USCA women facing a balanced, burgeoning foe

  • Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:01 a.m.

After losing two of three games and one of its best players to season-ending injury, the USC Aiken women’s basketball team has righted the ship with back-to-back wins. Ranked No. 6 in the nation for the second week in a row, the Pacers (15-2, 8-2) will look for a third consecutive win tonight when they play host to Flagler College. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Convocation Center.

This is a critical game for USCA, which has a slight half-game advantage over No. 24 Augusta State for first place in the Peach Belt Conference East Division. The area rivals will square off at Christenberry Fieldhouse on Saturday, but the Pacers can’t afford to look ahead to that top-25 tilt.

That’s because they’re hosting the East Division’s third-place team tonight. The Saints (7-8, 5-5) are also on a winning streak, prevailing in their past three games and four of five overall. This is a dramatic turnaround for a team that struggled at the start of PBC play, losing four in a row at one point.

It has helped that the four wins have come against some of the weaker teams in the PBC, but at this stage of the season any win in league play is important. The Saints have been more efficient on offense in the wins, shooting at a much higher clip than their season average of 36 percent from the field. In two of the victories, Flagler made more than 50 percent of its field goals.

The Saints are led by Williesha Spencer, who’s ninth in the PBC with an average of 15.1 points per game. Although Spencer posted an average of more than 17 points in the recent wins, what distinguished Flagler’s success was its balance. In four games, three different players led the team in scoring, with only Spencer posting the top total twice. In the other wins, it got major contributions from Treva Mason and Passhayla Williams – players who emerged from close to nowhere to lead the way.

Mason had a 22 point, 15 rebound performance in one win over Lander while Williams had 14 points and 9 boards in the most recent win over Lander. That’s a massive improvement considering Williams has totaled just four points and six rebounds in the three other wins.

Opponents can’t overplay one Saint, or try to eliminate one facet of their offense. They’re balanced and have also received significant contributions from Jen Knurek, Shelbi Lindsey and Christina Brown.

While Spencer – the team’s leading scorer, is a 5-foot-3 guard who dominates the ball, Knurek and Lindsey are a pair of forwards listed at 6-feet and 5-11 respectively. They control the boards and capitalize on scoring opportunities. In the four recent wins, Knurek’s averaging a shade less than 15 points and 10 rebounds per game, while Lindsey is contributing a tick below 14 points and 9 rebounds.

What it boils down to is the Pacers will need another dominating defensive performance, much like they’ve delivered throughout much of the season. Over the stretch of the past five games, two of which were losses, USCA held its opponents below its season average of field goal percentage allowed. For the year, USCA’s fourth in the PBC in limiting opponents to slightly better than 37 percent from the field. Other than allowing North Georgia to make 43 percent of its shots in a loss, the Pacers have been tough to score on, holding its past five foes to 36 percent.

The defense doesn’t have an off night, even when one Pacer or another might be struggling shooting the ball. Senior guard Daniela Tarailo still leads the team’s active players with an average of 15.6 points per game – eighth best in the PBC. She’s one of the league’s best 3-point shooters but is just as comfortable slashing to the hoop.

Much like tonight’s opponent, USCA has looked to involve as many players as possible on offense to compliment Tarailo’s steady hand. In Saturday’s win over Francis Marion, four USCA players finished with double-figure point totals – led by Mia Antoine’s 16 – and eight players factored into the final scorebook. The team with the most contributions and consistency will prevail tonight.

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.

Today’s Game

What: USC Aiken women’s basketball

Who: No. 6 USCA (15-2, 8-2 PBC) vs. Flagler (7-8, 5-5 PBC)

When: Today, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Convocation Center

STAR WATCH

USCA: Mia Antoine, Sr. G. Antoine’s a versatile player who does a little of everything for the Pacers, and is coming off a game where she tied her career best with 16 points in a win over Francis Marion.

FLAGLER: Williesha Spencer, Jr. G. Spencer leads the Saints with averages of 15.1 points and 4.9 assists per game and is dangerous from 3-point territory, where’s she’s connecting on 43 percent of her attempts, tied for third best in the PBC.

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