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.

Hampton to face Duke (again) in NCAA Tourney

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