MEC tournament: UC women hit stride at right time
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are a lot of players filling a lot of responsibilities on the University of Charleston women's basketball team.
That versatility has allowed the Golden Eagles to win five consecutive games and eight of their last 10 entering today's Mountain East Conference Tournament quarterfinal meeting with sixth-seeded Urbana (18-9) at 2:15 p.m. at the Charleston Civic Center.
Team health also has played a significant role for second-year coach Adam Collins, named the MEC Coach of the Year after UC finished third in the regular season and hasn't lost back-to-back games this season.
"Some of these losses that we had, major factors in our lineup haven't played," Collins said. "Of late, we've had a good long stretch of the same starting lineup, no one missing games and I think players have become more comfortable with the rotation, more comfortable with their roles."
Players from one end of the spectrum — first-year point guard and Morgan State transfer Chyress Lockhart — to the other — senior forward Tianni Kelly — have made the difference for UC (19-7).
And, although Collins brought a run-and-gun, fast-paced, 3-point-shooting style from University of Texas at Permian Basin, his system has been toned down to fit his personnel.
His Falcons team was called the "fastest 40 minutes in Texas" by one Lone Star State sportswriter.
In Collins' final season, Permian Basin led the Heartland Conference in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage and was in the top five in the nation in scoring and steals in 2010-11.
The Golden Eagles are eighth in the 12-team MEC in points per game (71.2), sixth in field goal percentage (.426) and second in 3-point field goal percentage (.376). During UC's five-game winning streak, it is allowing only 62.6 points per game, and just 57.2 in its last 10 games.
Lockhart, a 5-foot-6 first team all-MEC selection, averages a team-high 14.9 points and 3.72 assists. Second-team all-MEC choice LeAnne Ross averages 13.5 points and 3.2 rebounds and junior Nichole Perry is at 11.2 points.
The 5-11 Kelly, the team's only senior, is the team's fourth-leading scorer at 7.3 points.
Lockhart said she and the team are coming together at the right time.
"I would say since the Urbana game I really got it together," said Lockhart, who was 5-of-6 from the field and scored 15 points in UC's last meeting with the Blue Knights, an 82-76 win on Feb. 20. "A couple games I had only like five points and four assists, but as long as we win, that's all that counts."
Much of the versatility of the Golden Eagles belongs to Kelly. A natural wing, Kelly had to move to the low post last season when the team was in dire need of help in the post. This year, she's been able to move around and provide UC with help in multiple positions.
"This is better for me as an individual," said Kelly, who still has managed 6.3 rebounds per game this season, after pulling down 6.8 as a junior. "I feel like I contribute in a lot of different ways, and I feel like this year I was able to contribute more to the team offensively."
The style is a little different, but the results are the same. Charleston's depth has allowed Collins to use nine players an average of 12 minutes per game.
With a victory, the Golden Eagles will face the winner of No. 2 West Liberty (19-9) and No. 10 UVa-Wise (10-17) at 2:15 p.m. Friday.
"We don't have a Lexy Carson (of West Virginia State), a DeVonyea Johnson (of Urbana) or a Martha Nagbe (of Notre Dame)," Collins said. "Chyress Lockhart has had some moments like that, but there are some others players in the league who stand out any more than one of our players stand out. But, I feel we have more players that we're comfortable putting in the game than most people do."
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FOURTH-SEEDED WEST Virginia State (18-10) will seek a three-game sweep of Fairmont State (18-9) when they meet in today's 8:15 p.m. quarterfinal game.
The Yellow Jackets won both meetings this season by a combined four points, including a 63-62 win at State when they came back from six points down with 36 seconds left.
State is led by MEC Player of the Year selection Lexy Carson, who averages 21.1 points and leads four double-figure scorers for coach David Smith's team. Asia Greenleaf averages 12.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and is third in NCAA Division II with 3.75 blocked shots per game.
Leading the Falcons is Hailey Garrett at 15.4 points per game, followed by former Scott star and State Player of the Year Makenzie White at 15 points per contest.
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PRESEASON MEC No. 1 choice and second-seeded West Liberty (19-9) faces upset-minded and 10th seeded UVa-Wise (10-17) in the quarterfinals at noon today.
The Hilltoppers have won 11 of their last 12, which includes an 18-point win over the Cavaliers on Feb. 8. Former Williamstown All-State star Liz Flowers leads West Liberty at 17.4 points per game. The Cavaliers had the MEC Tournament's only upset in Tuesday's first round, defeating No. 7 Notre Dame in South Euclid, Ohio 81-67. They are led by Reynesha Archer at 12.3 points per game.
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TOP-SEEDED Glenville State (25-3), the ninth-ranked team in the USA Today NCAA Division II Coaches' Poll, faces No. 8 Wheeling Jesuit (15-12) in today's 6 p.m. quarterfinal.
First-year coach Charles Marshall's team was stunned by the Cardinals in overtime 77-74 at the McDonough Center in Wheeling on Feb. 20, ending the Pioneers' 10-game winning streak. It also marked only the fifth time this season Glenville did not score at least 80 points.
Kenyona Simmons leads seven double-figure scorers for Glenville at 16.3 points, but was the only double-digit scorer in the loss at Wheeling.
The surging Cardinals, who lost five of their first six games of the season, have finished with eight wins in their last nine games. They are led by Jaila Bryant at 14.5 points per game, followed by Breanna Butler at 14.3 points.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.