Through no fault of its own, the USC Aiken women’s basketball team took a step back this week. Coming off a 15-point win at Columbus State, the undefeated Pacers (11-0, 4-0 Peach Belt Conference) dropped one spot to fourth in the USA Today/ESPN Division II top-25 Coaches’ Poll. They were passed by conference rival Clayton State, but the good news for the Pacers is they’ll get to play the Lakers on Wednesday to settle which PBC team should be ranked the highest.
But USCA can’t look that far ahead yet. It has a game today at the Convocation Center against a very good Montevallo squad that will spoil any notion of a showdown of unbeaten top-5 teams if USCA isn’t completely focused on the task at hand. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
The Falcons have a 9-5 overall record and a 4-1 mark in conference play, where they’ve won three games in a row. They’re led by a familiar face.
Longtime USCA women’s assistant coach Cindy Hilbrich is in her second season as Montevallo’s head coach, and she has her team playing much better than preseason expectations, when it was picked to finish 11th in the PBC. Hilbrich guided the Falcons to a berth in the PBC Tournament last year after spending four seasons as Pacer head coach Mike Brandt’s top assistant.
On the floor, Montevallo is led by sophomore forward Taylor Beverly, who’s averaging more than 15 points and 7 rebounds a game. She was one of four Falcons to post double-digit point totals in Thursday’s two-point win at North Georgia.
The 5-foot-10 Beverly is the only Montevallo player averaging more than 10 points per game on the season, but three teammates are all just a shade less than 10 points. Juniors Alexis Brown and Shay Bonner are joined by senior Trena Moore-Smith, averaging approximately 9.5 points per game. Zena Nasiloski, the team’s leading rebounder, grabbed a clutch offensive board at the end of Thursday’s game for a put-back basket that gave the Falcons the win.
Things haven’t been that dramatic for the Pacers. Since starting the 2013 portion of their schedule, the Pacers have used strong runs in the first half to overwhelm opponents and cruise to lopsided wins. USCA is having the best start in program history, and another victory today would tie the record for most consecutive wins set by last year’s squad.
The Pacers continue to be led by preseason All-American Kayla Harris, who’s leading the team with averages of more than 19 points and 7 rebounds per game. She has excellent support from versatile teammates Brittany Hill (more than seven points and assists each per game), Daniela Tarailo (nearly 15 points per game) and Mackenzie Reese (more than 10 points per game) among others.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
What: USC Aiken women’s basketball
Who: USCA (11-0, 4-0 PBC) vs. Montevallo (9-5, 4-1 PBC)
When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Convocation Center
USCA: Mackenzie Reese, So. F. Reese has been the Pacers’ super sub, coming off the bench to average more than 10 points per game, and is coming off a 15-point performance in a win over Columbus State.
Montevallo: Taylor Beverly, So. F. Beverly has been Montevallo’s most consistent player, averaging more than 15 points and 7 rebounds per game.