly as sterling. And the lone all-conference performer spent the past week wearing a walking boot.

Meanwhile, Duke is still, well, Duke. Clearly, on paper there isn't much to recommend these 15th-seeded Lady Pirates (20-12) when they tip off against the No. 2 Blue Devils (27-5) in an NCAA Tournament first-round game Saturday at 9 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Of course, if the Lady Pirates paid attention to what was "supposed to happen," Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T or some other Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference contender would be in this spot. Instead, much to those teams' chagrin, we now know that even a wounded Hampton team is a menace in the MEAC.

It's not that Hampton didn't miss two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas, MEAC All-Rookie team guard Ashley Bates and point guard Chanel Green, all of whom went down with season-ending injuries.

But these healthy Lady Pirates can play, too.

Forward Jephany Brown was a two-time junior college All-American. Guard Monnazjea Finney-Smith, a transfer from VCU, was one of the top players in talent-rich Hampton Roads coming out of high school. Forward Kaylah Lupoe made the All-MEAC team.

Point guard DeJane "Snoop" James went for 16 points and five assists in the MEAC semifinal victory over North Carolina A&T; Aggies coach Tarrell Robinson said James has the potential to become one of the best players in the league. Georgianna Gilbeaux, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the conference from the day she arrived on campus.

A case can be made that, even with the injuries, Hampton still boasted arguably the league's best starting five. And then there's pint-sized point guard K'lynn Willis, often a dynamic contributor, and forward Mikayla Sayle, who capably stepped in when Lupoe (ankle) went down with yet another injury in the title game.

As strange as this may seem given all the hits to Hampton's roster, the best team still won the MEAC.

The problem now, is, Duke isn't a MEAC team. And the Blue Devils are especially tough at Cameron - Duke is 16-0 at home this season and has won its last 86 games against unranked teams at home.

"Last year our men's coach Edward Joyner speed-dialed Jesus before they played Kentucky," Lady Pirates coach David Six quipped. "I'm going to ask him to text me that number."

But again, as banged up as Hampton is, it's not as though Six will be sending a JV team out there Saturday night.

Notable nuggets

- When Hampton visited Duke in the 2013 NCAA Tournament first round, the Lady Pirates came in with a 19-game winning streak and a defense that allowed just 47.8 points per game, the fewest in Division I that season and the third-best mark in NCAA D-I history. Yet the Lady Pirates were still seeded 15th, a designation that even Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie considered inaccurate. The Lady Pirates pulled within six points midway through the second half before the Blue Devils pulled away for a 67-51 victory.

- Hampton and Duke also met in the 2010 NCAA first round, again at Duke. The Blue Devils rolled to a 72-37 decision.

- A No. 15 seed has never beaten a No. 2 seed in the NCAA women's tournament. The official count - No. 2 seeds 94, No. 15 seeds 0.

- Duke is an emphatic 5-0 against teams from Virginia this season. How emphatic? The Blue Devils beat Virginia by 19 points, Old Dominion by 28, Virginia Tech by 35, Longwood by 57 and Liberty by 60.

- These teams have had three common opponents in 2016-17. Duke beat Old Dominion by 28 points and South Carolina by nine, both at home, and lost by three at North Carolina State. Hampton lost at Old Dominion by three, at N.C. State by 25 and at South Carolina by (gulp) 54.

Related
Hampton to face Duke (again) in NCAA Tourney



The real deal on JMU's O'Regan: "What you see is what you get"


We thought we knew Sean O'Regan. After all, this blog is growing old at seven years and counting, and we've chitchatted with the first-year Dukes associate head coach over the years when he was an assistant to Kenny Brooks.

Nice guy, we'd say afterward. I mean really nice guy.

If we could use one word to describe O'Regan, it would be genuine, and that's refreshing. You see we're both familiar with coaches whom act one way in front of the cameras and crowds and another way behind closed doors.

Catching up with him at last week's CAA Tournament, we wondered, is he different now? I mean, he's the big boss now. Making the bigger bucks. Sitting in the bigger office. What's he really like? Who could we ask? Would Precious tell us? His assistants?

We checked with his wife, Cara. And here's what it boils down to.

"What you see is what you get," she said.

If anyone knows O'Regan, whose Dukes host Radford in a first-round WNIT game on Friday, it's Cara. Now we'd say that about any spouse, but these two go back really far. How far, exactly, is in dispute, however.

"He claims kindergarten," she said.

She says it was fourth grade. Both agree it was Union Elementary School in Montpelier, Vermont.

Now when we heard that, we had to push for a few more details. Sounds like an episode of "This is Us," right? Especially when she points to the bracelet on her right arm.

"He gave this to me in sixth grade," she said.

They knew each other through high school and connected at times in college, but then lost touch after the first year or so. He's a JMU alum;  she went to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

But one day they ran into each other back home in Vermont, and the rest is, well, O'Regan history. They've been married nine years and have two cutie-pie children, Addison and Liam.

The kids get a kick out of seeing their dad on the JMU team poster. He remains humble about all of it. O'Regan worked long hours as an assistant, so the days that spill into nights are nothing new, Cara said. He just has more to shoulder as the big cheese instead of the assistant to to the big cheese.

"I tell him, 'Don't tell me you're going to be home at 6 if it's 6:30,' "she said.

Or 7:30, 8:30. Is it 10:30 already?

"He takes a fatherly approach to the team," she said.

And, of course, he's a great dad and hubby at home (pick up the laundry, Coach).

"Truly, he's my best friend," said Cara, who wrapped up Duke Dog cufflinks to celebrate his inaugural head coaching victory. "He's just a really great guy."

Here's what else she told us, but we already knew. He cares. JMU is his alma mater. (Purple, by the way, was her favorite color before she lived in Harrisonburg.) This isn't just another job to these guys or a steppingstone. It's home.

It was hard not to notice his pain last weekend, pulling Hall out to a standing O with 1:34 left in the title game. The embrace was long, heartfelt, memorable. He answered every question postgame, taking that painful gulp when talking about losing a championship on your home floor.

But soon enough he was pumping JMU up, excited about the opportunity to play more basketball. There's more season left, and O'Regan will ensure his players understand that.

 We wrote earlier in the year that he was the right guy for the job. We stand by it. JMU's loss in the CAA title game was indeed disappointing. But the Dukes still have a chance to make a statement -- to produce a magical run as they did in 2012 when they advanced to the WNIT final. It was a run that laid a foundation for what turned into a trio of NCAA tournament appearances.

In his first season, O'Regan guided JMU to one win shy of an NCAA tournament. He didn't have reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Kayla Cooper-Williams, who went down in the preseason with an ACL tear. Starter Da'Lishia Griffin left the team in December after eight games.

O'Regan was still able to get this team to the finish line, and next year, we believe he'll finish.

Next year he'll have two more seasoned guards in Kamiah Smalls and Lexie Barrier. Cooper-Williams should be healed and Kelly Koshuta will be eligible. Perhaps he'll have a bunch of WNIT wins, maybe even a trophy, to give these Dukes the confidence they need in a conference that's gotten deeper and better since the day of Old Dominion domination.

Whatever the case, he'll have Cara in his corner or shall we say three rows behind press row opposite the bench.

Just like him, she's the genuine sort, easy to get to know. We leave you with the funniest part of our whole chat.

While Cara and Sean didn't go to prom together, they were high school classmates.
'
During their senior year, "he was vice president of the class," she said.

"I was president."




Thursday, March 16, 2017

CNU, Virginia Union stay on championship course


CNU is in its second Final Four in six years.

Two Virginia schools will continue their pursuit of national titles in the days ahead.

On Friday, seventh-seeded Christopher Newport will meet top-seeded and undefeated Amherst (31-0) in the Division III Final Four at 7:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich. And on Tuesday, sixth-seeded Virginia Union will try to invite itself to the Division II Final Four when the Lady Panthers meet No. 3 Columbus State in an Elite Eight matchup at noon in Columbus, Ohio.

The Division III Captains (29-2) will be making their second Final Four appearance in six years. The 2011 Christopher Newport squad, led by four-time All-American guard Chelsie Schweers, finished third in the nation. Ironically, those Captains were stopped by a 31-1 Amherst team in the national semifinals.

This marks the fourth time in five seasons under head coach Bill Broderick that the Captains have reached at least the Sweet 16. Broderick was named the Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year by d3hoops.com.

Click here for more information about the Captains and links to the Final Four coverage.

Virginia Union (26-4) earned its second straight Elite Eight berth on Monday by downing host and top-seeded California (Pa.) 85-69 in the Atlantic Region title game. Senior foward/center Lady Walker, the CIAA's Player and Defensive Player of the Year, led the way with a season-high 32 points and 10 rebounds.

Last year, the Lady Panthers were led by dynamic guard Kiana Johnson, a transfer from Michigan State who led the nation in points and assists and was named the Division II Player of the Year.

Virginia Union prevailed in Pennsylvania despite the absence of star guard Brittany Jackson (18.4 ppg), who was suspended for a violation of team rules and did not make the trip.

Elite Eight opponent Columbus State (31-1) won the Southeast Region by dispatching Lincoln Memorial 86-75.

The ABC's of the 2017 WNIT





The WNIT kicked off Wednesday, and four Virginia schools will begin Friday with first-round games in the 64-team tournament. Here's what you need to know:

Virginia teams in the field - Radford, JMU, Virginia, Virginia Tech

First-round pairings (Virginia schools):

Radford (24-8) at JMU (24-8), Friday, 7 p.m.

Rider (24-8) at Virginia Tech (17-13), Friday, 7 p.m.

Virginia (19-12) at St. Joseph's (17-14, Friday, 7 p.m.

Three keys to WNIT play

Momentum - If you're talking about the positive kind, in the WNIT first round, there's no such thing. Every team in the field is coming off a loss. So in this tournament, no one is trying to build off what just happened. The goal is to build something new.

Motivation - A tricky, at times elusive concept for this event. For some players, a WNIT bid is a coveted reward for a successful season. Others really enjoy playing together and relish the opportunity for more games. But for others, the WNIT is painful consolation after a season geared toward making the NCAAs. And some are just worn out after a long season and would really rather be doing something else. Everybody says the right stuff in the lead-up. But we usually don't learn who really wants to do this until the games begin.

Home court advantage - Since the WNIT expanded to 64 teams in 2010, the home team has won roughly 89 percent of first-round games. Keep that in mind when filling out your WNIT bracket.

You ARE filling out a WNIT bracket, right? You can borrow one here, in case you misplaced yours.

RPI nuggets

Highest RPIs in the field - South Dakota State (38); JMU (41); Central Michigan (43)

Lowest RPIs in the field - Grambling (201); Sacred Heart (202); Seattle (215)

Lowest RPI to receive at-large bid - Louisiana Tech (139)

Note: The RPI of Old Dominion, like Louisiana Tech a member of Conference USA, was 136. Had ODU won its regular season finale against UTSA, the Lady Monarchs would have nabbed the fourth seed in the C-USA Tournament. Instead, the Lady Techsters claimed that spot and positioned themselves for that last WNIT at-large bid. We knew that UTSA loss was damaging. Turns out it may have been even more damaging than we realized.

Surprise omissions

Not sure why Stephen F. Austin (25-7, RPI 89) or Buffalo (22-10, RPI 98, six wins over teams in the WNIT field) didn't get invited. Stephen F. Austin accepted a bid to the WBI. We also would have liked to have seen them find a spot for William and Mary (20-11, RPI 125), which closed with four straight victories, including decisions over WNIT-bound JMU and Drexel, before falling in the CAA Tournament semifinals to Elon.

Breaking it down

Radford at JMU

Both teams were denied a conference title (and NCAA Tournament bid) on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see if each can avoid any emotional hangover. JMU will be playing its sixth straight game at home. Based on the quality of the Dukes' season, relative to this field, the WNIT's hosting guidelines and the school's willingness to bid for home games in previous years, it's conceivable that JMU could continue hosting as long as it remains in the tournament. Of course, Radford aims to make that a one-game deal. The Highlanders have played six straight games decided by three points or fewer/overtime and have had three games end by a final score of 49-48 - including Sunday's heartbreaking loss to UNC Asheville in the Big South final - since Feb. 7. Given both teams' stingy defenses, no one should be surprised to see another low-scoring affair unfold.  But JMU has a fifth gear on offense, and if the Dukes find it, the Highlanders may be hard-pressed to keep up - especially at JMU.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's St. Joseph's-Virginia winner in the second round.


Rider at Virginia Tech

The Hokies will have gone 16 days without a game when they tip off Friday. The sense here is that in this case, the break was probably a good thing for a team that got caught in a vicious downward spiral - losses in 12 of its final 13 games - in the rugged ACC. That said, Virginia Tech still hasn't lost to a non-ACC opponent this season (13-0). If the Hokies haven't been beaten down by what happened the last couple months, this feels like the type of challenge they were successfully navigating in November and December. Rider is one of those teams for which making the WNIT is a major achievement as this is the first such bid in the program's history. The Broncs' 24 wins are the most in a single season at Rider since 1981-82.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's Navy-George Washington winner in the second round.

Virginia at St. Joseph's

On resume the Cavaliers, who narrowly missed out on an NCAA at-large bid, grade out as one of the best teams in this tournament. So it's odd to see them opening play on the road. But Virginia apparently does not bid for home games is this tournament as this is the third straight season the Cavs will kick off WNIT play in someone else's building. It worked out last season, albeit barely, as the Cavaliers traveled to Richmond and rallied from nine points down over the final 6:15 to stun VCU 52-50 in first round action. Virginia added a second victory at Rutgers before bowing in the third round at Hofstra. St. Joe's features former Cavaliers Amanda Fioravanti (8.5 ppg), who transferred after just one semester, and Jaryn Garner (tied for the team high in assists), Fioravanti in particular figures to be extremely motivated to perform well Friday.

Up next: The winner plays Friday's Radford-JMU winner in the second round.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"The Shot" in the NCAA tournament belongs to Elon's coach. Now Phoenix are NCAA-bound



The biggest shot all time in a women's basketball game? Are you thinking Kristi Toliver's stepback 3 over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales in the 2006 national championship game? Without it, Duke almost surely would have won its first NCAA title. With it, Maryland forces overtime and of course, the Terps prevail.

We've got one better. North Carolina and Louisiana Tech faced off in the national championship at the Richmond Coliseum. It was 1994.

The shot they called "The Shot" belongs to Charlotte Smith. She drained a 3 off an inbound pass at the buzzer lifting North Carolina to the national championship 60-59 over the Lady Techsters. It was Sylvia Hatchell's only national title and it came on Easter Sunday.

Last weekend, Smith, now the coach of Elon, celebrated another feat when her Phoenix won their first CAA tournament championship, earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Phoenix, an 11 seed, will play No. 6 West Virginia on Friday in College Park, Md.

Elon has never been to the NCAA tournament and had to knock out host James Madison, a team it had lost to twice during the regular season, to achieve the feat. The Phoenix left no doubt at a JMU Convocation Center decked out in purple, knocking out the Dukes 78-60.

Smith is humble about "The Shot." When asked initially about which moment was bigger -- that memory or reaching this milestone with Elon -- apples and oranges was her initial answer. But she had more to offer.

"I just have to compartmentalize it and separate it. But hitting the game winner to win the national championship is a whole other level. That's huge."

On the other hand . . .

"I'm so super excited for my team. I've wanted them to experience this for a very long time. For six years I've been working hard to try to position a team to be able to feel what I felt as a player. It's a great feeling. It's something that someone can never take away from you."

With a look at the players seated next to her on the podium, she said,  "You will always be the 2017 CAA champions"

"I've pushed them so hard because I believe in this team. I believe in the gifts that I've been blessed with and it was my responsibility to bring it out of them even if it was pushing them at times they didn't understand.

"Coach Hatchell did the same thing for me. She pushed us even when we didn't understand. She wanted more. She wanted more and always pushed for excellence. In order to be a champion, you have to stay hungry. You always have to strive for excellence."

As well as Elon played, Smith wasn't generous about heaping praise on her team until the final buzzer. Even so, she promised to study the tape from the championship to point out to the Phoenix what they could have done even better. Not surprising that she recently re-watched that '94 title game and despite her 23 rebounds -- "I know of five more I could have gotten."

Good stuff, Coach. Or better yet, excellent. In '94 and last Saturday, too.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hampton to face Duke (again) in NCAA Tourney

The slammin' DJ. The giant video screen streaming ESPN's broadcast. And the ballroom full of blue and white-clad well-wishers, with the glistening MEAC championship trophy parked center stage.

Yep, it seemed like ol' times again at Hampton, where after a two-year absence the Lady Pirates women's basketball team celebrated its return to the NCAA Tournament - and learned what happens next - on Selection Monday at the HU student center ballroom.

The Lady Pirates (20-12) are seeded 15th and travel to No. 2 Duke for a first round game Saturday. It's the third time since 2010 the Lady Pirates have visited Duke for a first-round NCAA game. The Blue Devils won both prior meeting.

Obviously, the task is daunting again. But so was the road Hampton traveled to make it this far.

Shindigs like Mondays had become an annual tradition at Hampton, which ripped off five straight MEAC titles from 2010-14. But the Lady Pirates were picked off in the MEAC Tournament the past two seasons, and their bid for a return to glory took a major hit in January when two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas went down with a season-ending knee injury.

Two other starters would join Tate-DeFreitas on the sideline. And in Saturday's final, forward Kaylah Lupoe, the Lady Pirates' only All-MEAC performer, rolled her ankle early in the second quarter and couldn't continue. Somehow, Hampton still prevailed, holding off top-seeded Bethune-Cookman 52-49 to secure the program's ninth NCAA Division I bid and sixth under head coach David Six.

"These ladies on the platform were the only ones who believed we could do it," said an emotional Six, who choked up as he reflected on the journey. "This is the sixth championship, but it's by far the best championship we've had since I've been here."

MEAC schools are 1-25 in the NCAA Tournament, largely because the conference's representative almost always is among the lowest seeds and has usually been assigned a true road game against a national power.

The conference's lone NCAA victory came in 1983 when South Carolina State knocked off La Salle in one of four opening round games. As a reward, the Bulldogs advanced to meet - and get smoked by - top-seeded Tennessee.

No MEAC team was invited to the tournament again until 1984, when the field expanded to 64 teams and each of the 32 D-I conferences received an automatic bid.

Hampton is 0-8 in the NCAAs, falling in the first round each time after winning the conference tournament. No MEAC team has ever received an at-large bid.

"We're going to celebrate the fact that we're champions," Six said. "And when the time is right, we're going to compete like we've never competed before. I know we will, because I've already seen it."

Hampton NCAA results

2000 - 16-15 record, 16th seed, lost at No. 1 UConn 116-45

2003 - 23-9, 15th seed, lost to No. 2 Texas 90-46

2004 - 17-11, 16th seed, lost to No. 1 Penn State 79-42

2010 - 20-12, No. 15 seed, lost to No. 2 Duke 72-37

2011 - 26-7, No. 13 seed, lost to No. 4 Kentucky 62-66 (ot)

2012 - 26-5, No. 16 seed, lost to No. 1 Stanford 73-51

2013 - 28-6, No. 15 seed, lost to No. 2 Duke 67-51

2014 - 28-5, No 12 seed, lost to No. 5 Michigan State 91-61 








Friday, March 10, 2017

Hampton moves one step closer to MEAC title


DeJane James - Snoop to the hoop!

Hampton had "Snoop."

North Carolina A&T had the oops. 

Consequently, the third-seeded Lady Pirates are moving on to Saturday's MEAC final.

Barely.

Sophomore point guard DeJane "Snoop" James had 16 points and five assists as Hampton held off the No. 7 Aggies 64-62 in Friday's MEAC semifinals,, but not before a dramatic A&T rally ate up all but one point of a 14-point Lady Pirates lead. 

"That was like one of those boxing matches where we were on the ropes," Hampton coach David Six said with a relieved smile. "If there had been one more round, I don't know..."

The Aggies made all 10 of their fourth quarter field goals and actually had a chance to set up a game-tying 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left. Instead, they curiously settled for a 2-point layup as the clock dwindled down to less than a second.

The Lady Pirates (19-12) will face top-seeded Bethune-Cookman (21-9) in Saturday's 3 p.m. MEAC final.

A&T scored 29 points in that fourth quarter, but managed just 33 in the first three quarters combined in the face on a dazzlingly disruptive Hampton pressure defense. Indeed, at times it was as though six Lady Pirates were on the floor - at least it must have seemed that way to the Aggies, who committed 30 turnovers.

Hampton's defensive tenacity came at a cost, though, as foul trouble dogged the Lady Pirates throughout. Jephany Brown, who scored 20 points in Thursday's quarterfinal to establish a season high for the third straight game, picked up three fouls in the first half and played just five minutes in the second before fouling out. Kaylah Lupoe, Hampton's All-MEAC forward, played just 11 minutes before fouling out with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter. And exactly one second after Lupoe sat down, her backup, Mikayla Sayle, picked up her fifth and grabbed a seat, too.

But with the Aggies surging and Brown, Lupoe and Sayle unavailable, James - nicknamed Snoop after a character on the HBO series "The Wire" - and her sophomore backcourt partner-in-stature K'lynn Willis (also 5-3) kept things from getting away. Both displayed sure handles, the courage to attack and the confidence to knock down free throws. 

James scored 12 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter and Willis finished with 11 - those two were the only Lady Pirates to score in double figures. The "Mighty-Mites," as Six called them, also combined to make 12 of 15 free throws. 

Asked why his young guards could play with so much poise on such a big stage, Six referenced a non-conference schedule that included trips to Northwestern, Iowa, N.C. State and South Carolina - all before Thanksgiving.

"The stakes are higher," Six said. "But they've played in big games before."

If there's a bright side to Hampton's foul problems Friday, it's that starters Brown and Lupoe, who played nearly the entire game in Thursday's quarterfinals, were unable to extend themselves against the Aggies and may have a bit extra in the tank in Saturday's final.

Bethune-Cookman defeated Hampton 66-56 in the teams' lone regular season meeting on Feb. 18 in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Lady Pirates shot just 26.8 percent from the field and fell despite forcing 35 Wildcat turnovers. 

Saturday's winner will receive the MEAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Related: Hampton survives and advances in MEAC tourney

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hampton survives and advances in MEAC tourney



Thanks to injuries, Hampton no longer has a lot of players.

But the Lady Pirates may have just enough players - and talent - to make another run at a MEAC Tournament title.

Third-seeded Hampton kept its championship bid in play Thursday by downing No. 11 Maryland-Eastern Shore 66-56 in the quarterfinals at Norfolk's Scope. Jephany Brown scored a season-high 20 points and Monnazjea Finney-Smith added 17 for the Lady Pirates, who won their fourth straight and set up a semifinal date with No. 7 North Carolina A&T (15-17) Friday at approximately 2:30 p.m.

The Lady Pirates (18-12) blew a 21-point lead and fell to UMES by three when the teams met in the regular season. And while Hampton trailed for only nine seconds Thursday, the quarterfinal wasn't without one first-game flashback. Hampton shot out to a 12-2 lead and were up by 11 in the second quarter, only to see UMES chip away and seize a 30-29 advantage with 28 seconds left in the half. A few seconds later, though, James found Mikayla Sayle underneath for a transition layup to send the Lady Pirates into the break up 31-20. Hampton would not trail again.

The victory was Hampton's fourth straight and further demonstrated the resiliency of a group that has been rocked by injuries at the most important time of the season.

There's a tendency to assume that, since Hampton won five straight MEAC Tournament titles from 2009-13, that this team can draw on its championship pedigree. In fact, of the current active roster, only senior guard Georgianna Gilbeaux remains from any of Hampton's title-winning team.

This isn't even the same Hampton team that toppled NCAA Tournament-bound Temple in December. Since then, two-time MEAC Player of the Year Malia Tate-DeFreitas, all-rookie team selection Ashley Bates and point guard Chanel Green has all been lost for the season due to injuries.

As a result, of Hampton's five starters Thursday, forward Kaylah Lupoe logged the fewest minutes - she played 36. Finney-Smith and Gilbeaux never came out of the game. Hampton's two reserves, Sayle and K'lynn Willis, combined to play seven of the possible 200 minutes.

After the game, Hampton coach David Six credited his players for their willingness to do whatever it takes.

"They haven't complained about it, they haven't cried about it," Six said. "They just go out and play."

Whether or not the players can sustain that workload and still perform at or near peak efficiency for potentially two more games on consecutive days remains to be seen. But it a league where there appears to be a good bit of parity among the top teams, the crew Hampton has left just might be enough.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Sizing up ODU in the Conference USA tourney


Once again, Old Dominion will have to do this the hard way.

After a disappointing performance in Saturday's regular season finale against UTSA cost them a first round bye, the sixth-seeded Lady Monarchs will begin what shapes up as a daunting road to a Conference USA Tournament title against No. 11 UTEP Wednesday at 10 p.m. at UAB's Bartow Arena.

This marks the fourth time in its four seasons in C-USA the Lady Monarchs have finished outside of the league's top four - those teams get to sit out the first round - and had to face a four-games-in-four-days championship gauntlet.

The Lady Monarchs do have some things going for them. They feature the best player in the league (and one of the best in the country) in Jennie Simms, and the conference's best rebounder in All-Conference USA forward Destinee Young. Those two front a roster loaded with conference tournament experience. And with Karen Barefoot as coach, there's never a shortage of optimism and want-to.

Also, for what it's worth, recent tournament history suggests the Lady Monarchs may be trending toward a championship breakthrough. In 2014, ODU's debut season in C-USA, 2014, the Lady Monarchs lost in the quarterfinals. The following year, they reached the semifinals where they nearly upended top-seeded Western Kentucky. And last year, they won their first three games, a run highlighted by a semifinal-round upset of No. 1 UTEP, before bowing to Middle Tennessee in the title game.

Indeed, in the last two seasons in particular Old Dominion has saved its best basketball for Birmingham.

Still, the sobering reality is that, to this point, Old Dominion has underachieved relative to its talent. You know that sports axiom, "you are what your record says you are?" Well, 16-13, 11-7 in conference and a 130 RPI are numbers that accurately depict the type of regular season the Lady Monarchs produced. And while the team has produced several solid performances this season, Old Dominion is 0-7 against teams in the RPI Top 100. To win this tournament, odds are the Lady Monarchs will have to beat two such teams.

Can the Lady Monarchs once again take it up another level in the postseason?

We'll see. But this much is clear - if the Lady Monarchs plan on returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008, they're going to have to.

Other pertinent questions:

How damaging was Saturday's 81-68 home loss to UTSA?

Well, in addition to costing the team the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye, the loss moved ODU out of a bracket in which the potential matchups were relatively favorable (Charlotte/Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky) and resigned them to a path in which their projected matchups are distinctly unfavorable (Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee).  It placed an extra game's demand on Simms, whose brilliant play has masked the fact that she's been dealing with a nagging ankle injury for weeks. And it set an ominous tone regarding ODU's ability to come up big when the stakes are high.

Other than that, not too damaging.

What happened in that UTSA game?

The Lady Monarchs appeared extremely keyed up to play Saturday - not surprising on a Senior Day - and their boundless enthusiasm may have actually worked against them early. They settled in, though, and actually took control of things early in the third quarter. The Roadrunners simply outplayed ODU the rest of the way.

Barefoot pointed to a parade of missed shots, and it's true the Lady Monarchs couldn't hit the floor with their hats in that fourth quarter. But the Roadrunners also shot 60.6 percent in the second half. From where we sat, the poor shooting was secondary; the larger concern was Old Dominion's inability to find solutions defensively as the game wore on. This, after all, is a team that prides itself on stopping people.

So, just how daunting is the road ahead?

The opener against UTEP actually provides an excellent opportunity to establish some tournament momentum. Last Thursday against these same Miners, a Lady Monarchs team bristling with confidence rolled to a 19-point victory. Old Dominion probably won't shoot 60 percent from the field again. But if they execute even reasonably close to the way they did against UTEP less than a week ago, the Miners figure to be hard-pressed to keep up.

But up next is No. 3 Southern Miss, whose tenacious full-court pressure style discombobulated Old Dominion when the teams met in Hattiesburg on Jan. 12. The Lady Monarchs actually shot 50 percent from the field and hit nine 3-pointers. But they also committed 29 turnovers which led to 33 Southern Miss points and an 84-69 defeat.

Two weeks earlier, against a Syracuse team that also features end-to-end pressure, ODU coughed it up 31 times in a 92-66 loss. So far, pressure has brought out the worst in this Old Dominion team.

Should they survive Southern Miss, odds are that No. 2 Middle Tennessee (RPI 81) would await in the semifinals. The Raiders have an elite point guard in Ty Petty and a low-post stud in Alex Johnson. Old Dominion had no answer for either in the teams' long regular season encounter; MTSU won by 17 at Old Dominion.

Produce another upset and all that would stand between ODU and the title, if form holds, is No. 1 Western Kentucky (RPI 40), the only conference team the Lady Monarchs have yet to defeat since joining the league four years ago (0-7).

So to sum it up, to become C-USA champions the Lady Monarchs will definitely have to overcome a team that plays a style that gives them fits and then likely have to knock off at least one and possibly two teams that have resumes significantly better than anyone they've beaten this season.

A daunting road, indeed.

Is there precedent for a team winning four games in four days to take the title?

In 2013, the year before Old Dominion joined Conference USA, No. 6 Tulsa won on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday to claim the crown. Now, it probably helped that Tulsa faced the No. 8 seed in the final. And that Tulsa hosted the tournament. But yes, it has happened.

What happens if Old Dominion doesn't win this tournament?

We're certainly not WNIT bracketologists (is anyone?), but generally speaking, teams that finish with a .500 or better record and have RPIs inside the top 120 historically have been in excellent shape for  WNIT bids should they not make the NCAAs. As noted earlier, ODU's RPI is currently 130, and beating UTEP (299) may actually make it worse. Our sense is that the Lady Monarchs need at least two victories this week to lobby for a WNIT bid with a straight face.

Of course, if they can get four victories, the Lady Monarchs will be picking confetti out of their hair and none of this will matter.

Old Dominion with Jennie Simms (2014-17)

Overall record - 54-43 (52-42 with Simms in the lineup)
Conference record - 32-22
Highest C-USA Tournament seed - No. 5 (twice)
Conference tournament titles - 0
NCAA Tournament appearances - 0
WNIT appearances - 1 (reached 2nd round in 2015)


Saturday, March 4, 2017

ODU's Destinee Young an under-the-radar star


When it comes to Old Dominion's Destinee Young, you pretty much know what you're going to get.

You just may not realize how much you're actually getting.

In Thursday night's 19-point romp over UTEP, for example, we couldn't stop marveling at Jennie Simms' feathery floaters and Ticha-esque no-look dimes en route to her 30-point, 7-assist night. And we had no quarrel with the ODU Radio Network's decision to acknowledge the enhanced contributions of Ashley Jackson (12 points, six rebounds, four assists) and tab her the "Star of the Game."

It took scanning the box score to realize that Young had flirted with a triple-double before "settling" for 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven (!) blocks.

We doubt any of this fazed Young, who generally treats bids for personal glory the way she did those seven UTEP shots. So it's been kind of an under-the-radar career for Young, Young, the rugged 6-1 (more or less) rebounding machine who with little fanfare has quietly churned out boards numbers that place her alongside some of the greats in Lady Monarchs history.

Did you know, for instance, that Young's current average of 11.0 rebounds per game is the highest by a Lady Monarch in 20 years, since Nyree Roberts hauled down 12.0 per night in 1997-98? Or that Young recently passed the great Nancy Lieberman for seventh on the all-time ODU list for rebounds by a senior (307)? Or that she needs just 12 more to vault past Celeste Hill (311) and Kelly Lyons (318) and into the top five?

Now, we certainly didn't get any of these stats from Young, who while unfailingly polite turns out to be as poor at cataloging her highlight reel as she is great at filling it up.

Remember that amazing spin move for a layup you pulled off earlier in the season?

"Uh, no, not really. I’m glad it amazed you, though.”

How about your first game as a Lady Monarch. Had to be emotional. What stands out as you look back?

"Sorry, I don't remember it."

It's a good thing this biology major, who is on track to graduate in May, has her heart set on becoming a dentist. She has no future in sports information.

Then again, to Young, all this personal trivia is, well trivial.

"At the end of the day, it's all about winning the game, right?" Young said.

Let the record show that Young has no problem walking the walk to put teeth in such talk. Two weeks ago at Charlotte, Young appeared to be on track for a big offensive night after scoring eight points in the opening three minutes. But her greatest contribution came in the second half, when the post anchor slid out to the perimeter and slapped a defensive glove on Charlotte’s versatile Grace Hunter, who had lit up ODU in the opening 20 minutes. Young scored just one point in the second half of the Lady Monarchs’ 72-70 victory, But because of the work she did in keeping Hunter in check, Lady Monarchs assistant Jim Corrigan called it the best one-point half he’d ever seen.

“Yeah, I think I heard that,” Young said with a smile.

It’s also not a coincidence that probably Young’s most productive statistical performance - 28 points and 15 rebounds last year against Howard - came in a game where Simms and starting center Ije Ajemba were unavailable. Granted, Howard didn’t exactly have Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins defending the low post. But hey, 28 and 15 is 28 and 15.

“Being a leader, I just felt it was on me to step up.” Young said.

This selfless, do-whatever-it-takes approach has been a trademark of Young's play ever since she arrived from the northwest suburbs of Chicago four years ago. Although a solid contributor as a freshman, Young made it clear she didn't leave Illinois to merely be solid. So during the ensuing offseason, Young threw herself into CrossFit training and intense basketball workouts. She also switched to an ultra-healthy diet, which in Young's case meant making the ultimate sacrifice for a college student - giving up Chipotle.

"I love Chipotle," Young said. "But I had to get right."

The payoff came that fall when a learner, more confident Young re-introduced herself to Old Dominion. Before the season began, Young's teammates voted her a captain, a honor rarely bestowed upon a sophomore. By early December, Young had cracked the first five. She's been one of the team's on-court mainstays and locker room leaders ever since.

Her development continued to the point where now she's making her mark on the national scene. Young is currently one of only 25 players in Division I to average a double-double (11.3 points, 11.0 rebounds). The rebounding average leads Conference USA and ranks ninth in Division I. And no one in C-USA and only 15 D-I players nationally have more than Young's 15 double-doubles.

No wonder Young's 14 and 14 against UTEP the other night went down so quietly - for her, it's only a couple ticks better than a routine night.

That said, there’s nothing routine about Young’s pursuit of a missed shot. Although somewhat undersized for a post player, she excels at positioning herself for rebounds, has nice hops and applies such a vise-like grip you almost feel sorry for the basketball.

In addition, since Young brings a relentless "that ball is mine" mentality to the boards, there's risk involved in battling her for a carom - be you friend or foe.

"I stiff-armed AJ (Jackson) last game," Young said sheepishly. "I thought she was on the other team. She wasn't."

Old Dominion fans will get a final time to appreciate Young’s understated excellence - and funky, World B. Free-style overhead jump shot - Saturday when the Lady Monarchs host UTSA in their “Senior Day” regular season finale. The game will also be the Constant Center curtain call for:

Annika Holopainen, the Finland native-turned fitness queen who started out in November in a reserve role but changed the trajectory of her campaign by shedding 13 pounds in the middle of the season and blossoming into a key contributor. Old Dominion has gone 8-3 since the now-lean Holopainen injected herself into the starting five;

Rhaven Kemp, the ultra-athletic reserve point guard, on-the-ball defensive pest and lively locker room presence - Young called her one of the funniest players on what is apparently a team of comedians behind closed doors.

"You never know what she's going to say," Young said.

And of course, the incandescent Simms, who these days seemingly reaches a fresh milestone with each dribble.

Odds are that today, Simms will produce her typical share of “wow” moves. Holopainen will deliver a spectacular spectacular finisher around the rim, and Kemp will produce at least one ankle-breaking crossover or “where’d-that-come-from” 3-pointer.

But here’s hoping fans pay extra attention as Young efficiently goes about her business.

Because while not a lot has been said about it, all season long that business has been booming.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Radford continues to make a statement in Big South


Radford is sharing at least a piece of the Big South regular-season title, assured after the Highlanders squeaked by Campbell on Monday night, and the credit goes to --- us?

Well, truth be told, we did tout coach Mike McGuire as the right man for the job back when he was hired in April 2013.

But we're giving all credit to McGuire, his staff and the Highlanders for making Radford (22-6) a contender in a league that seemingly only belonged to Liberty when he got the job.

First, a look at what this Radford team, with one regular-season game remaining, has accomplished thus far:
  • Radford is the top seed in the Big South Tournament for the first time since the 1991-92 season;
  • The Highlanders share at least a part of the regular-season title (we said that already, but it bears repeating again); a win at High Point on Saturday gives them the title outright
  • Radford finished unscathed at 13-0 in its own Dedmon Center, a Highlander first in the Division I era
  • The Highlanders have held nine opponents to fewer than 50 points
A year ago, the Highlanders were banged up, minus redshirt freshman Jen Falconer and sophomore guards Brittany Allen and Claudia Quevado, all lost for the season to ACL tears. Freshman Destinee Walker averaged 3.3 ppg, missing the first 10 games with a knee injury.

We thought McGuire did a lot with a little then as the Highlanders took a no-excuses approach to finishing 18-13, ending their season in the quarterfinals of the Big South tournament.

Move ahead to 2016-17, and the 5-11 Walker is the team's leading scorer, testament to her work ethic and her teammates for giving her the confidence she needed to have a breakout season, McGuire said. Walker, averaging 14.3 ppg and 2.3 apg, shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc and 48 percent from the field.

"Destinee has far exceeded anybody's expectations," McGuire said. "She wasn't a competitive kid before this season. She was sort of a happy-go-lucky kid who played basketball."

Walker moved the needle at UNC Greensboro with a 20-point, 10-rebound night and then again at Appalachian State behind 22 points, seven of those in the final 51 seconds, and 11 boards to lead Radford to a 54-51 victory. Twice the Big South Player of the Week, Walker benefits from height and length in addition to a solid mid range game and reliable outside shooting (48 percent from 3). She has 22 double-doubles on the season.

"When we recruited her, everything as far as scoring was off the dribble," McGuire said. "Now she can come off screens and catch and shoot the 3."

Also worthy of attention: Jayda, Worthy that is.

"If there's somebody who's had the most impact on both ends of the floor, it's Jayda," McGuire said. "She's become more of an offensive threat if you look at her numbers (11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and field-goal percentage (.585). There's several possessions through a game where she's guarding four players because she's so smart. When she's not on the floor, we look and feel differently."

Falconer has also rebounded from the injury well and Khiana Johnson, just a freshman, is in the starting lineup thanks to her 7.7 ppg. Janayla White, a preseason Big South first-teamer, has been a steady presence (8.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg).

As good as they've been, finding consistent offense remains a problem. Look to the two 49-48 games this season to illustrate that. The Highlanders lost at Liberty on Feb. 7 by that score after a horrible first half that saw them rack up more turnovers than field goals.

On Monday, they outlasted Campbell, but were outdone in the fourth quarter 19-9. Lazy offensive stretches can doom a team in the postseason.

"We need to develop more of a killer instinct," McGuire said.

The coach who grew up in Roanoke can't exactly tell you he saw this type of season happening just yet. Maybe next year, he thought? We're not looking there yet, but with only one player graduating (Rachael Ross), next year's Highlanders aren't going to be slouches, either.

"It's very gratifying to watch this group put in the work and the time. They really didn't have anything but experience to learn from We've had some great moments. We've had some tough lessons."

And yes, the buzz words have been said -- NCAA Tournament, that is.

Radford hasn't been there since 1996. Isn't it about time to end a 21-year drought?






Sizing up the Atlantic 10 tournament

Isis
We're fielding questions about the Atlantic 10 tournament. But don't expect to find out which team is going to win it all. You see, the trick to doing this type of story is to only raise questions for which you already know the answer. And since we have no idea who will ultimately cut down the nets, we ain't posing that question.

With that out of the way, here's what we have a better read on:

Will multiple Atlantic 10 teams advance to the NCAA Tournament?

At this point, it seems unlikely. The A-10 sent three teams to the NCAA in seven of the last 10 years and has had at least two in 22 of the 23 seasons since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1994 (2001-02 was the exception). But this year, the resumes of A-10 teams are light on quality wins and pockmarked with damaging defeats. The A-10's conference RPI is 12th; a year ago, when the league had three NCAA teams, the A-10 ranked eighth. The loser of a final featuring Dayton (RPI 45) and George Washington (47) could enter the at-large discussion. Barring that, though, this looks like the rare year the Atlantic 10 is a one-bid league.

Didn't this tournament already begin?

Yes, the Atlantic 10 christened a new format and the 32-event Division I conference tournament season Saturday and Sunday with six first round games; while top seeds Dayton and George Washington rested, seeds 3-8 hosted seeds 9-14. The home teams went 6-for-6, so the top eight seeds are still in play as the event settles in at the Richmond Coliseum. We're not sure how much tournament buzz this new format generated, and none of the games drew particularly well (Fordham had the high attendance at 890 and four the games played out before crowds of less than 575). Collectively, however, 3,652 fans took in first-round action of the league tournament. And since the home teams all won, most of them went home happy.

What's next in the tournament?

Friday's quarterfinal matchups:

No. 8 VCU (16-14, RPI 140) vs. No. 1 Dayton (19-9, RPI 45), 11 a.m.
     - More on this game below.

No. 4 Saint Louis (23-7, RPI 104) vs. No. 5 Fordham (21-10, RPI 117), 2 p.m.
     - Fordham lost by 24 at Saint Louis in the lone regular season meeting. Game was played before more than 6,000 Billikens fans. Not sure how many of them are traveling to Richmond.

No. 2 George Washington (20-8, RPI 47) vs. No. 7 Duquesne (16-14, RPI 137), 4:30 p.m.
     - These two teams met in the 2016 A-10 final (GW won 63-60). Not sure what to make of this year's two-game set - George Washington won by 35 at Duquesne and Duquesne won by 10 at George Washington.

No. 3 St. Joseph's (16-13, RPI 108) vs. No. 6 La Salle (17-12, RPI 166), 7 p.m.
     - Third matchup for these longtime Big 5 rivals. The Hawks swept both previous meetings and are 44-10 lifetime against the Explorers.

For a complete rundown of the event, visit the A-10's tournament page.

What are VCU's chances?

The eighth-seeded Rams' roller-coaster season is currently on an upswing as Sunday's 72-64 decision over No. 9 Richmond was their third straight win. But their challenge ahead is daunting, and not just because Dayton is the top seed. When the teams met in the regular season, Dayton's superior size inside canceled out the Rams' preferred style of attacking the rim. VCU shot a season-low 26.7 percent and lost by 20 at home. The Rams will almost certainly shoot better in Wednesday's rematch. Also, many of these players were on the VCU team that won at Dayton in January, 2016. In short, anything's possible, particularly in a win-or-go-home situation for a team with six seniors. Make no mistake, though - this is in no way a good matchup for VCU.

Who are the players to watch?

Rather than take our word for it, check out the All-Atlantic 10 teams and major award winners released Tuesday. And while they're no longer involved in these proceedings, special shoutouts to Richmond's Janelle Hubbard, who is now a three-time All-Atlantic 10 honoree, George Mason's Kara Wright, a third-team All-A-10 pick, George Mason all-rookie team selection Jacy Bolton and Richmond freshman all-rookie league forward Jaide Hinds-Clarke.