At Starkville, Miss., a second-half rally from a nine-point deficit saw host Mississippi State glide to the finish Sunday, with the Bulldogs claiming an 88-77 victory against Western Kentucky in the Preseason WNIT title game.
Mississippi State (4-0) trailed 61-52 with 13:13 to go in the second half, after Chastity Gooch of Western Kentucky (3-1) nailed a jumper. Victoria Vivians put the home team up, 70-69, with 6:57 to go, but the game’s key sequence came with about 2:30 left, after Dominique Dillingham missed a free throw. Vivians got the offensive rebound, and Morgan William was fouled as she made a layup – after her free throw, it was 82-75, and the Lady Toppers could not rally.
Mississippi State got 17 points each from William and Ketara Chapel; Vivians added 16 points with 12 rebounds and was named MVP of the tournament. Chapel was also named to the all-tournament team. This marks MSU's first time in winning the Preseason WNIT, and it is the first SEC school since Georgia in 1999 to pull off the feat.
Western Kentucky was paced by 20 points each from Gooch and Alexis Govan, and Kendall Noble added 19 points and 10 rebounds. Gooch, who also had 14 rebounds, and Noble were also named to the all-tournament team – rounding out the squad was Shereesha Richards of Albany and Bria Holmes of West Virginia. Western Kentucky was the first mid-major program to reach the Preseason WNIT championship game since Louisiana Tech in 2000.
Both teams had more than 20 turnovers; Mississippi State had a significant edge in free throw attempts (31-18) and makes (26-14).
Shereesha Richards - Albany
Bria Holmes - West Virginia
Chastity Gooch - Western Kentucky
Kendall Noble - Western Kentucky
Ketara Chapel - Mississippi State
MVP: Victoria Vivians - Mississippi State
At State College, Pa., Ka-Deidre Simmons tallied a career-high 28 points for Seton Hall, which held off Penn State on Saturday, 75-70, in a consolation round game of the Preseason WNIT.
Simmons, a graduate student guard, also added seven rebounds and five assists for the Pirates (2-1). Seton Hall also got 14 points and nine rebounds from Bra’Shey Ali and 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists from Daisha Simmons.
Penn State (1-2) trailed by five points in the final minute, but Candice Agee hit two layups and was fouled on the last one, giving her a free throw and a chance to tie. She missed, and both Simmons’ for Seton Hall hit two free throws to preserve the win.
The Lady Lions were led by Agee’s 21 points and five rebounds; Sierra Moore came through with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Lindsey Spann had 12 points.
Colorado 80, Arkansas State 69
In Boulder, Co., sophomore Haley Smith had a career-high 16 points to go with eight rebounds as Colorado topped Arkansas State in a consolation game of the Preseason WNIT.
The Buffs (2-1) had 20 turnovers but were solid otherwise, allowing the Red Wolves (1-2) to get as close as eight points with 3:45 left before rebuilding the lead. Jamee Swan added 16 points and eight rebounds, and Jen Reese came through with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Arkansas State’s Aundrea Gamble tied a career high with 30 points; both Amanda Lawson and Jasmine Hunt scored 15 points.
St. Francis Brooklyn 71, Rider 60
With a six-minute stretch of great defense in the second half, St. Francis Brooklyn pulled ahead of Rider on Saturday in the consolation round of the Preseason WNIT to move to 1-2 on the season.
The Terriers held Rider to just two points in that span. Jaymee Veney led St. Francis Brooklyn with 16 points to go with 15 rebounds, and Leah Fechko added 15 points. Rider (0-3) was paced by Robin Perkins, who had 20 points and six rebounds.
Central Arkansas 56, Jackson State 45
After building a 20-point lead in the second half Saturday, Central Arkansas held off Jackson State to move to 2-1 on the season.
Maggie Proffitt led the Sugar Bears with 15 points; Raquel Logan had a career-high nine rebounds. Jackson State (0-3) got 11 points from Ke’ra St. John.
North Dakota 54, Towson 52
Center Emily Evers rang up 19 points and 13 rebounds Saturday to move UND to 2-1 on the season. A free throw from Leah Szabla with 3 seconds left proved to be the final scoring.
LaTorri Hines-Allen scored 22 points for the Tigers (1-2).
Mercer 69, Eastern Kentucky 64
Precious Bridges played all 40 minutes for Mercer, going for 21 points, four rebounds and four assists for the Bears (2-1). Kahlia Lawrence added 18 points as Mercer forced 18 turnovers.
Eastern Kentucky (1-2) got 27 points and 12 rebounds from Michaela Hunter; Shameekia Murray added 16 points.
Backed by a dominating performance on the boards and an explosive night from senior guard Precious Bridges, the Mercer women’s basketball team cruised to an 80-48 victory against Jackson State on Friday in a consolation round of the Preseason WNIT, held at Mercer’s arena in Macon, Ga.
Bridges closed her night with 27 points. Alicia Williams added 13 points and 10 rebounds as Mercer (1-1) enjoyed a 55-38 edge in rebounding. The Bears will face Eastern Kentucky in each teams’ last consolation game Saturday at Mercer.
Jackson State (0-3) got 11 points from Kaylan Hughes. The Tigers were just 2-of-20 from 3-point range and shot 28.4 percent from the field. Jackson State will play its last consolation game Saturday versus Central Arkansas.
A jumper by Towson senior forward LaTorri Hines-Allen with 28 seconds to go pushed the Tigers past Rider, 53-51, on Friday in a consolation game of the Preseason WNIT held at Towson's campus in Baltimore.
Rider center Julia Duggan tied the game at 51-all with 1:11 to go and had the ball with a chance to put the Broncs ahead, but she turned it over. Rider got one last shot off by Robin Perkins, but it was off the mark. Rider, now 0-2 on the season, will face St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday to wrap up their slate in the WNIT. Towson (1-1) will play North Dakota on Saturday in the other consolation game at Towson.
The Tigers were led by Dominique Johnson, who had 22 points and was 5-of-10 from 3-point range. Hines-Allen had 12 points and 11 rebounds; Jordyn Smith added 12 points and 11 rebounds as well. Towson survived despite 17 turnovers and shooting just 38 percent from the field.
Rider got a career-high 26 points from Duggan; she added 11 rebounds. The Broncs were 0-for-12 from 3-point range and just 5-of-12 from the free-throw line.
After coughing up an eight-point lead in the second half Friday, Eastern Kentucky pulled off a 56-55 victory against Central Arkansas in the Preseason WNIT, after Michaela Hunter sank two free throws with 10 seconds in the game at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
With about 30 seconds to go, Eastern Kentucky’s Alexus Cooper stole the ball and got it to Hunter. Brianna Mullins’ last-second shot for Central Arkansas was off-target at the buzzer. Both teams will conclude play in the consolation round on Saturday.
The Colonels (1-1) got 15 points from Shameekia Murray; Hunter had 14 points and six rebounds, and Mariah Massengill had seven assists. Eastern Kentucky pulled off 14 steals and had a 28-14 advantage in points in the paint.
The Sugar Bears (0-2) were paced by Mullins, who had 21 points and eight rebounds. Maggie Proffitt added 16 points, and Terai Sadler had 10 points and eight rebounds.
A stumbling start Friday threatened to knock North Dakota out of the moment against St. Francis-Brooklyn, but a burst of points brought UND back to life in the WNIT consolation round, and North Dakota settled in after the drama to post a 70-63 victory at Towson University in Baltimore.
After falling behind 20-3 with about 12 minutes to go in the first half, North Dakota (2-1) went on a 24-4 run over eight minutes to claw back, eventually taking a 35-32 lead at halftime. St. Francis-Brooklyn (0-2) had settled down for a portion of the second half, but UND scored seven points in 50 seconds to pull ahead, 61-53, and the lead was never threatened.
North Dakota got 18 points apiece from University of Wisconsin transfer Makailah Dyer and Siri Burck, whose previous career high was nine points. Mia Loyd added 15 points and 10 rebounds.
St. Francis-Brooklyn had Leah Fechko scores 17 points to go with nine rebounds; Eilidh Simpson scored 13 points, and Jaymee Veney chipped in with 12 points and seven rebounds.
For the women’s teams from Mississippi State and Western Kentucky, the hard lessons that come with losing games have been put on hold.
No doubt, both squads have been pleased with their original plans for the 2014-15 campaign, each winning three games in the Preseason WNIT and set to meet Sunday at 3 p.m. EST (2 p.m. CST) for the championship game in Starkville, Miss. The game will be televised live by CBS Sports Network.
Mississippi State has rumbled to the Preseason WNIT final thanks to a quick-study group of young players who have coped with the absence of three injured upperclassmen. One might have thought Thursday’s game against No. 17 West Virginia would have been a breaking point, but the Bulldogs held the Mountaineers to just 64 points. Front and center in that effort was the defense of Dominique Dillingham, who played almost the entire game and hounded WV’s leading scorer, Bria Holmes, into an 8-for-23 shooting night.
That was the first non-conference win for the Bulldogs against a ranked opponent since they toppled No. 8 Ohio State in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
“I was pleased with our grit and determination. We fixed a lot of problems in two days for a big game against a very talented team,” said MSU coach Vic Schaefer, whose team had allowed 87 points in a quarterfinal win against Seton Hall. “Dominique epitomizes what a basketball player is, and I can’t get her off the floor. She played 38 minutes of great defense and kind of wore that kid out. I was highly encouraged to see what we could fix.”
Because of the injury issues complicating the roster, MSU is turning to freshmen and sophomores to fuel the offense. In Victoria Vivians, the Bulldogs have the highest-scoring high school player to ever post official stats, and she’s averaging 20 points a game so far. Classmate Morgan William scored 29 points in a WNIT game, and sophomore Ketara Chapel is averaging 11 points and seven rebounds.
“We’ve had good (recruiting) classes back-to-back. All of these players have been in big games and taken big shots, in high school or AAU,” Schaefer said. “These are all confident kids. I’ve seen Vivian score 41 points in a game, come back 18 hours late and put up 60.
“Western Kentucky is well-coached and plays hard. They forced Albany into 33 turnovers, so we have our hands full. We’re excited for the chance to win a championship, because those chances can be few and far between.”
While that signature victory against West Virginia and the fact the Bulldogs will be at home Sunday make them a favorite going in, Western Kentucky has reason to feel confident about its chances. The Lady Toppers have had three varieties of victory so far in the Preseason WNIT – a confidence-building blowout in round one (93-57 against Central Arkansas), an extreme stress test on the road (a 79-78 overtime triumph at Colorado) and a solid build-a-lead-and-protect result in the semis ( 63-54 over Albany).
Western Kentucky is widely appreciated as a top-three mid-major NCAA program, and those teams salivate for the chance to prove themselves against the power conferences. This is the first appearance for a mid-major in the Preseason WNIT final since 2000.
“We had nailbiters all through the Sun Belt tournament last year, then went into Waco and had to play Baylor in the NCAA’s – we’re starting to evolve, and we’re doing it around the veterans,” said WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard. “The Colorado game, that’s not an easy place to play, and the type of game it was with people fouling out, we showed great chemistry. As far as a ‘wow’ factor for us, you wonder when a team is going to get it, and that was an unbelievable team win.”
Playing with the right edge means Clark-Heard is leaning on her most trusted core, and four players are averaging more than 30 minutes per game. The lightning rod for defensive attention and for WKU’s own hopes for a great season leads straight to senior Chastity Gooch, who is averaging roughly 19 points and eight rebounds per game. The six-footer is smart with the ball effective inside and out, one reason she’s talked about as an all-American candidate.
“She’s handled it perfectly. She’s a humble kid who works hard every day,” Clark-Heard said. “When gets the accolades and exposure, she always credits her teammates. Her goal is to compete at the highest level, and in big games, she always shows up.”
Kendall Noble, a 5-11 redshirt sophomore guard, is building nicely on a freshman campaign where she was the Sun Belt freshman of the year. Her career was slowed by an ACL injury before she played her first game, but she’s adding to the Lady Toppers’ attack with 12 points and 12 rebounds per game, as well as 14 steals in three contests.
“I watched her in high school, too, and I don’t think anybody has been in as many Kentucky state tournament games as she has. She was a huge recruit for us, because we knew what we were getting,” Clark-Heard added. “She’s a very driven kid, loves basketball, but is very quiet. She stepped up last year and never looked back – and if I need her at point guard, off-guard, she’ll do whatever it takes.”
One thing Western Kentucky will need to solve is its struggles from three-point range, with the team hitting just 13-of-58 looks (22.4 percent) so far. MSU also happens to make it tough on three-point shooters, with Bulldogs opponents going merely 5-of-24 (21 percent) in three games.
Like every other game in the Preseason WNIT, Albany made an impression on the opposition, but Western Kentucky finally dispatched the America East Conference upstart with a 63-54 victory Thursday in the semifinals, setting up a 3 p.m. championship game Sunday at Mississippi State. The game will be televised live by CBS Sports Network.
The Hilltoppers (3-0) were paced by Kendall Noble, who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and six steals; Chastity Gooch chipped in 14 points and six rebounds. Western Kentucky, which had a 32-31 lead at halftime and didn’t start building a lead until the last five minutes of the game, shot just 2-for-10 from 3-point range but did ring up 20 steals.
Albany was off-target from the free-throw line (12-of-24), did not hit a single 3-pointer and was wild with the ball, coughing up 33 turnovers. Shereesha Richards came through with 21 points and eight rebounds; Imani Tate added 14 points and eight rebounds, and Tiana-Jo Carter scored 10 points to go with her eight rebounds. Three players had six or more turnovers.
This is the first appearance in the preseason WNIT finals for Western Kentucky.
Despite some erratic shooting, Mississippi State’s fresh-faced roster kept its calm Thursday in the semifinals of the preseason WNIT and used a 15-0 run in the second half to secure a 74-61 victory over 17th-ranked West Virginia and earn home-team status for the finals, where the Bulldogs will face Western Kentucky on Sunday at 3 p.m. EST. The game will be televised live by CBS Sports Network from Starkville, Miss.
MSU sophomore forward Ketara Chapel had her first career double-double with a career-high 19 points to go with 11 rebounds; freshman Victoria Vivians was a slightly ragged 10-for-23 from the field and 1-for-4 from the free-throw line, but her 26 points more than helped the cause. West Virginia (2-1) saw the contest slip away thanks to 24 turnovers and a lack of balance from the offense – Bria Holmes had 18 points and six rebounds, while Averee Fields added 23 points and five rebounds, but no one else on the Mountaineers roster had more than seven points.
Mississippi State (3-0) has managed its run to the WNIT final without the services of 6-4 center Martha Alwal, but despite the lack of bulk, MSU pulled down 31 offensive rebounds. That helped offset problems from long range, as the Bulldogs went 5-of-20 from 3-point range and shot 36 percent overall from the field.
Holmes gave West Virginia reason to hope by hitting a 3-pointer with 16:21 left in the second half to pull the Mountaineers within 42-41, but that marked the starting point of MSU’s big run. West Virginia was a bleak 3-of-14 from 3-point range and had three players foul out.
With the semifinals of the preseason WNIT set for Thursday night, all four teams left in the chase for the title have reason to like their chances. There’s always a question about how rosters will mesh at the start of a season, so if nothing else the squads from Albany, Mississippi State, Western Kentucky and West Virginia are proving to be quick studies.
Semifinal 1: West Virginia at Mississippi State, 7 p.m. CST
West Virginia is ranked 17th in the women’s AP poll and has already proven its mettle in fighting past Seton Hall, 89-87, in the WNIT quarterfinals. In the 25th meeting between the two former Big East foes, Bria Holmes played all 40 minutes and scored 36 points, while Averee Fields filled the box score with totals of 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. While those two veterans provided internal strength, redshirt freshman Teana Muldrow hit six 3-pointers and added 19 points. Holmes, the preseason Big 12 player of the year, leads the WNIT in scoring with 59 points.
“I’m proud of the girls. At least we got the win,” said WVU coach Mike Carey. “I’ve said that it’s going to be growing pains as we go, and it is. We just have to get better. We just don’t have the numbers. People get tired and then they start making mistakes. But give our girls a lot of credit.”
Mississippi State has had the least dramatic journey to the semis, beating Arkansas State by 10 points in the quarterfinals. With nine players clocking in as either freshmen or sophomores, the Bulldogs are a bit of a mystery, but both Victoria Vivians and Morgan William (who had 29 points versus Arkansas State) look up to the challenge. And when 6-4 center Martha Alwal fully recovers from an injury that has sidelined her so far, MSU should be able to dictate games inside and outside.
“We are playing with some confidence right now,” William said. “We have a lot to work on, but we are excited about how we have played the first two games.”
The last time West Virginia made it to the preseason WNIT semifinals, it fell to Ohio State in 2009. The Mountaineers lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament this past March. Mississippi State fell in the 2002 preseason WNIT semis to Penn State; the Bulldogs reached the quarterfinals of the postseason WNIT last March, but fell short on a last-second shot by South Florida.
Semifinal 2: Albany at Western Kentucky, 7 p.m. CST
Albany’s recent success in the America East Conference may be under the radar for some, but the Great Danes fit the profile of a team that has been together a while and doesn’t seem to get rattled. Albany went into Penn State and eked out a 54-53 upset win in the quarterfinals – Shereesha Richards bulldozed her way to 27 points, while 5-8 sophomore guard Imani Tate has been a beast on the boards, totaling 24 rebounds over two contests.
“I'm very proud of my team. They came in here with no fear, and that was what we wanted to do,” said Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. “We are returning four starters and our freshmen played really well for us tonight. They are workhorses. They are fighters. As a coach, that's what you want from a team - workhorses and no fear. They stayed poised in front of a tough crowd.”
Western Kentucky hit the road and needed a few breaks to survive a quarterfinal overtime scuffle at Colorado, but the 79-78 victory further proves the Hilltoppers are a strong mid-major program. Chastity Gooch came through with 30 points and 11 rebounds in the victory as WKU fought back from a four-point deficit in overtime to prevail – despite going just 4-of-30 from 3-point range, the Hilltoppers made up for it on the other end by forcing 24 CU turnovers.
“I told them at halftime that I was proud of how they kept going to the boards and just kept working,” said WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard. “We had turnovers, but some of those were passes that we didn’t get our hands on or we made a good pass or it might have been too hard. I’m really ecstatic for our kids because they followed the game plan perfectly, everything we told them to do.”
This is Albany’s first time in the preseason WNIT. For Western Kentucky, this marks the fourth time in the event but the first since 2007; it’s also the second time the Hilltoppers have reached the semis.
When Chastity Gooch had a look at a game-winning shot in regulation Monday night, she passed the ball.
Given another chance to sway the result for her Western Kentucky team, Gooch went to the boards with determination and hit a key shot in overtime as the Hilltoppers scraped out a 79-78 victory against Colorado in the quarterfinals of the preseason WNIT. Gooch had 30 points and 11 rebounds for Western Kentucky (2-0), which will host a semifinal on Thursday against Albany at 7 p.m. CST. In the other semifinal Thursday, West Virginia travels to Mississippi State for an 8 p.m. EST tipoff.
Colorado (1-1) faced a 77-72 deficit with 38 seconds to go in the extra session, but Jen Reese hit a 3-pointer and added a conventional three-point play to carve into the margin. WKU hit just enough free throws at the end to preserve the win – Micah Jones had 20 points, and Kendall Noble added seven points, 14 rebounds and six assists.
The Buffs nearly pulled it off in overtime, but Lexy Kresl missed a layup along the baseline in the final seconds. Kresl had a great game, however, with 20 points and four rebounds. Reese set a career-high in scoring with 24 points while adding 11 rebounds; Jasmine Sborov added six points and 11 rebounds.
Western Kentucky had an eight-point lead about 10 minutes through the second half, but CU began its slow journey back in the fight on a three-point play from Kresl. The Buffs took a 67-63 lead with about two minutes to go; on two separate occasions, Western Kentucky got rebounds off their own missed free throws, and Gooch converted one chance to make it 67-all with less than a minute to go. Reese had a chance to ice the game for Colorado, but she hit just one of two free throws with 19 seconds in regulation, and the Hilltoppers didn’t get a quality shot off before the second-half buzzer.
Colorado will play in the consolation round Saturday, hosting Arkansas State at 6 p.m. MST; Penn State is hosting Seton Hall in a consolation game set for 7 p.m. EST on Saturday.
On a couple of levels Monday night, there was no stopping Bria Holmes.
The junior guard for West Virginia played all 40 minutes and ended her busy shift with a career-high 36 points as the Mountaineers topped Seton Hall, 89-87, at home to advance to the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT. West Virginia (2-0) will play at Mississippi State on Thursday starting at 8 p.m. ET in one semifinal, with Albany and either Colorado or Western Kentucky playing in the other matchup.
Holmes scored 20 points in the second half and was in the middle of the Mountaineers’ 8-0 burst with about six minutes to go that pushed them up, 77-70. A conventional three-point play by Holmes at 1:11 gave the home team an 85-79 lead; Seton Hall’s Tabatha Richardson-Smith drained a 3-pointer with 13 seconds to go to make it 87-85. WVU’s Teana Muldrow hit one free throw to extend the lead to 89-87, and Daisha Simmons missed a contested layup at the buzzer on the game’s final play.
Seton Hall (1-1) will play in the WNIT consolation round Friday or Saturday. The Pirates were paced by Richardson-Smith’s 32 points and eight rebounds; Ka-Deidre Simmons added 20 points and 10 assists, and Daisha Simmons closed with 14 points and six assists. Seton Hall was 12-of-25 from 3-point range and had just 14 turnovers, an exceptional number given the frenzy and pace of the game in the second half.
West Virginia was bolstered by career-high totals of 21 points and 15 rebounds by Averee Fields. Muldrow, a redshirt freshman, nailed six 3-pointers and scored 19 points to go along with nine rebounds. The Mountaineers nearly paid the price for a rough night from the free-throw line (24-of-40), but they did reel in 45 rebounds.
Backed with a balanced scoring attack that saw five players hit double figures, the Mississippi State women's basketball team took an early lead Sunday at home against Arkansas State and rumbled to a 93-83 victory, sending the Bulldogs to the WNIT semifinals.
MSU will play the winner of Monday's West Virginia-Seton Hall contest, with the semis set for Thursday. The Red Wolves will play a consolation game later this week.
Arkansas State (1-1) did cut its deficit to 49-45 with 17:31 to go in the second half on a layup by Hanna Qedan. But even with freshman scoring machine Victoria Vivians in foul trouble, Mississippi State (2-0) found multiple places to turn for offense. Morgan William closed with 29 points and six assists in her second game at MSU; Breanna Richardson tied a career-high with 18 points, and both Vivians and Dominique Dillingham scored 12 points.
The Red Wolves were paced by 28 points, seven assists and four rebounds from Aundrea Gamble, last year's Sun Belt Conference player of the year. Khadija Brown-Haywood had a career-high 15 points, and Qedan added 14 points.
Mississippi State shot a sizzling 9-of-17 from 3-point range and enjoyed a 39-29 advantage in rebounding. Arkansas State shot better than 54 percent from the field, but was slowed by 22 turnovers.
Showing the confidence that comes from a recent history of success, the Albany women's basketball team fought through the odds Sunday to secure a 54-53 upset victory against Penn State in the quarterfinals of the WNIT in State College, Pa..
The Great Danes (2-0) will play a semifinal Thursday, while the Lady Lions (1-1) move to the consolation round.
Winners of three straight America East conference titles, Albany took a 53-50 lead with 1:49 remaining on a jumper by Shereesha Richards. Penn State knotted it at 53-all with 1:28 to go on a 3-pointer by Jenny DeGraaf, and both teams went cold as the stress mounted. With 9 seconds left, Great Danes point guard Sarah Royals hit one of two free throws to make it 54-53.
Penn State called a timeout and got a shot for Candace Agee, but it failed to drop, securing the win for Albany. Richards closed with 27 points and 14 rebounds; Imani Tate contributed six points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Albany did not look to be a candidate for an upset when the game began, going scoreless for almost four minutes at the start. The Great Danes missed 12 of their first 14 shots, but with the Lady Lions having their own issues, Albany took a 16-14 lead with 7:56 to go in the half.
Richards had 11 points and rebounds at the break; Penn State had the game tied at 28-all, but it also had four players with three fouls. The Lady Lions got 14 points on the night from Lindsey Spann, and DeGraaf added 12 points.
Both teams struggled with turnovers, but Albany kept in range thanks to a 49-31 edge in rebounding.
Whether halftime provided inspiration or inner peace, the Colorado women’s basketball team certainly looked better for having a break Saturday in the first round of the WNIT.
Playing at home against North Dakota, the Buffaloes burst out with an 8-1 run to start the second half, built the lead to as many as 12 points and stayed on top the rest of the way for a 68-59 victory. CU will host a quarterfinal game on Monday at 7 p.m. MST against Western Kentucky.
UND (0-1) kept in range as senior center Emily Evers came through with career-best totals of 21 points and 18 rebounds, but the visitors could get no closer than four points as time wound down. Colorado (1-0) was led by Jen Reese (21 points, eight rebounds), who grabbed a key offensive rebound off a free throw in the final seconds and converted a conventional 3-point play to seal the contest.
The Buffs were nursing a four-point lead and turned the ball over with 38 seconds to go, but Jamee Swan stepped in front of a pass for a critical steal. Swan finished with 16 points and six rebounds, and Lauren Huggins closed with 11 points.
North Dakota will play in the consolation round on Nov. 21. UND held a 34-31 lead at halftime, with Evers taking charge underneath with 14 points and nine rebounds. Leah Szabla was the only other UND player to finish in double figures, putting up 15 points and four rebounds.
North Dakota shot just 32 percent from the field and missed all seven of its 3-point attempts. CU did a nice job of moving the ball around in registering 18 assists on 25 made shots; the Buffs were 5-of-12 from 3-point range.
West Virginia guard Bria Holmes, the preseason Big 12 player of the year, made sure her squad kicked off the 2014-15 season on a positive note at home Saturday as the Mountaineers topped Eastern Kentucky, 67-42, in the opening round of the WNIT.
Holmes finished with 23 points; West Virginia will host Seton Hall on Monday at 7 p.m. EST in the quarterfinals. Eastern Kentucky will play Nov. 21 in the consolation round.
Holmes’ productivity late in the first half helped West Virginia (1-0) build a 30-19 lead at the break, as she scored 17 points. The Colonels (0-1) struggled to keep up in the first 20 minutes thanks to 11 turnovers and a chilly 25 percent shooting percentage from the field, and they allowed the Mountaineers to enjoy a 12-0 run to end the half.
West Virginia used its depth to build its lead in the second half, where a 9-0 run made it 51-31 with about nine minutes to go. Senior guard Linda Stepney scored 13 points and added seven rebounds for the Mountaineers; Averee Fields added 12 points. West Virginia did labor in one category, going just 13-of-22 from the free-throw line.
Eastern Kentucky was paced by three players who scored eight points – Michaela Hunter, Mariah Massengill and Shameekia Murray. Hunter also had seven rebounds. The Colonels finished shooting just 27 percent from the field, had 19 turnovers and also struggled with free throws, going 9-for-19.
Both Mississippi State and Mercer came into the WNIT on Friday knowing that freshmen would have to be quick studies for their teams to thrive.
For the Mississippi State women, the kids had a pretty good handle by the second half, as they posted a 97-66 victory against the Bears at home to advance to the WNIT quarterfinals on Sunday. The Bulldogs (1-0) will play at home again, taking on Arkansas State at 6 p.m. CST.
Freshman forward Victoria Vivians had 23 points and five rebounds for MSU; classmate Morgan William had 11 points in the first half and 19 for the game, and sophomore Ketara Chapel came through with a career-high 14 points for a Bulldogs team that features five freshmen and four sophomores. Mercer freshman Kahlia Lawrence had 13 points, while senior Precious Bridges added 20 points and six rebounds.
MSU cruised despite having 6-4 senior center Martha Alwal on the bench nursing an injury. Alwal was a preseason all-SEC selection. Vivians hit a jumper to push the home team to a 62-36 lead with 14:14 to go, and the game was never in doubt after that.
Mercer, which has eight freshmen on its roster, will play Nov. 21 in the WNIT consolation round. The Bears were disinterested in working from 3-point range against Mississippi State, taking just four shots when they fired up 12 3-pointers in their exhibition game on Nov. 9. They also had 20 turnovers against MSU.
Arkansas State made a more than graceful return to the WNIT on Friday, taking down Jackson State at home by a score of 92-60 in the first round of the event. It’s the first appearance in the WNIT for the Red Wolves since 1998, and the team advances to the quarterfinals to play either Mississippi State or Mercer.
Leading the way for Arkansas State (1-0) was Aundrea Gamble, a junior guard who had 15 points and nine rebounds. Amanda Lawson scored 12 points and chipped in with four assists. Jackson State (0-1) got 23 points in the college debut of Derica Wiggins, who averaged more than 33 points a game last year as a high school senior.
Arkansas State’s hopes to attack the rim on offense paid off in the first half, with the Red Wolves shooting 19 free throws on the way to a 47-18 lead. Meanwhile, Jackson State coughed up 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, missed all six 3-point attempts and made just six shots from the field.
The Lady Tigers finally found some offensive flow in the second half, but Arkansas State never slowed down itself as 12 different Red Wolves put points on the board. The Red Wolves shot better than 50 percent from the field, had a 48-35 edge in rebounding and had a commanding 20-0 edge in fast-break points.
Muscle and hustle are prized qualities in women’s basketball, and Western Kentucky brought more than a little of both to the table Friday.
In the opening round of the WNIT, Western Kentucky took control early at home and never gave cause for doubt in posting a 93-57 victory against Central Arkansas, as Bria Gaines led the way offensively with a career-high 22 points. The Lady Toppers (1-0) advance to the quarterfinals and will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Colorado and North Dakota; the Sugar Bears (0-1) will play Nov. 21 in the consolation round.
Sophomore guard Kendall Noble had it going in multiple categories and wrapped up a busy night with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Conference USA preseason player of the year Chastity Gooch added 14 points and six rebounds, and the Lady Toppers kept the visitors in check on the boards, holding a 44-22 advantage by the final buzzer. The home team had 23 offensive rebounds.
Western Kentucky ran wild in the first half, scoring 51 points. Central Arkansas did get 10 points in the half from sophomore guard Maggie Proffitt, but she also had three fouls. Proffitt finished with 22 points, and the Sugar Bears also got nine points from Brianna Mullins and Kendara Watts.
The Lady Toppers are now 5-0 at home all time in the preseason WNIT, 4-0 in the first round.
There will inevitably be nights when the Albany women’s basketball team needs junior Shereesha Richards to be anything and everything.
But all things are easier when the entire roster kicks in, and the Great Danes used a very democratic approach Friday night at home in the opening round of the WNIT, gliding past St. Francis-Brooklyn by a score of 90-47. Albany advances to the quarterfinals and will play at Penn State at 2 p.m. EST on Sunday.
Richards, the 2013-14 America East player of the year, more than held up her end by scoring 10 points and adding four rebounds in limited minutes. Albany, which was 28-5 last year and is looking for its fourth consecutive league title this season, was paced by sophomore guard Imani Tate, who had a career-high 22 points and nine rebounds, with guard Zakiya Saunders adding 13 points, four rebounds and six assists. Margarita Rosario scored 15 points.
The game got off to a groggy start on both sides, with Albany holding a modest 16-12 lead with about 10 minutes to go in the first half. The Great Danes then played to their strengths, getting points from all over the lineup and not wasting opportunities to build a lead. They took a 43-22 advantage into the break, with eight players scoring and the team hitting at a 60-percent clip from the field.
St. Francis-Brooklyn went the opposite direction, going just 5-for-21 from the field in the half. The Terriers did hit 9-of-10 free throws in the first 20 minutes, but Albany also controlled the boards (21-10 for the first half, 40-16 overall) and set the tone that would ring true the rest of the night.
The Terriers were led by senior forward Jaymee Veney, who scored 18 points. The Terriers will play Nov. 21 in the WNIT consolation round.
Rather than show any jitters at the start of the 2014-15 season, the Seton Hall women’s basketball team was instead jarring.
The Pirates grabbed immediate control of Friday’s season opener, muscling past Rider at home in the opening round of the WNIT, 66-47. Although a little erratic in terms of shooting and not quite the Broncs’ equal in rebounding, Seton Hall rolled with its defense by forcing 31 turnovers. Tabatha Richardson-Smith finished with 19 points and five rebounds, and Janee Johnson added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Pirates (1-0).
Seton Hall will play the winner of Saturday night’s game between West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinal round of the WNIT.
Rider never had a glimpse of progress, as the Pirates forced 21 turnovers in taking a 38-14 lead at halftime. Richardson-Smith hit four 3-pointers in the first half, and the Pirates’ defense did the rest to build the big lead as the Broncs went almost 7 ½ minutes without scoring at one point. Rider labored inside and out in the first 20 minutes, going 0-for-3 from the free-throw line and 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
The Broncs ended up outrebounding Seton Hall (44-34) and was a touch better from the field (39 percent to 38 percent), but was a woeful 11-of-25 from the free-throw line as the Pirates preserved a 20-point lead until the final minute of action. Rider was led by Robin Perkins, who had 16 points and five rebounds.
Seton Hall’s Ka-Deidre Simmons kept the backcourt humming along with 14 points, four rebounds and six assists; Bra’Shey Ali scored 10 points and five rebounds.
If the Penn State women’s basketball team wanted a character test to start the 2014-15 season, that wish was granted Friday against Towson in the opening round of the WNIT.
With a lineup filled with newcomers, the Lady Lions found themselves trailing by nine points on their home court during the second half versus the Tigers. However, redshirt freshman guard Lindsey Spann showed a steady hand in her first regular-season game to guide Penn State to a 71-64 victory. Penn State moves to the quarterfinals of the WNIT and will play either Albany or St. Francis-Brooklyn at 2 pm EST Sunday at home.
The Lady Lions (1-0), winners of the past three Big Ten Conference regular-season titles, trailed 48-39 with 12 minutes, 50 seconds after Towson’s Dominque Johnson hit a 3-pointer. Spann, who missed all of last year with an ACL injury, led the comeback and closed with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Tori Waldner, the Lady Lions’ only returning starter and sole senior, had her first career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Candice Agee’s jumper with 5:55 left gave Penn State a 57-55 lead it would never relinquish, and Duke transfer Sierra Moore fortified the comeback by finishing with 12 points, five rebounds and four assists in her first game.
Towson (0-1) got a career-high 32 points from Johnson and had the lead for much of the second half, but a scoreless stretch late in the game (from 3:34 to 1:26 remaining) allowed Penn State to move ahead. The Tigers will move to the WNIT consolation round, with their next game Fri., Nov. 21 at a site to be determined.
Penn State and Towson both struggled from the field in the first half, with the Tigers not even able to crack 25 percent shooting. Breonn Hughey did hit a 3-pointer right before the buzzer to trim Penn State’s lead to just 31-29, but the Tigers were not able to sharpen their shooting eye and closed shooting just 32 percent for the game.
by Kyle Koso
When the topic of Southeastern Conference women’s basketball surfaces, much oxygen is sucked up by the obvious powerhouse programs. And with four teams landing in the top 11 of the preseason AP Top 25, the SEC will be breathing down the necks of the competition all season.
But anybody looking to calm their heart rate against the next tier of SEC teams won’t get much solace when facing Mississippi State.
In fact, Bulldogs coach Vic Schaefer isn’t in the mood to contemplate the distance between his program and the likes of South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas A&M, because he doesn’t see that much. Entering his third season, Schaefer believes he has the athletes and the game plan to guide MSU further up the food chain, even if other teams are seen as national heavyweights.
The numbers back him up in multiple ways. League matchups that once led to cavernous losses are starting to tip the other direction; highly ranked recruiting classes are adding significant depth to the roster; and Mississippi State has fully embraced the defense-first mindset that Schaefer employed to great effect as an assistant at Texas A&M – the Aggies won the NCAA championship in 2011.
“Obviously, our league is a nightmare. Everybody is good,” said Schaefer, whose team won three games in the postseason WNIT and finished 22-14 overall. “Last year was a turnaround – we beat Vanderbilt, which was a 57-point swing from the year before. We took Kentucky to overtime and should have won; we’ve beaten Georgia back-to-back seasons, so we’ve made big strides. Our recruiting has brought us players with a terrific skill set, and your confidence comes from your skill set.
“I’ve been our biggest cheerleader, because I think the kids deserve it. I believe we are a top 25 team, but now we have to go walk the walk.”
That all begins with defense, and teams are beginning to suspect a trip to the dentist might be more fun than trying to score on the Bulldogs. The opposition shot just barely above 40 percent last year from the field and averaged more than 21 turnovers per game – Schaefer said his squad didn’t have the right approach when he took over, but it’s starting to look more like the team in his mental blueprint.
“Our first year (2012-13), we beat Georgia with a bunch of inexperienced players, but we said we’ve got to change. If you’re going to stay here, this is the way we’re going to play,” Schaefer said. “Defense required a major overhaul. We brought in competitive kids, and we brought a change to the atmosphere. In Year 3 here, we feel pretty good about that.”
Another source of inspiration for this season comes from some of the near misses MSU experienced last year. Three losses came in overtime, and it took a hurried, harried shot at the end of the game for South Florida to eke past the Bulldogs in the quarterfinals of the postseason WNIT.
“The losses were really disappointing, but we were so close to beating a bunch of teams,” said 6-4 senior center Martha Alwal, who averaged almost 15 points and nine rebounds per game last year and is a first-team preseason all-SEC selection. “That loss in the WNIT was heartbreaking - that girl from South Florida hit that last-second shot, so good for her … we had some turnovers, were careless with the ball, but we’ve worked on it. Our coaches have talked about how every possession is so important, and I think about if I’d made one more shot, got one more rebound, or if we’d made one more play.”
“I wish we’d have won that 23rd game, and I would have loved the chance to play another couple of games,” Schaefer added. “There were a ton of games we could have won – we didn’t – and it could have been one of those special years.”
But even with those disappointments, Alwal could look in her heart and know the staff shift that brought Schaefer would work out.
“I’m really happy with the staff,” she said. “It was a huge change, and I was worried at the time. ‘He didn’t recruit me, so will I still play? Does he see anything in me?’ After that first year it was still a little shaky, but we talked a lot, and I bought into the system. Things have gone really well ever since; you just had to be accepting of them and their process.”
Three other seniors – Savannah Carter, Jerica James and Kendra Grant – have also figured out their roles in the transition, and Schaefer is very high on the group of five freshmen and four sophomores that needs to find that extra gear to do more than just stay afloat in the SEC. (One freshman to keep in mind right away is Victoria Vivians, who scored more than 5,100 points in her high school career.
The team as a whole probably needs to be more efficient on offense (barely 30 percent from 3-point range and just south of 40 percent overall from the field), but the Bulldogs consider that to be just another goal that will be scooped up along the way.
“People should be paying attention to us. We stuck close to a lot of great teams, and those weren’t huge losses like in other years,” Alwal added. “We’ve got a top-20 recruiting class, so people are sleeping on us, but that’s OK. Our sophomores played a lot of minutes last year and know what to do, and our freshmen are fearless. They aren’t afraid of the upperclassmen, and they compete hard every day. It can be a little tough, because they will make some freshmen mistakes, but we’ve got their backs.”
“That’s the challenge. We’ve got young kids who are very talented, and at the end of the day you’ve got to score points,” Schaefer said. “With the rules being what they are and how the game is officiated, the role of the offense is huge. This (freshman) class is really special, they’ve have a high motor, are very competitive, and they take a backseat to no one.”
Now the Bulldogs wait to see if they can find room in the front seat of the SEC.
With 16 teams coming to the preseason WNIT, there’s a natural mix of agendas for each program. Some schools will come in as favorites to win it all, while others are trying to unravel enough questions and concerns that winning three games is not technically the most critical outcome.
Should one of the six newcomers to the 2014 preseason WNIT make a deep run in the winner’s side of the draw, the rest of the women’s D-I basketball population will take close notice. But just by showing up, there are some interesting things the first-timers bring to the event.
Albany – Winners of three consecutive America East Conference titles, going 45-3 in league play during that span. The Great Danes forced 19 turnovers per game last year, and AEC player of the year Shereesha Richards is back for her junior season after averaging 20 points per game and shooting 62 percent from the field.
Rider – Hungry to make up for 2013-14, where three starters went down because of injury. Head coach Lynn Milligan knows her way around a repair job – the Broncs were 5-53 overall in the two seasons before she took over as head coach.
Central Arkansas – Fans of speedy guard play will want to sneak a peek at the Sugar Bears, who feature sophomore guards Brianna Mullins and Maggie Proffitt. And just to keep folks guessing about where the next player will come from, Central Arkansas also welcomes Taisiya Novokreshchenova, a Russian native who has played for small colleges in Texas and Nebraska
Two other WNIT newcomers – St. Francis Brooklyn and Mercer – provide a unique flavor
St. Francis Brooklyn is coached by John Thurston, owner of a particularly diverse background in his profession. This season marks his 20th as a head coach in the college game, and his 42nd overall in some capacity with the sport. On the men’s side, he has coached 26 years in levels ranging from NCAA DI, DII, DIII and NAIA; during the 1970’s, Thurston’s Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham teams were known for their high scoring offense, averaging close to 100 points per game
For the St. Francis Brooklyn women, Thurston has proven pretty cagey in his two seasons so far. The program won 19 games in 2013-14, the most ever in its 41-year history, and won games against three teams that later reached the NCAA Tournament (Pennsylvania, Army and Robert Morris).
“The year before when we had 11 wins, we lost a lot of close games, and that was probably due to a little bit of inexperience. We knew if we improved a bit, we’d be pretty good,” Thurston said. “At the mid-major level, nobody is that much better than anyone else – you just have to avoid injuries, play great defense and shoot it well. This group of ours had already shown signs they would play well together.
“Every year is a new challenge. A first-year group, you have to build team unity and teach the basics, and the years after that you have a different approach because they know more. No two years are ever the same. This year we have an inexperienced bench and very experienced starters – that presents the challenge for me. Can you relate it to something that happened 20 years ago? It’s a constant learning curve.”
While the journey has required a lot of change-of-address forms, Thurston says he’s more interested in the impact he had on people, and vice-versa.
“The toughest thing after 40 years is I’ve had four former players pass away. That’s difficult, but at my age (66) you are going to have to expect that,” he said. “My favorite thing is having former players have kids that I’ve coached. Each season has its ups and downs – I try to remember the kids and the conversations, and I try not to remember the games as much."
Through his connections in the WNBA, which funnel player videos to him regularly, Thurston has established a sweet pipeline to Australia. One Aussie graduated this past May; two more are on the roster, including first-team preseason Northeast Conference selection Eilidh Simpson.
Simpson has dual citizenship and played on Great Britain’s team in the Women’s Eurobasket tournament this summer.
“I completely love basketball; I want to see as much of the world as possible. If I can travel and play basketball, two of my favorite things and at the same time, that’s perfect,” she said.
“I moved up through the clubs at home, and I knew I wanted to extend my basketball level of play. I had a coach who had played college ball in the States; he talked a lot about that, and I then wanted to do that myself. When I knew it would happen, I was extremely excited, than about a month before I got on the plane it really hit me, that I was leaving home and going halfway around the world. But St. Francis was the perfect fit.”
Mercer is coached by Susie Gardner, whose first season with team (2-27) in 2010-11 was the ultimate in adversity, with just seven years of experience going in from her 12 scholarship players. That familiarity with fresh-faced players will come in handy again this year, as the Bears will suit up eight freshmen and four seniors – nothing else in between.
It’s nothing the Bears did on purpose, to be sure. The sophomore and junior classes simply dried up, whether because of players getting homesick or not able to get in proper physical shape. Gardner, who has more than 200 D-I victories on her resume, just went back to work on the recruiting trail.
“I think when I realized we were starting against an SEC team (Mississippi State), that’s when it hit me the hardest,” Gardner said. “This isn’t a situation I’ve experienced, nor one many other coaches have had. There are a lot of good players in the Southeast, and I’m confident about and comfortable with the players coming in.
“Typically, I’d be doing a lot of drills and breakdowns, but we are playing more 5-on-5, because they need to get to know each other on the floor.”
Mercer will clearly need the core group of four seniors to improve on their own while easing the freshmen into their responsibilities. Senior guard Precious Bridges, a first-team preseason Southern Conference selection, said she and her classmates prepared quietly and calmly for this unique mixture.
“We didn’t really talk about it much; we just jumped into it. I thought we had some good chemistry before we even played together. Coming into practice, it seemed like we’d been together a year already,” Bridges said. “We definitely have to set the tone – this is different than high school, and we have to show them what college play is like. And as point guard, I have to show the speed I play at and what they need to get to.”
“I feel like if the chemistry off the court is good enough – on the court you might get frustrated, but the chemistry will still be there. They will know anything we say is always coming from the heart.”
One fundamental truth is, if the freshmen can play, much will be forgiven. Kahlia Lawrence will get her chance to impress, coming off a prep career where she scored more than 2,000 points and was named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 2014 player of the year in Georgia.
“On the tough days, there’s more of us there to push each other and keep it going, or just be there. And we do have four seniors there, and they do help us. It’s like, one for every two of us,” Lawrence said. “We’ve been anticipating the season, and things moved along fast. Now, things are settling in, and it feels like a slow and steady progress.
“I have to learn how to (manage) my playing style. In high school, I could always be more aggressive. At Mercer I have to find out where I fit in and what the team needs me to do.”