On back to back Satudays, Kimmel Arena hosted a flurry of action with the Men taking on Campbell and Radford and the Women taking on Libety and Radford.
After a loss to High Point, the Bulldogs attempted to make adjustments, but ultimately lost to Gardner-Webb. So coming into the game against Liberty, Asheville needed a win. Liberty, 4-1 in the conference at the time, had only five wins on the season.
The Bulldogs came out like a team yearning for a win. Three and half minutes passed before Liberty scored and the Bulldogs put up 18 points, giving them an 18-8 lead after the 1st quarter. However, the problems of Dengokl’s two fouls and of some offensive stagnation quickly carried into the 2nd quarter when Liberty changed to zone. Worse than Liberty, seven minutes passed before Asheville got a bucket in the 2nd, giving the Flames time to catch up, 21 all at the half. But the halftime speech must have been a great one because the offensive troubles passed for the remainder of the game, with UNCA winning 64-54.
Between that game and a mid-week win over a middle of the pack Prebyterian team, the Bulldogs gained some important momentum before facing, #1 in the Big South, Radford this past Saturday. The first half against Radford repeated the mistakes of the first half against Liberty: standing around, draining the shot clock, and trouble adjusting to defenses. However, UNCA worked hard, pouring in effort to slowly chip away at Radford’s lead. The crowd cheered at this game like no Women’s game I had attended before. Props to K.J. Weaver as she scored the tying basket and made the block to secure extra minutes for everyone.
Before I talk about OT, I will say this. When the injury bug bites, it bites hard. Without Brayboy, Webb, and Knuckles, the Bulldogs struggle to find consistency, swinging wildly from excellence to an offensive confusion that leads players to idly stand by, unsure how to proceed. During this time, inexperienced players accrue important minutes. Ali Trani is the poster child for those minutes. Having played in nine games, averaging 6.6 minutes, her freshman year, Trani is looking at 16 minutes or more a game at this point in the season. Her work ethic on the court shines bright despite her offensive struggles.
Back to the OT. With 8.2 second left, down two points, Asheville possession, the Bulldogs drew a play for Chatori Major, who shoots roughly 35% from the field and 38% from long range. Radford, understandbly, made sure she got covered. Major had the ball and traveled: end of game, Radford 64, UNCA 62. Though a potential block or push could’ve been there, my problem is that she missed a wide-open Trani in the corner—for a second time that game. I know that Trani shoots not quite 27% from the field and 18% from three, but the ball has got to go to the person with the shot, and that wasn’t Major. Quickly, I will add I understand Major’s actions. She’s a winner, and winners want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. But, as a fan, I find it frustrating when the player who doesn’t have anyone even close to her can’t get the ball. She’s got to have a chance.
However, my full faith in Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick leads me to believe Asheville can and will develop the chemistry and trust necessary to make a strong run come the Big South tournament.
While there’s no such thing as a perfect game of basketball, UNCA played as close as to one I’ve ever seen for them against Campbell, winning 72-56. By that I mean, stellar defense and passing ruled the day. The Bulldogs scored 29 baskets with 22 assists, outscored the Camels in the paint, forced 14 turnovers, led basically the entire game, shot 56% from the field, and had 20 points off turnovers. Only two stats made me sad about this game: FT shooting was still poor 53% (66% as a team on the season), and basketball does not keep “hockey-assists” as a stat.* While Campbell sits in the middle of the conference standings, they decisively beat Radford in Virginia, which is no easy task.
Playing Radford in Asheville, the Bulldogs looked to redeem themselves from an overtime loss that began the conference season. In similar fashion, UNCA won this game, 80-69, on defense, solid shooting, and keeping the lead for all but 53 seconds. The first half was incredibly dominant and would have been moreso had Radford not strung four three-pointers in a row as the half closed. Again, defense plays great causing turnovers, offense makes adjustments and finds the strength to score, but my biggest concern for this team is free throws, as they shot only 63% against Radford. Championship-caliber teams have to be able to convert the gimme’s.
Also, in between the two Saturday games, the Bulldogs did grab a win over bottom of the conference Presbyterian, who is seriously struggling at 1-9 in the conference.
Looking at the conference standing, thanks to a High Point win in OT over Winthrop, the Big South is back to a three-way tie for first: Liberty, Winthrop, and UNCA. Over the next week and a half, Asheville fans will need to support their team as they take on Charleston Southern in Kimmel, High Point in the Piedmont, and, finally, shake the house against Winthrop. Grabbing a win over Winthrop at this point in the season will do more to help our chances securing the Big South Tournament than a second victory over Liberty at the end of the season. Obviously, that’s a bit of prediction right now, but I think it’s true.
Come out and supp0rt the Bulldogs this Wedneday and then next Thursday (2/9) at 7pm.
*Hockey-assist defines a type of assist where not only the player (B) who passes to the scorer is given an assist, but also the player (A) who passed to player (B) before passing to the scorer.