Hampton, VA, January 6--When these two last met, the stakes were high. Hampton, the regular season and defending MEAC tournament champion and Howard University, the upstart Number 6 seed, who had advanced three grueling games in four days, were set for the tournament championship and a trip to the Big Dance.
The young Lady Bison team, which started five sophomores, were game during the first 20 minutes of that game, but in the end, the experience of the Lady Pirates and the fatigue factor that set in for Howard, proved to be the difference as Hampton went on to win 61-42 and capture its second straight tournament title.
Fast forward and 10 months later, the two rivals meet again. And while the stakes are not nearly as high, there is still a lot on the line for an early conference game. Rarely have two conference teams with outstanding records met this early in the season.
Hampton (10-3 overall, 2-0 in the MEAC) enters the game having won three of its last four. The Lady Pirates have posted noteworthy road wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road.
Hampton relies heavily on the leadership of senior point guard Jericka Jenkins, who averages 15.2 points, has 83 assists and shoots 84 percent from the free throw line. Choicetta McMillan keeps defenses honest with her long-range shooting by averaging 15.0 points. The sharpshooting soohomore guard has a team-high 41 three pointers made.
Melanie Warner (9.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Alyssa Bennett (6.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Keira Avent (7.4 ppg, 4.1), all proven veterans, provide balance with their ability to score in the paint area and their rebounding. Add to that the fact Hampton as a team, shoots 74 percent from the free throw line and it makes for an outstanding team.
The Lady Bison, who start five juniors, is also having an outstanding season. Howard has won nine in a row coming into the game, including road wins at Wake Forest and at Seton Hall. The Lady Bison's schedule also includes early season games against top ranked Baylor, against nationally ranked Ohio State and against St. John's, which was ranked in the preseason.
Much of the team's success can be attributed to chemistry and maturation through the wars of Division 1 competition. The one player who has shown perhaps more improvement than any on the team, is junior guard Tamoria Holmes, who is averaging a career best 18 points per game. Holmes averaged less than 10 points in her first two seasons.
Holmes, who combines both quickness and speed to her advantage, is equally adept at knocking down the three pointer or scoring on acrobatic shots in transition. She also has 39 assists and 45 steals.
Saadia Holmes has continued to show marked progress during her career. The 5-11 red-shirt junior forward is averaging 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds. The former MEAC Rookie of the Year and reigning Player of the Year, has extended her range and has added a medium-range shot to her repertoire, which has been a problem for defenders.
Cheyenne Curley Payne is the consummate point guard. The 5-6 junior is not scoring as much this season, but she has proven to be much more effective in running the offense and distributing the ball to teammates. She is averaging 6.9 points and has 66 assists and 44 steals.
But perhaps the biggest difference maker—albeit in a subtle manner—has been Zykia "Ziggy" Brown. The 5-7 red-shirt senior guard sat out last season and was slow to come around in the early season. A former All-MEAC selection, Brown has come on strong of late during the streak and she brings poise, scoring and leadership to the mix. As a reserve, she is averaging almost 10 points and four assists per game. But statistics cannot measure the value of Brown, who has the uncanny ability to make the big shots or plays in the clutch.
The Lady Bison rely on junior twin centers Portia and Nicole Deterville and junior forward Kara Smith for defense and rebounding. Oh, by the way, Howard shoots 75 percent from the charity stripe as a team, a key to road victories during the current streak.
The two teams meet again on January 23 at 7 pm in Washington, DC for Round Two.