Game of Runs

I’m more of an “early to bed, early to rise” kind of person, so the 11 o’clock hour required by 9 p.m. games means I’m recording the second half. When I wake up, I turn on the TV briefly to the news, try to not look at the score, and then finish watching the game. When I do catch the score, like I did Friday morning, I nevertheless watch the game because I need to know the story. Non-basketball lovers don’t understand that commitment.

When 76-73 Winthrop came across the screen, I thought, well, not ideal, but I bet we gave them a real run. I had seen the first half effort: Okeke’s foul trouble, forcing turnovers, Teague playing quarterback in the fastbreak, and Miller’s hot hand for threes. Of course, I had also seen Malik Smith get two fouls in less than 30 seconds and attempt a three. Asheville did a great job switching defenses and staying on the ball, but no one ever ran away with the game. The even, back and forth nature of the half led right into the second half.

UNC Asheville racked up fouls, turnovers, and missed more shots than trigger-happy stormtroopers, but balanced by forcing turnovers and making the FT’s from Winthrop’s own foul trouble in the second half. Asheville went roughly 11 minutes without a FG. In total, UNCA scored six FG’s and 19 FT’s.  You read that right 19 FT’s in 20 minutes of basketball on 25 attempts (76%).  When Thomas and the Bulldogs finally came to life, Winthrop had already gained the lead.

I’ve said before height has hurt us, and it continues to hurt. When a team plays the 1-3-1, you’re center is almost never the man at the bottom of the paint. He’s usually near the top of the paint. If the opposing team can fix their spacing and work the ball around, they can likely get their center the ball for an easy two. Moreover, the size of Winthrop’s Okeke presents a rebounding problem. Toward the final minutes, Okeke scored back-to-back down low, one with an offensive rebound, while we played the 1-3-1. Winthrop, outrebounding by 7, managed 16 second-chance points, while Asheville only got three. I give full credit to Winthrop for knowing their gameplan well enough to push the ball to the corners when UNCA played the 1-3-1 too. On four consecutive possessions, Winthrop attempted three long balls from the same corner and turned the ball over once.

So what now?

The Bulldogs focus on today, Campbell, and winning at home. Winning at home is critical because winning away in the Big South is so difficult. Only two teams in the Big South are below .500 at home, while only one team is above .500 away: Winthrop. Currently, UNCA sits second in the standings, down one game, behind the tie for first between Winthrop and Liberty, who play each other today. I feel confident that by Februrary 9th, when UNCA plays Winthrop in Asheville, the Bulldogs will be ready–and able to score more than six baskets in a half.

See you later for Women against Liberty and Men against Campbell!

Hot Hands, Cold Temps

The Bulldogs melted every inch of snow in Asheville today with the heat from their win over High Point, 88-58. With the exception of eight seconds when the score was 0-0, the Bulldogs led the entire game. The women, facing Longwood, had the same experience in Virginia winning 80-53, leading all, but the first 11 seconds. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch the women’s broadcast as the games were played simultaneously.

Threes rained all day from Robertson, hitting 5-of-9, Miller, 4-for-4, and Teague, 3-for-3. The halftime score of 50-25 says it all. Similarly, the women’s halftime score was 40-21.

So instead of focusing on today’s games, let’s catch-up.

Men’s Basketball

During the holiday stretch, Asheville experienced two gut-wrenching games. The first conference matchups against Radford and Gardner-Webb went into overtime. After losing to Radford in OT, I was convinced the Bulldogs were doomed for a repeat after Gardner-Webb hit a game-tying basket to send it into extra time. However, Asheville stayed strong and fought for a five-point victory.  Thankfully, the Bulldogs followed the “W” up with a decisive win over Liberty, which led into their hot shooting today.

Speaking of hot shooting, since conference play began, David Robertson has been seeing the basket as a wide-open barn door: 20-of-34 from long range. That’s 58.8% from three. Watching him shoot today, I thought Robertson to be the most confident shooter in the world. I love that Robertson has found a way to get past the early season struggles and find his place.

With the win today, UNCA sits tied for first with Longwood, Winthrop, Liberty, and Radford…so almost everyone. The schedules will have to run their course before a more dominant team emerges. However, Longwood, Liberty, and Radford have overall records under .500, so I will focus on preseason favorite Winthrop. (Although Liberty ranked second, ahead of UNCA too, the non-conference schedule Liberty played doesn’t compare to those below.)

Winthrop and UNC-Asheville hold similar records: 11-4 and 11-6, respectively; a single conference loss to Radford (UNCA played away, Winthrop at home); and a win over Furman (UNCA played away, Winthrop at home). Whereas the Bulldogs claim a win over Siena, a nail-biting loss to Ohio State, and big loss to Kansas, Winthrop holds wins at Saint Louis and Illinois and losses to Dayton and Florida State. Based on the schedule, I rank these two teams evenly.

Women’s Basketball

The ladies have been hurting for the win I’m happy to say they got today against Longwood. The incredible run of victories in the nonconference schedule ended in a four game slide starting with Appalachian State, through the Fordham Classic, and into the first conference matchup against Campbell. The Bulldogs came close to beating Campbell a few times, but, despite K.J. Weaver’s double-double effort, they never closed the deal.

In the conference, Radford and Campbell are tied atop the standings; both undefeated in conference, even holding the same overall record at 10-3. In the preseason, Radford was picked behind UNCA, the favorite, while Campbell was picked 8th. Campbell’s record, while impressive, doesn’t feature great teams, but they are hot with seven wins in a row. On the other hand, Radford’s schedule includes wins over good teams like Wake Forest, with losses to only bigger teams like Kentucky and Virginia Tech (a team the Bulldogs almost beat to open the season). Radford has not lost a single home game either.

UNC-Asheville’s playing with a lot of competition in the Big South. However, I think Bulldogs will get into stride as conference play continues. Certainly, one loss to the streaking Campbell Camels will not break the season. Most importantly, this is just the beginning.

Battle for Ohio

You would think a battle for Ohio would include two Ohio teams, but you would be wrong. Compared to Ohio State’s seven native Ohioans, UNC Asheville actually boasts four: Malik Smith, Drew Rackley, MaCio Teague, and Kevin Vannatta. All of which got minutes in the nail-gnawer against OSU. While the Bulldogs played every ounce of effort, fought for position, forced turnovers, and clawed back into place to win, UNCA just couldn’t quite grab the “W” in the loss to Ohio State, 79-77.

The very first thing I notice about Power 5 teams compared to UNCA is almost always size. The Buckeyes possessed height and length that the Bulldogs had trouble downplaying. OSU scored 48 points in the paint, almost double UNCA. The Buckeyes also outrebounded Asheville by 11. However, Asheville made up for that height by raining from three all night. Finishing just shy of 50%, the Bulldogs made more threes than OSU attempted. Raekwon Miller started the trend before Vannatta, Robertson, Teague, and even Wnuk, whose threes were critical, contributed to the total.

Foul trouble for UNC Asheville began quickly. With roughly 10:30 remaining in the first half, OSU started the bonus. When the game finished, no starter had fewer than three fouls, with Kevin Vannatta fouling out and Alec Wnuk coming off the bench to contribute four fouls.

After two OSU technicals (thanks for Teague for hitting those FT’s) and a Thomas steal, Kevin Vannatta made a fantastic play to draw a foul shooting a three, with the score 75-71. Unfortunately, Vannatta, a near 70% FT shooter, missed the first two, before making the third. Those were the only free throws Vannatta shot all night. After Ohio State scored, 77-72, Wnuk found a lane and drove to the basket before being blocked by a player, forcing the ball to clank the rim rather than roll over it. Now, being a referree is an incredibly difficult job, so when I say this, I am fully aware of gray area: Wnuk was fouled. Having watched the play live and replaying the clip at home, the defender’s hand made contact with Wnuk’s hand. Unfortunately, the call (or lack thereof) didn’t go our way. Although Wnuk drilled a second three, his third for the season, with 5.2 seconds left and Teague another basket before OSU inbounded and the buzzer sounded, the effort would not be enough for victory.

However, by no means should the Bulldogs hang their heads.  OSU came in favored by 14 and survived Asheville, rather than defeated them.  Asheville’s turnovers stayed low and shooting percentage kept fairly high.  While the non-conference season ends with back-to-back losses, I know UNCA will be prepared for conference play.

Recognitions

Raekwon Miller. The first half belonged to Raekwon.

Alec Wnuk. “No, don’t take the three…YEAH! He hit the three!”  He’s shooting 37.5% from distance for the season, but on eight attempts. Overall, still not something I necessarily encourage, but Wnuk’s threes have made a lot of news this season.

MaCio Teague. A team high 23 points, 5 assists, 1 steal, and only 1 turnover.

Quick shoutout to the Alumni office for putting together a watch party for this game. I had a lot of fun catching up, meeting folks, and seeing the game with a loyal crowd.

With Christmas around the corner, I will not be able to attend the conference matchup at home, but I have every intention of seeing the game against High Point on January 7th in Kimmel Arena.  See you there!

The Mountain Matchup

With UNCA beating Western 59-57, the crowd enjoyed the game for about three minutes on Saturday night. While I would typically scold fans–something about being involved, creating the atmosphere–there wasn’t exactly much to rejoice over in this game.

The combined half-time score did not break 50. Both teams shot under 40% from the field, under 30% from three, and UNCA’s FT percentage squeaked passed Shaq’s all-time percentage.* Ironically, free throws were the only area the Bulldogs actually defeated the Catamounts. Thanks to the many fouls of Western Carolina, UNCA shot 20-for-35 from the stripe while WCU shot 11-for-12. Almost doubling the amount of their opponent’s FT’s-made is how the Bulldogs overcame WCU scoring two more baskets than them.

Sloppy play and slow defense prevailed for all. Even my own choice for player of the game, Alec Wnuk, oscillated between great and awful. For example, he worked hard to get to the basket and was often rewarded with foul shots, but got called twice for charging; his cold shooting (2-for-7), and sometimes poor shot selection, was offset by seeming to be the only Bulldog who could rebound.

Since the frustrations of the first half brought me near death, I’ll skip right to the excitement of second half. The Bulldogs found themselves with the lead 58-56 with 24.5 seconds remaining.  Coming out of a timeout, UNCA’s possession ended with a bad shot from Teague.  Despite playing great defense, UNCA fouled Western with 3 seconds to go.  WCU’s Pughsley easily made the first, before missing the second and seeing the ball fall into the hands of Alec Wnuk.  A quick foul by the Catamounts sent Wnuk to the line where he would make only one, 59-57.  Western’s last second heave went up, at which point I remembered the home game against Jacksonville State, where a last second tip-in broke the heart of every Bulldog fan packed into Kimmel.  Thankfully, this close shot clanked off the iron declaring UNC-Asheville the winner of the 50th meeting of the mountain rivalry.

Recognitions

Alec Wnuk. Right place, right time. Right effort, right choice.

Ahmad Thomas. Two critical steals, seven rebounds, 3-for-3 from 3, and 20 points. The only real downside from the stat line was 1-for-4 from the line.

Shout out to the Women, who defeated USC-Upstate earlier on Saturday.

Unfortunately, I will miss Monday’s game against UNCG. However, I hope the Asheville faithful can come out Thursday to Hickory Tavern at Biltmore Park to watch the Bulldogs take on Ohio State, who destroyed WCU earlier this year.

*For non-NBA fans, Shaquille O’Neal, despite being a great player, is also known for being a terrible free throw shooter, averaging about 53% for his career.

In the News

First, let me apologize for not updating in a while. Unfortunately, I can’t see every game, even home games are subject to personal scheduling conflicts. However, I’m happy to pass on some news and deliver a recap before the battle for West Carolina, the mountain matchup against the Catamounts of WCU.

What have I missed? A lot.

Women’s Basketball

Tough loss to Furman. Important bounce back against Wofford.

I’ve seen this team go through some very rough shooting quarters, but they’ve avoided losses.  The Furman loss happened to be one of those bad days.  The Bulldogs shot far below the season average in every category. Even more telling, UNCA only managed five assists on 19 made field goals. Lastly, while I don’t know Furman’s height, we have a team with enough height to not be outrebounded by 11.

The bounce back against Wofford was every answer to the loss at Furman. The Bulldogs outrebounded by nine, including 15 offensive rebounds, which is almost half of the team’s total rebounds. And with 17 points off turnovers, almost half of made baskets from assists, and only five turnovers, UNCA easily defeated Wofford.

With two regional games, against USC Upstate and Appalachian before heading off to a mid-season tournament, UNCA seems primed for a strong conference run.

Men’s Basketball

Wins.  Four of them to be exact.

A dominate win against a division-descending Brevard team is expected.

However, a Wnuk buzzer-beating three to send the game against Coastal into overtime is not. The Bulldogs blew a huge second half lead before taking the game in OT. More interestingly, even though Thomas scored the most, freshman MaCio filled the stat sheet with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals, which is an incredible attempt at the practically impossible quadruble-double.

The win at Elon marked an incredible effort by team leaders Ahmad Thomas, Kevin Vannatta, and MaCio Teague, each putting at least one in points, rebounds, assists, and steals.  The Elon game marked continue defensive improvement as well, accounting for almost all of Elon’s 15 turnovers.

Oh, and Warren Wilson—in one, hyphenated word—“record-setting.” Hot shooting from David Robertson, important minutes for everyone on the team, 26 steals, 46 points off turnovers, 117 points total, and now Ahmad Thomas leads the country in steals.  I rest my case.

So what else?  The Citizen-Times had a great piece on Miller, Thomas has scored double-digits in every game, Vannatta has officially thawed from the early season shooting chill, the 1-3-1 continues paying dividends, Teague’s play has met my expectations for a three-star recruit, and the team has definitely found its identity.

And with that Bulldog fans, I will see you on Saturday.  GO BULLDOGS!

One-And-One

Women vs. Tennessee Tech

Starting on the high note, the Women continued their winning streak against a pesky Tennessee Tech team, beating the Golden Eagles 77-65.  By outworking UNC Asheville, and by the Bulldogs poor decision-making, Tenn. Tech held a sizable lead through the 1st quarter until Khaila Webb’s buzzer-beating three cut the Eagles’ lead to two.  The mix of no rebounding, poor shot selection, and, yet again, a lack of transition defense made it look like Tenn. Tech was on their way to a win.  However, the 2nd quarter began with drives to the basket and great post play.  Rather than settling for three as in the 1st, UNCA looked to kick the ball out and, therefore, the threes started falling.  The big run by the bulldogs gave them a lead they would hang on to for the remainder of the game.

While at times the game was close, the determined Bulldogs closed the rebounding margin and outshot their opponent in shooting percentage.  Unfortunately, the rebounding game could’ve been much better and fouls were definitely an issue.  By the end of the game, Chatori Major and Sonora Dengokl fouled out.  Thankfully, Tenn. Tech had foul trouble of their own with three starters having four fouls each.

Recognitions

Khaila Webb.  On Friday, she was feelin’ it.  In 26 minutes, Webb scored 20 points and 6 assists on 63.6% shooting, including 2-3 from long range.

Bronaza Fitzgerald.  She continues to impress me coming off the bench.  In 18 minutes, Fitzgerald scored 13 points and 8 rebounds on 80% shooting.  Unfortunately, she included four turnovers and three fouls in that short time.  Still, I always look forward to seeing what she’s capable of.

Men at Kansas

The Bulldogs lost to a national champion contender and No.5 ranked Kansas team on Friday night 95-57.  Tieing the game at 7, the Bulldogs tried hard to keep pace with the ball bouncing in their favor at times, getting close again at 14-12.  However, after that, Kansas quickly found their groove.

Size.  Talent.  Atmosphere.  We all knew what was going to happen, so let’s focus on the positives:

Turnovers.  The Bulldogs committeed only eight turnovers at Allen Fieldhouse.  The Bulldogs commit 11 on average, so seeing a low number against such a dominant opponent is excellent.

Experience.  Every player got to play at least a couple minutes in one of the best arenas in college basketball.  They saw a championship contender have to communicate and make adjustments.  Ultimately, experiences like those stick with players and, hopefully, help them grow while they’re here.

Kevin Vannatta.  A shooter who has been struggling, struggled a bit against Kansas too.  However, he and Ahmad Thomas tied in team high points.  Hopefully, this means he’s climbing back up.

Not Yet in Kansas

In sports, some things are given: philly fans will boo,  Tarheel fans will annoy, and, unfortunately, Kimmel Arena will not be rowdy.  The first “D-Fence” cheer came with 3:50 remaining in the 2nd half despite a great defensive effort by the Bulldogs.  At times, the away crowd, a fairly sizable crew considering Siena is located in New York, outcheered the home crowd (thanks to the pep band for trying to out do them).  Nevertheless…

Men vs. Siena

UNC Asheville played a good game this past Sunday against a strong Siena team, winning 92-80.  Siena’s tall squad prompted Coach McDevitt into starting Zilli and Weeks with Robertson, Thomas, and Vannatta.  Though, after the first possession, Coach subbed Teague in for Weeks.  The beginning of the 1st half really set the tone for the whole game.  Giacomo Zilli’s post game and rebounding were excellent and, on defense, he forced his man into post-ups outside the key.  This solid play would eventually be carried out by Wnuk.  The Bulldogs transition game sparked an early lead held for the remainder of the day.  The biggest happenings were 3’s that grouped themselves at the most apt of times and the best bench effort ever.

On the negative side, the Bulldogs had serious troubles with the Siena press and trap.  In the first half alone, I counted four passes into traps.

Lastly, the referees called an inconsistent game. What began as “all contact is fair,” changed in the 2nd half to “it’s all a foul.”  Siena found themselves in foul trouble as they attempted to make a run and Vannatta fouled out shortly before the final buzzer.  Most importantly, it appeared the officials committed an awful miscommunication around the 7:42 mark when one official signaled 2 free throws while another showed a 1-and-1.  Needless to say, when the missed free throw came off the rim, the Bulldogs simply stood around as the game proceeded without them.

Recognitions

The Bench.  Raekwon Miller, Macio Teague, and Alec Wnuk scored a combined 51 points.  Teague’s shot has certainly been found as he continues to put up good numbers.  Unconventionally, Wnuk drove to the basket several times and deserved the free throws he scored when fouled.

Raekwon Miller.  This game was his game.  He scored 18 points in 19 minutes, missing only a single three.  Unfortunately, he also committed 4 turnovers, but more about that during the…

Men at Furman

As of this morning, the replay of UNC Asheville defeating Furman 64-58 could still be found on WatchESPN.  However, I suggest you not watch it.  Sometimes teams are terrible and, for both teams, this was one of those times.  Both teams shot under 40% and committed double-digit turnovers, with Furman sinking themselves at 20 turnovers for the game.  The Bulldogs scored 18 points off those turnovers while the Paladins mustered one basket off UNCA’s 11 to’s.

Off their hot game versus Siena, Raekwon Miller made one basket and Alec Wnuk made none.  Miller’s bobbing game swings from a great feed to a forced pass, a missed open layup to a made contested three.  Cutting out even a few of these mistakes would take Miller’s game to a truly effective place.

The two teams tied and traded the lead for much of this sloppy game.  My final teams notes include giving up three offensive rebounds to Furman on one of their final possessions and beating a sub-par trap defense when Furman pressed.

Recognitions

Will Weeks.  In 28 minutes, Weeks almost grabbed a double-double with nine points and seven rebounds, including three offensive.  He also added three assists.

Macio Teague.  He was the only player on the court that I actually expected to score when he had the ball.  Teague, shooting just under 50%, scored a career-high 22 points.  Had he not stepped on the sideline, his only turnover, before making an early three, Teague would’ve made his high 25 points and 5-10 from long range.

Kevin Vannatta.  Unfortunately, Vannatta’s shooting hands are still chilly, but his effort continues to be 100%.  Despite making only two baskets, his determination to score racked up nine free throw attempts, making eight, and finishing with 13 points.

The Ref.  With impeccable timing, one referee made a charge call and, when he turned to signal with his fist in the opposite direction, he nearly dropped a Furman player with a punch to the gut.  Thankfully, both men are fine.

Hopefully, this game got all the bad stuff out so the Bulldogs can show up against a fantastic Kansas squad, who recently beat an injury-ridden, No.1 ranked Duke team.