Charlottesville, VA—March 14---The Howard University women's basketball program continues to make great strides under the leadership of head coach Niki Reid Geckeler as they prepare for the 2012 Women's National Invitational Tournament against the Cavaliers of the University of Virginia on Thursday, March 15 at 7 pm in the John Paul Arena in Charlottesville, VA.
Geckeler came in with a formula for success and unquestionably, it is working. It all started three years ago when she brought in the current starting lineup, which consists of five juniors.
As freshmen, the group grew as the season progressed and made it to the semifinals of the MEAC Tournament before they lost to South Carolina State.
The group matured and showed marked improvement last season, advancing to the championship final before losing to eventual champion, Hampton University.
This season, the group took yet another quantum leap, achieving numerous milestones along the way.
The team, which tied the school record for wins in a season at 24, played perhaps the most challenging schedule in the storied history of the program. The Lady Bison began the season in the Preseason WNIT and faced Number 1 ranked Baylor. The Lady Bears won by a lopsided margin, but it proved to be beneficial to the Howard team as the season would progress.
The Lady Bison went on to play St. John's from the Big East and Ohio State from the Big 10, both of whom were ranked in the preseason poll. Howard would go on play five teams which are playing in the NCAA tournament.
Despite the losses, the exposure to that level of competition helped when Howard later went on to post road victories over Wake Forest of the ACC and Seton Hall from the Big East. The Lady Bison were able to parlay those wins into both a nine-game, and a 11-game win streak.
Much of the success had to do with the team's defense, which is ranked among the tops in the nation in scoring defense and in three-point shooting defense. Moreover, the Lady Bison have been able to take care of the ball, averaging only 13 turnovers per game to rank in the Top 10 in the country in that statistical category.
Along the way, it is important to note that 15 of their last 17 opponents failed to reach the 60-point mark. The defensive scheme put in place by Geckeler, is well coordinated and has proven to be very effective, primarily because the players are very disciplined in their assignments, having played it for the past three years as a unit.
The Lady Bison defense has two well coordinated parts. In the frontcourt, Saadia Doyle and twins Nicole and Portia Deterville have done a tremendous job rebounding the basketball and not allowing opponents to get good looks at the basket. During the recent MEAC tournament, the Deterville twins were especially instrumental in helping Howard advance to the tournament finals for the second straight year. On the season, the 6-1 juniors combined for 35 blocked shots.
The second part is in the backcourt where Tamoria Holmes, Cheyenne Curley-Payne, and Zykia "Ziggy" Brown have hounded opposing backcourts and forced turnovers that they convert into baskets. The triumvirate has combined for over 200 steals and forced almost 20 turnovers per game.
Offensively, Holmes and Doyle have consistently provided the scoring punch. Holmes, who is having an outstanding season and was named to the All-MEAC first team and to the all-tournament team, led the team and conference in scoring at over 18 points per clip. She poses problems for defenses because of her ability to go by people with her speed and quickness and her deadly outside shooting.
Doyle, who was also named to the first team and the all-tournament teams for the second straight year, had another spectacular season, averaging over 17 points and almost 9 rebound per game. Doyle is now second all-time in scoring in school history with over 1,600 points. The 5-11 junior wears opponents down with tireless efforts around the basket and in the recently found, mid-range game.
Payne is quite simply the straw that stirs the drink. The 5-5 junior from Chula Vista, CA is second on the school all-time assist list after recording a career-best 163 this season for over five per game. She is generally regarded as one of the toughest players, pound-for-pound, at her position.
The Lady Bison were able to get all-around play from senior reserve guard Zykia "Ziggy" Brown with over 8 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. Junior guard/forward Kara Smith stepped up late in the season and appeared to finally emerge as yet another consistent offensive threat. Portia Deterville, who comes off the bench, showed vast improvement this season and was a factor in the team's defensive success.
In the Cavaliers (22-10), Howard faces an opponent, which has experience in the WNIT, having advanced to the quarterfinal round in 2006, 2007 and 2011. The two schools faced each other only once and that was on November 26, 2001. UVA prevailed, 76-51 in that game in Charlottesville.
They have faced a common opponent in Wake Forest. Howard defeated the Demon Deacons, 63-59 in overtime in Winston-Salem, NC while the Cavaliers prevailed, 61-55 on February 24 in Charlottesville.
Much like the Lady Bison, UVA relies on two primary scorers in Ariana Moorer, who leads the team with 14.2 points per outing. Moorer is a senior and Franklin a sophomore.
The Cavaliers are also good at taking care of the ball and rank 3rd in the country in that category. The game will feature five players who have reached the 1,000-point plateau. Doyle, Brown and Holmes have all surpassed that plateau, and Moorer and senior Chelsea Payne have achieved that feat for UVA.
The winner will face the winner of the Richmond vs Miami (Ohio) game in the second round. The game will be aired on the Internet at VirginiaSports.com with a subscription to Cavaliers Live.