One thing a road trip never fails to impress on me: Live viewing shows you subtle nuances about teams outside your home region that stats and television alone just don’t adequately convey. Being there can be twice the fun or at least more informative!
Visiting Maryland twice: The Comcast Center in College Park is a huge facility. Fortunately, the Terps put people in the house so it doesn’t look barren. A bad night might be 5,000 (versus Virginia, although announced higher) to over 12.000 (real) against Rutgers. The locals believe their team is weaker defensively due to the loss of Laura Harper but perhaps a tad stronger offensively.
Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver, both of whom I rate as high first-round WNBA picks this spring, are offensively eclectic players, able to beat you off the bounce or catch and shoot.
Credit to Coach Brenda Frese for smoothly integrating freshman Lynetta Kizer (6-4, C) and Demauria Liles (6-1, JR, JUCO transfer) into the line-up, replacing Harper and Crystal Langehorne, both now in the WNBA. The rule of thumb is that a team will more likely struggle the next year when the guards are replaced than when the posts are lost, as in this case. Liles is your quick-off-the-feet jumper and Kizer, the big body with range.
Sadly, in case you missed it, senior guard Sa’de Wiley-Gatewood has left the team to concentrate on academics, according to a televised report. You may remember her as a prize Lady Vol recruit out of Lynnwood, California. Since transferring to Maryland, she has been plagued by chronic knee problems, which left her as a shadow of the player she might have been. Wiley-Gatewood’s departure will mean Anjale Barrett (5-9, FR) will get more time at point.
The key to Maryland’s post-season success will be whether they can “win ugly” if their normally potent offense goes south. Neither Coleman nor Toliver excels on defense. The Terps need to get away from the motto “90 points is a good defense.” Regardless, this team is one of the most fun in the country to watch.
Virginia: Monica Wright (5-11 JR G) looked like a good bet to be the ACC Player of the Year but she has not shot the ball well in conference play, and her three-ball accuracy is below 30% for the year. After the Cavs’ Big Three of Wright, Lyndra Littles (6-1, SR, F) and Aisha Mohammed (6-3, SR, C)--one of the most physical players in D-1, nobody else on the Cavs’ roster is close to averaging 10 points per game.
Against the Terps in College Park, only Mohammed shot well and the Cavs couldn’t match points after staying close for a half, ultimately falling, 94-78, to vintage Terp offense. This repeated itself in the next game in which North Carolina State upset Virginia.
Another issue for Virginia remains point guard play. That task is performed for the Cavs by committee due to the loss of projected starter Paulisha Kellum (5-9, JR), who blew an ACL prior to the season. If their Big Three stay hot in the post season, Virginia can get to at least the Sweet Sixteen; otherwise, not.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights came to College Park only to lose quietly by 20 (67-47). I am not the first person to say the Rutgers’ offense is painful to watch. Sometimes they just stood around watching Epiphanny Prince (5-9, JR, G) create her own shot. At other times, they ran the shot clock down to near zero only to brick the layup.
Kia Vaughn has struggled for much of this season. One problem: She has a very high release on her shot with a goodly amount of arc. There just seems to be a lot that can go wrong when trying to finish in traffic.
Coach Stringer discourages open court play. In one sequence, Khadijah Rushdan, their strongly built 5-9 sophomore point guard, had Maryland’s Marissa Coleman, back-pedaling on the wing. “Just blow by her to the hole,” I thought. Instead, as if on a leash, Rushdan pulled up and let the Terps’ defense reset. Selective running needs to be encouraged.
The highly touted freshman class has been largely silent. Jasmine Dixon transferred to UCLA. April Sykes (6-0, G/F) gets minutes but has not shot the ball well on (too) many occasions. Others of this class seem to be even further down the pecking order.
Due to their defense, you can never totally count out a Stringer-coached team from a post-season run, but it will be a challenge this year to make more than an NCAA early-round appearance and that is no lock.
Visiting Georgetown: I last saw the Hoyas here on their lovely Georgetown campus, tucked along the Potomac River, two years ago. At that time, I thought they had very limited upside in the deep Big East Conference. In watching this year’s Hoyas, the players on average were much more athletic. With seven freshmen on the roster and national-level recruits Ta’Shauna Rodgers (5-11, G) and Sydney Wilson (6-6, C) coming in next fall, a return to post-season play may be just around the corner for the Hoyas.
One thing that hasn’t changed was poor fan attendance. Announced at over 400, the crowd was probably not half of that in McDonough Arena, which holds 2,400. Meanwhile, their male counterparts play downtown in the Verizon Center in front of well over 10,000 on average. This hearkens back to the 80s when women’s basketball teams were expected to play second fiddle to the men.
The most unusual thing about the game I attended was that it basically ended with a triple technical. Trailing by four, 63-59, with 42 seconds left in the game, Cincinnati’s Angel Morgan (5-8, SR, G) drove the key. As her shot fell, it looked like the Hoya lead would be cut to two. However, referee Bonita Spence waived the basket off, calling an offensive (and fifth) foul on Morgan. Bearcats’ coach J. Kelley Hall took strong exception to the call and received a double technical, thus being ejected. Morgan also was slapped with a “T” as she departed the court. Georgetown’s leading scorer Karee Houlette (5-9, SR G) knocked down five of the six fouls shots that were awarded in this exchange, the home team ultimately winning, 69-61.
Starring in defeat for Cincinnati was Kahla Roudebush (5-8, JR, G), who scored 25, hitting seven triples along the way. Roudebush is also a good passer but does not come off the dribble well. She has one of the better stokes from distance that I have seen this year and would probably have better numbers if she had more help around her. For the Bearcats to get better, they need to get more dribble penetration which would allow Roudebush and fellow perimeter gunner Shelly Bellman (5-10, JR, F) to get easier looks.
At American: Bender Arena is located just inside the District, close to Bethesda, Maryland. Given that the Eagles play in non-BCS Patriot League, one might expect less than this fine venue, which I would rate above the facility in which the Georgetown women play. The game itself also turned out to be above average, as well as one of the more entertaining games on the trip, with Army winning, 60-58, in OT.
After the game, I visited with first-year American Coach Matt Corkery, who had been the Associate Head Coach under Melissa McFerrin, and moved into the driver’s seat when McFerrin went on to Memphis. Corkery explained that his squad is normally a running team that plays hard man “D” (as they did in this game). Unfortunately (from his viewpoint), Army controlled the glass, 40 to 28, allowing the Knights to establish and maintain a slower pace.
Corkery lamented that he has to play a 4F (Liz Leer, 6-2, SO) as the low-post defender. Unfortunately, Leer lacks the bulk to do so effectively on some occasions. With Leer out of position in the low post, Corkery must then play small forward Michelle Kirk (6-0, SO), American’s best offensive player, at the four spot. Kirk is an interesting study as she is one of those “go opposite” players. Though she is right-handed, her best move appeared to be a drive to her left, which was executed with quite a bit of flair. Interestingly, Army forced her to her right as she attempted the last shot in OT. She missed, never getting good balance.
In the post-game press conference junior guard Nicole Ryan (5-8) was asked how she felt about the “large contingent” of Army fans (maybe 40%) at the game. Ryan replied that she was happy to have any fans at the game. Given that the crowd was generously listed at 255, we all can understand why! As for Ryan, I go a long way back with her to her days as a Florida prep (Clearwater HS). She comes from a basketball family—her mother played non-major D-1 ball up north and her father is the men’s coach at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, Florida. Ryan continues to play despite having had two knee surgeries (and another yet to come) and sitting out last year with a broken wrist. When she lost speed to the knee, Ryan, who had been known in high school as a driving, “can’t shoot” point guard, worked on her game so much that she developed enough of a three-point shot to play the two position.
Army: I last saw this team in person two years ago. Of course, they will always be remembered for Maggie Dixon, the young West Point coach who took her team to the NCAA Tournament only to die suddenly after the season. Only a few players remain from the team she recruited and the depth of talent appears to have fallen off. My guess is that recruiting, never easy for the Academies, has become even harder with the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. From what I gathered from Army coaches, sooner or later most of their graduating players are assigned to go to one or the other.
Interestingly, the two best players on the team come from military backgrounds. Alex McGuire (5-8, SR, G) had her father and two uncles graduate from West Point before her. That makes her a “legacy player” (a relatively new term in recruiting jargon to describe a recruit who is the child of an alum of the school and may have gone to the school in part due to family tradition). Erin Anthony (6-1, SO, C/F) has a different background. Her father is a Marine Colonel who is on staff in Annapolis, Maryland, at archrival Navy, where her brother is enrolled. As it turned out, the Mids never recruited Anthony and it appears that is their loss, as she is becoming one of the better players in the Patriot League.
On to Athens, Georgia I’m not going to dwell on this game, your typical SEC grinder won by LSU, 57-46. More on these teams in the SEC Tournament preview next week. The most unusual thing about this visit was the liberal access to Georgia players in the post-game press conference where, despite the loss, four Lady Dawgs were scattered about the room, holding individual interviews. Needless to say, all were in somber moods on this particular evening. Kudos to Georgia Sports Information rep Mike Mobley for this set-up.
Finally, Off to Tallahassee for the Bonehead Play of the Month… Back “home” at Florida State this past Sunday, I got to watch the Miami Hurricanes outplay the Seminoles most of the afternoon. I have accused the ‘Noles of playing up and down to opponents this year. In this contest, it was clearly down.
With 19 seconds to go, FSU point guard Courtney Ward was fouled by Miami’s Diane Barnes. Brushed would be a more apt description of this call. Ward made the first to tie the score at 57 but missed the second. Miami’s star freshman Shenise Johnson (5-11, 3F) attempted to throw long. Florida State guard Angel Gray (5-9, JR) intercepted the ball with about 12 seconds left but didn’t take it up court. Instead, she passed to teammate Alysha Harvin (5-10, JR, F) who is not really a ball handler.
Harvin appeared to be trying to dribble out the clock deep in the backcourt. Didn’t she realize her team was not ahead but that there was still time to win in regulation? But Harvin was not the only one apparently operating unaware of the score. Seeing Harvin dribbling away in the backcourt with eight seconds left, Barnes (6-2, JR, 4F) panicked, evidently thinking her Hurricanes must be behind, and blatantly grabbed Harvin, who walked to the charity stripe at the other end to give her team a two-point lead. Fouled while coming up court, Johnson missed the back end of a one-and-one with five seconds to go and the home folks escaped, 59-58, coming back from 16 down.
Lesson – know the score of the game, particularly in the last minute!