Minium: ODU hasn't been this good in both men's and women's basketball for nearly a decade†
By ODU Athletics
I’m sure some Old Dominion men’s basketball fans are still smarting from ODU’s 74-73 defeat at Texas-San Antonio last Saturday in which the Monarchs lost a 18-point lead in the last 4:43.
From the glass is half-empty perspective, it was a gut-punching defeat.
But the truth is that the glass has rarely been this full for the ODU men’s and women’s programs at the same time.
In spite of that loss, the ODU men have won 14 of their last 17 games, five of their last six and they host North Texas on Thursday with a chance to take over first place in Conference USA.
The game matches the league's two top-ranked teams, according to the NET rankings, which the NCAA tournament committee will use to help pick and seed teams in March. ODU (16-6 overall, 6-3 C-USA) is 101st and North Texas (18-2, 6-3) is 98th, according to the latest rankings on the NCAA Web site.
The ODU women, meanwhile, have undergone a remarkable metamorphosis under coach Nikki McCray-Penson.
One year removed from an 8-23 finish, when McCray had little talent left from the previous coach, the Monarchs (15-5, 6-2) have been the surprise team in the conference.
They have won six in a row, including five by double digits.
The women's team also plays this week in a matchup of the league's top two teams. Rice (16-3, 7-0) is in first place in the league and is C-USA’s top-ranked team in the women’s NCAA RPI rankings at 53rd. ODU is No. 2 at 66th.
Not since the 2010-2011 season, have the men and women enjoyed so much success at the same time.
North Texas at ODU, 7 p.m. Thursday
Rice at ODU, 7 p.m. Saturday
ODU at North Texas, 7 p.m. Thursday
ODU at Rice 2 p.m. Saturday
Coach Jeff Jones' Monarchs have won five of six and 14 of their last 17 games.
That was a special season for the men, who finished 27-7, won the CAA tournament and lost on a last-second putback by Butler in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Butler would go on to lose to Connecticut in the national championship game.
It wasn’t quite such a special year for the ODU women, who finished 20-11 in Wendy Larry’s last season as coach and lost their last four. But the Lady Monarchs were competitive that season and crushed eventual CAA champion James Madison 71-55 at home.
ODU hasn’t truly been in the running for a women’s basketball regular-season title since.
The ODU women were picked to finish 11th out of 14 teams in C-USA by coaches, and you have to laugh at their naiveté.
McCray, the Memphis native and former Tennessee, Olympic and WNBA star, brought in a nationally ranked recruiting class of nine players along with returnees Victoria Morris and Taylor Edwards. It was clear from the start this was going to be a special team.
The Monarchs won early overtime games on the road against Cincinnati and Jacksonville, then came a three-point home victory over VCU and an impressive 56-48 win at Tulane.
This team has depth, with eight players averaging at least 16 minutes per game. Morris (12.8), Ajah Wayne (11.4) and Edwards (11.4) lead a balanced scoring attack.
ODU is outrebounding opponents by nearly five per game.
And the Monarchs are trying to go back to their roots. Last Saturday, in a blowout victory over UTSA, they wore throwback, Columbia-blue jerseys the school wore decades ago.
Every jersey had Anne Donovan’s name on the back in memory of the former ODU All-American who died last summer.
No one knew ODU was going to wear the jerseys, including the players, who upon seeing the jerseys broke out into cheers. Some then shed tears.
When the team took the court, fans seemed dumbfounded at first, but after 30 seconds or so, the few on hand for pregame practice began cheering.
“I’ve gotten a lot of texts and email from people saying how emotional that was,” McCray said. “We reached out to the Donovan family to make sure we did everything right.”
Picked to finish 11th in Conference USA, Nikki McCray's women's basketball team is in the thick of the Conference USA title race.
The ODU women make their most extensive road trip of the season when they visit North Texas, just north of Dallas, on Thursday night, then take on Rice at 2 p.m. Saturday in Houston.
Travelling in Conference USA is no easy thing, especially for ODU, which is the most distant member from the four Texas schools. But ODU did well on a similar road trip, beating Louisiana Tech 70-59 and Southern Miss 53-50.
“These are huge games for us in Texas, but our non-conference schedule has prepared us,” McCray said. “Winning at Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss, both were big steps for us. Winning on the road is hard.”
Not that men’s coach Jeff Jones is looking for excuses for the loss to UTSA, but it was ODU’s third game in five days, and those games were played in three times zones. ODU had also played five games in 10 days.
Flying to El Paso, as ODU did last weekend, leaves you jet-lagged. El Paso, if you’re not familiar with the Texas map, is below New Mexico, about as far west in the Lone Star state as you can get.
Add a flight from El Paso to San Antonio (they’re about as close to each other as Norfolk and Atlanta), and there was even more fatigue.
“We relaxed,” senior B.J. Stith told The Virginian-Pilot about the loss at UTSA. “We were this close, and then we took our foot off the gas too soon.”
Jones said he’s “trying to get past” that loss.
“At times we did some really good things against UTSA to get that 18-point lead. But we didn’t finish,” he said.
“The biggest thing we need to do is be rested and positive again and be ready to play well. The North Texas game has a lot of implications as far as conference standings go.”
And in late January, that’s a good place for both the ODU men and women to be.
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