Dukes Confidently Enter CAA Tournament
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — It was only moments after her eighth-seeded North Carolina-Wilmington team beat No. 9 seed William & Mary in the Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball tournament play-in game, and Adell Harris — thanks to a reporter’s question — was forced to confront what happens next.
“You don’t want me to enjoy this?” the Seahawks’ second-year coach joked. “You just want to go right in?”
Harris will have to deal with it eventually.
UNCW (5-26) now faces No. 1 seed James Madison (25-5) in the quarterfinals today at noon at the Show Place Arena. The Dukes breezed through the CAA regular season, rolling to a 15-1 record with a 29.6-point average margin of victory — and JMU used (abused?) the Seahawks to pad it.
In the first meeting, the Dukes won by 36 points, 77-41. In the second meeting, it got worse. JMU won by 49 points, 92-43. Now, the Seahawks, who squeaked by the lowly Tribe — a team Madison beat by 24 and 42 points — with a 67-65 win Thursday, get another chance, even if, statistically, it’s a very small one.
“Right now, they’re a team on a mission,” Harris said. “And so what we have to do is try to show up and be the best we can be and not overly concern ourselves with James Madison, but [instead] worry about UNC-Wilmington and how tough we are and if we’re going to put them in a situation where they start to think twice about their destiny.”
JMU, seeking its first CAA championships since winning back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011, doesn’t think that’s going to happen. It also doesn’t sound like the Dukes plan on making it close, either.
“It’s like a mentality — like step on their throat,” said sophomore forward Jazmon Gwathmey, an All-CAA defender who is averaging 9.7 points and five rebounds a game. “... Like our strength and conditioning [coaches say], ‘Punch them in the face before you get punched in the face.’ We’re just always going to have the mentality: Don’t stop, keep pushing, let the opponent know you are the better team — and we’re not going to lay down just because we’re up by 30.”
If the Dukes win today, they play the winner of No. 4 Hofstra and No. 5 Drexel (teams JMU beat by an average of 24 and 19 points, respectively) at noon Saturday in the semifinals.
And if they win that, they play in the championship game Sunday, also at noon.
The possible title game opponents are two-time defending champ Delaware (the No. 2 seed), No. 3 College of Charleston, No. 6 Towson and No. 7 Northeastern.
To prepare his team for all the early-day basketball, coach Kenny Brooks had them practice at noon this week. It’s also relevant that JMU’s only conference loss, an 85-78 defeat at Charleston, came in a game that started at 11:30 a.m.
But the Dukes appear to be back on track. They rebounded from the loss with a pair of blowout wins (83-42 over W&M and 86-49 over Northeastern) to end the regular season and enter the postseason back where they were when they were 13-0 in the conference: winning by a lot of points.
“I think it’s just a statement on how we play,” said senior forward Nikki Newman, who won her second CAA Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday night. “And in practice and stuff, we still have the same mentality. So we’re coming into the tournament [today] wanting to do the same thing that we’ve done throughout the whole season.”
Brooks said if the Dukes do what they’ve been doing all year, everything will be fine, including an NCAA tournament berth.
Madison would secure an automatic bid with a CAA tournament victory.
If it falters in Upper Marlboro, JMU would be in the mix for an at-large bid with an RPI of 52, according to RealTimeRPI.com. But the weakness of the CAA (it has an RPI of 13 out of 32 leagues) hurts the Dukes.
Securing the CAA’s automatic bid, of course, would eliminate any stress about making the tournament for the first time since 2011.
“We don’t have to go out and do something supernatural,” Brooks said. “... We’re not a fifth seed trying to overcome a lot of odds.
“We’ve proven that we’re the best team in the league and we just have to go out and be ourselves and play our brand of basketball. Our mindset is just to win three more games, and [you] don’t have to worry about the selection committee.”