Figuring Things Out

Men’s Basketball

Riding high off three straight wins, Asheville faced the USC Upstate Spartans, who will be a Big South Conference opponent very soon. While these two teams have played a lot, this game was entirely UNCA.

Never losing the lead, UNCA dominated by shooting 50% for the game, including 56.5% from long range and 72% from the line. Most importantly, the Bulldogs scored 28 baskets on 22 assists, a remarkable 79%. They also forced a majority of the Spartans’ turnovers, scoring 25 points off turnovers. The final: 82-70 Bulldogs.

Notables include 6-8 from 3 for Teague, a double-double for Thomas (24 points and 11 rebounds), and a close, but not quite double-double for Baehre (13 points and 8 rebounds, 6 offensive).

And everything good about that game was the opposite against Clemson. For example, the Bulldogs only shot 34% for the game, 26% from three, and 62.5% from the line with only 8 attempts. Asheville committed 16 turnovers, many unforced.

I’m not suggesting Clemson’s defense wasn’t good, or that they didn’t deserve the win; Clemson dominated paint with 48 points. But even when the Bulldogs had looks, the ball would not pass through the hoop – and when that happens, not much can be done to win. Clemson destroys 83-52.

The quick roadtrip south started at Clemson and ended in Greenville against Furman. This winnable game gave way to the main nemesis of UNC-Asheville: turnovers. Teams shot roughly the same percentages, received support from the bench, and played well in the paint. The differences were 21 turnovers by the Bulldogs to Furman’s 14, 13 FTA’s for the Bulldogs to Furman’s 22, and Furman: 20 assists on 29 baskets, Asheville: 9 assists on 29 baskets.

If I showed someone those numbers without mentioning the score (83-72 Furman), I guarantee they would say that Furman won. Good teams don’t win by committing that many turnovers. Thankfully, UNCA will have another chance to defeat a Southern Conference opponent when they face Western Carolina on the 17th.

Lastly, Division II opponent from just over the mountain, Milligan College, came to Kimmel and it was exactly what you would hope or expect: 97-60 Asheville (and without Ahmad Thomas). The Bulldogs forced turnovers, high assists-to-baskets-made (22-31), and dominated the rebound game. And, yes, a bit of sloppy play in the second half lead to a total of 16 turnovers for UNC-Asheville.

I’ll add that it was great to see former Bulldogs John Williams and Chris Stephenson in attendance.

Women’s Basketball

Unless you’ve missed them completely, you’ve probably heard that the women’s team is struggling to win this year. Absent a win over Division II opponent, Warren Wilson, the Bulldogs have yet to make it happen.

However, in the past two games against D-I opponents, UNC-Asheville has hung tightly, at times having led. At Wofford, the Bulldogs led through three quarters before stagnating in the fourth. While Asheville outrebounded, they also out-turned-over, leading to 20 points for Wofford.

An interesting note for the Wofford game, Zip Scott saw 26 minutes, leading to a start against Mercer and 28 minutes.

With the Wofford game close and  scoring 100 against Warren Wilson despite the team’s scoring struggles thorughout the year, I expected a competitive game against a 7-2 Mercer squad. I expected a team actively growing. I was not disappointed there.

I was disappointed to see Mercer explode in the third quarter despite Ali Trani starting the quarter with 2 three pointers, an assist, a rebound, and a forced turnover; to see some bad calls and cheap fouls that led to 3 Bulldogs fouling out; and to see a few too many turnovers, though Mercer didn’t completely capitalize on those, only 12 points on 14 turnovers.

Despite the margin at the end of the game, Asheville stayed close to Mercer.

I’m hopeful this is Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick working her magic as the team comes together to present a more formidable squad come conference play.

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New in Blue: Amaryah Corpening

One of my promises for this blog was to cover our incredible women’s team more like the men’s team, which means I’m covering women’s recruits too.

Amaryah Corpening comes to UNC-Asheville from a high-performing, local program: Freedom High in Morganton, NC. Coached by UNCA alumnus, Amber Reddick, and part of the undefeated state championship group, Amaryah Corpening is a tremendously tough defender. I know because we’ve got video from her Junior year.

In man defense, Corpening shuts down her opponents, either denying the pass or forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly. In zone defense, she shows a great understanding of space. Her toughness turns into fight in a few instances, like at the beginning when she shoves another girl off-ball, but that sort of fight isn’t exactly a bad thing. In the paint, that toughness provides Corpening, 5’7″, with the ability to box out and rebound.

In her final season, Amaryah Corpening averaged 14.6 point per game, 5 rebounds per game, and 4.2 steals. However, she only averaged 3.6 assists per game. For a vocal leader like Corpening, that number feels a little low, but assists can be finicky since good passes aren’t always rewarded by teammates.

Lastly, from the video, Corpening possesses excellent shot form. Anytime she sets her feet she’s making the shot. Her misses were instances of suprise or off-balance shots. Her highlights, obviously, bear that out as well.

Overall, I think UNCA has a great talent, especially on defense, in Amaryah Corpening.

Tourney Power!

Women’s Basketball

Oh ye of little faith! I’m talking about me because a few posts back I wrote the following:

If the Bulldogs were able to grab all four victories, they would be in premier position to win the tournament riding such a hot streak. However, I expect the Bulldogs to play well and play hard, but, come tournament time, I don’t expect victory.

While the team didn’t beat Radford that day, they did put three straight wins together entering the tournament. Given the team’s struggles this season, I did not expect a Big South Championship, which was a reasonable position. Unfortunately/fortunately, I was wrong and the women completed the impossible: first team to win the tournament completing four games in four days and first team to win as a 7-seed.

I’m so proud of the Bulldogs to come back after a rough year full of injuries. While they will play in the tournament, the Bulldogs drew a tough seeding at 16 and will play South Carolina in Columbia on Friday.

Men’s Basketball

With the loss to Campbell in the Big South Tournament, UNC Asheville came under some harsh judgment, in my opinion. Despite the tie for the regular season championship, Asheville was passed over by the NIT selection crew and landed with Big South members Liberty and Campbell in the College Insider Tournament. No Big South school was selected for the NIT.

The Bulldogs will play at UT Martin on Thursday at 8pm.

 

Again, congrats to the women and Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick for completing a remarkable transformation on a team plagued by injury. Best of luck to the women and men as they take on postseason competition.

GO BULLDOGS!

Update: On the #1 Seed

Forget what I said in the last post because the Big South, after my research, released their Weekly Report, which details the procedure for deciding seeding-ties for the Big South Tournament. The rules are complicated.

So, I give full credit to Jeremy Dunlap at Blogging the WU (Winthrop’s Blogger) for his analysis of Winthrop’s chances, and, in that evaluation, UNCA too. Find his piece here.

However, despite those other scenarios, I’m confident UNC-Asheville can win out and secure the #1 seed.

#BeatThoseBaptists

GO BULLDOGS!!!

 

Beatin’ Up Baptists

Men’s Basketball

The Bulldogs are officially alone atop the Big South after a win over Campbell, 66-53, and Winthrop’s win over Liberty. Asheville struggled against the Camels to start the game and Campbell played great defense.  However, without some the Camels’ top scorers, they were unable to keep pace with UNCA.

The hot hand of the day was David Robertson, whose seven 3’s accounted for over one-third of Asheville’s total points. Props to Kevin Vannatta too, whose poor shooting day turned into a great passing day, with nine assists.

The two persons I most want to discuss, though, are Will Weeks and Jonathan Baehre. In a previous post, I wrote of my affinity for Baehre because of his size.  It’s great seeing him grow as he contributed 15 minutes against Campbell, including two offensive rebounds and five points. But his biggest contribution was size, despite some deficiencies in speed. His defensive presence gave Campbell trouble multiple times. Weeks, on the other hand, shined on the offensive side of the court with 18 points. Come tournament time, UNC-Asheville’s opponents will work hard to cover our guards, which is why the post needs to be versatile and ready to score.

The Bulldogs have two critical games left to finish the season.  First, on Thursday in Boiling Springs, Asheville faces off against another Baptist school in Gardner-Webb.  The first meeting went into overtime before UNCA could grab the “W.” I suspect this game will no less thrilling as the Runnin’ Bulldogs of GW have been a tough beat all year for everyone.

Second, UNC-Asheville will end the season against Liberty inside Kimmel Arena. After getting beat-up by Winthrop, Liberty will face an exhausted Longwood squad before coming to Asheville. When they played in early January, the Bulldogs were able to grab victory in Lynchburg  which hasn’t happened for many teams. And, thankfully, the Bulldogs are unbeaten at home in conference play.

So the Big South standings could play out a few different ways:

  1. Bulldogs win out. By winning both games, Asheville takes the regular season crown and hosts the tournament.  Again, we’re unbeaten at home, so hosting the tournament is a huge advantage.
  2. Bulldogs lose at GW, win against Liberty. If UNCA loses to GW, assuming Liberty and Winthrop win, then all three teams will have the same conference record.  Therefore, while, I cannot say this is definitive, I will justify my position as to how the Big South would judge this situation: should Asheville defeat Liberty, the Bulldogs should be the conference winner because they will have the most recent victory over both of the opponents with whom they’re tied.
  3. Bulldogs win at GW, lose to Liberty. Honestly, if this happens, and assuming Winthrop and Liberty win their other games, I have no idea how the Big South will judge this situation. It becomes a rock, paper, scissors-scenario where there is no definitive way to declare a conference champion because each has one up over the other.
  4. Bulldogs drop both games. No-just, no.

Women’s Basketball

After destoying Longwood at home this past Saturday, UNC-Asheville has four games remaining. As I’ve mentioned before, injuries hurt this team in ways they’ve not been able to recover. The Bulldogs are third from the bottom in the standings with games to go against the currently 1st and 4th best teams. If the Bulldogs were able to grab all four victories, they would be in premier position to win the tournament riding such a hot streak. However, I expect the Bulldogs to play well and play hard, but, come tournament time, I don’t expect victory.

Outlast, Outplay

UNCA 104, Winthrop 101.

If you were not there, you missed an electrified Kimmel like I haven’t seen since we hosted the Big South Tournament a few years back. Two bands, packed student sections, and even a large section for Winthrop provided an atmosphere for this game thick with adrenaline, despite some fans simply refusing to stand at the beginning.

Allow me to paint a picture: a narrow loss to Winthrop in Rock Hill, where the teams were almost even on the statline; a chance for an Asheville victory that could place them within reach of the Big South Regular Season Title, and, therefore, tournament hosts; Keon Johnson looking to redeem himself from a terrible 1-11 shooting performance in Rock Hill; MaCio Teague hoping to bounce back from a failed buzzer-beating, game-tying shot in the last matchup; Alec Wnuk, a very important post piece, out for this game, wearing a boot.

When the Bulldogs came out fighting, I knew, perhaps even more than when I arrived, the crowd was in for greatness. A couple quick three’s put UNCA at a 10-4 lead that Winthrop rapidly eliminated thanks to Xavier Cooks and few defensive breakdowns. With about eight minutes remaining, Okeke had to sit with two fouls, an issue for most of the game that helped Asheville in the paint. And props to Vannatta for a buzzer-beater to end the first half.

However, Winthrop struck first in the second half, building a seven point lead off great defense and Asheville’s sloppy effort. The Bulldogs wouldn’t let go though as they hustled back with some rebounds, steals, and drives that threw Winthrop off balance. Unfortunately, that momentum wasn’t to be. For long while, a chill blew through Kimmel where UNCA never could get that tying basket. With four minutes remaining, down six with team fouls in the Eagles’ favor, the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, led by Ahmad Thomas, made. it. happen.

I could spend another few paragraphs writing about the final events of regulation like Cook fouling out, Robertson’s missed FT, and the ice-cold veins that put MaCio Teague #9 on the SportsCenter Top 10, or the Teague-Thomas connection against the he-Bro-ics of the Broman brothers, or even Keon Johnson’s 41st, 42nd, and 43rd points being blocked by MaCio Teague to seal the 2OT victory, but, instead, I want to break this down into three final points:

  1. Free-Throws. Winthrop outshot UNC-Asheville, but in FT’s, it was the Bulldog’s game. Asheville has shot poorly from the line all season, as I have documented. However, UNCA finished 27-32 from the stripe. Championship-caliber teams are not necessarily defined by stellar play throughout the season, but growth in problem areas, always fine-tuning. Specifically, a season-best 84.4% (not counting 7-7 against Presbyterian), not far removed from an 84.0% outing against Charleston Southern.
  2. Coaching. Coach McDevitt switched defenses well, tried Zilli and Smith, and he trusted the team, allowing the leaders to do what they need to do on the court, including let four starters play over 40 minutes, despite a 48 hour turnaround to play Longwood. And he deserves props for making them practice FT’s too. On the other hand, Coach Kelsey found himself in a difficult position without Cooks, with Okeke quickly getting his fourth foul in the first OT, and he trusted Johnson to be “the guy,” which he almost was several times, especially with his career-best, 40 point game. What fans saw were two dynamite coaches that mean everything to Big South basketball.
  3. The Big South Standings. The road ahead favors the Bulldogs. I do not want to understate how difficult road games are in the Big South, but looking at the schedule, things look positive. Hoping for good rest, the Bulldogs play Longwood (3-10 in conference) in Virginia. After that, we’ve got Presbyterian (1-12) in Asheville, away at Campbell (5-8), and away at Gardner-Webb (7-6), before returning home for the final regular-season game against Liberty (11-2). The final two games will be especially tough ,since GW was an OT victory last time, and Liberty has played well. However, Asheville now owns the tie-breaker against Winthrop. Liberty must play Winthrop in Rock Hill and High Point, and Winthrop must play Liberty and Gardner-Webb. That means, i) Liberty would have to win-out to get the championship (unlikely), ii) even if we lose one, Winthrop can’t jump us in the standings, and iii) we could finish the season 4-1 and win the Big South, especially if we don’t lose to Liberty.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the Presbyterian game, but rest assured, I will be there when we face Liberty on the 25th.  GO BULLDOGS!!!

 

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!