Skyhawks hope to be giant killers as ‘big’ opportunity awaits at Duke
Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 9:02 pm
Though they avoided the so-called giants of the women’s college basketball world, UT Martin will still face a tall task in its first-ever NCAA Tournament game.
The Skyhawks — seeded 15th in the Philadelphia region — were matched against No. 2 seed and sixth-ranked Duke in pairings revealed Monday night for the 64-team tournament that will ultimately crown a national women’s champion in Indianapolis.
The Atlantic Coast Conference champion Blue Devils (29-3) and UTM (21-10) — Ohio Valley Conference Tournament titleists — will play at 12:30 Saturday afternoon at the famed Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., where Duke has not lost this season in 15 games.
And while there was a collective sigh of relief and scattered applause among the Skyhawk faithful Monday when possible matchups with perennial heavyweights like Connecticut and Tennessee didn’t materialize, a big hurdle still awaits UTM on Saturday — literally and figuratively.
Duke will be making its 17th consecutive NCAA tourney trip and boasts a roster that includes seven players taller than 6-foot, along with 5-9 point-guard Jasmine Thomas — a two-time finalist for the prestigious John Wooden Award.
“Their philosophy is to recruit the biggest kids they can find and they are one of the biggest teams in the country,” UTM head coach Kevin McMillan said in his initial assessment of his team’s first round foe. “I actually recruited some of those kids when I was at (assistant coach) MTSU, and they’re very athletic. And Thomas is an outstanding player.
“I truly believe they are one of about eight teams that have a legitimate chance to win the national championship, and I have no doubt that’s the way they’re looking at it going into the tournament.”
The versatile Thomas averages 14.8 points and also leads the Blue Devils in assists and steals.
Senior Krystal Thomas (6-5) leads the team in rebounding with 8.7 per-game to go along with eight points, while six-footer and classmate Carima Christmas is No. 2 on both the scoring (9.2) and rebounding (6.3) list.
Tricia Liston, Allison Vernerey, Haley Peters and Kathleen Scheer are each 6-1 or taller, with Vernerey 6-5 and Peters 6-3. All play at least 13 minutes per game.
By contrast, UT Martin will counter with a perimeter-oriented attack that features the standout freshman backcourt duo of Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome, who headline the least-experienced team Division I team in the nation coming into the season.
Another member of the Skyhawks’ highly-acclaimed freshman class, Jaclissa Haislip, leads the team in rebounding at 8.2 per game. Haislip, however, is one of only three players taller than six-foot who have seen regular playing time for a club that has struggled to find consistent post play.
Perica Glenn, a six-foot first-year player from Milan, and 6-2 frosh Beth Hawn will be counted on to play bigger than their size if UTM is to have a chance to pull off the upset.
“There’s a great contrast in programs, with them having great tradition and us just getting to the tournament for the first time,” McMillan continued. “You usually don’t see upsets happen in the first round or two with the top two seeds, but I do believe anything can happen. But they’re a Top 10 team for a reason and they don’t have a lot of chinks in their armor.
“We’ll focus more on what we can do to bother Duke, rather than what their strengths are. This is a level where kids have to make plays to beat quality teams. Our kids have proven they can make plays; they just haven’t proven it at this level yet.”
The Skyhawks will get a ‘big’ opportunity to do that Saturday.
Published in The Messenger 3.15.11