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?

No comments:

Post a Comment