Preview: Shorter-Berry rivalry takes center stage Monday at WKC
By Matt Green
6 pm: Lady Hawks (14-4) vs. Berry College
8 pm: #1 Hawks (18-0) vs. Berry College (0-16)
Monday, Jan. 23 • Winthrop-King Centre
ROME -- One of the greatest rivalries in all of college athletics calls Rome, Ga., home. Its latest installment on the hardwood is set to take place on Monday night.
Shorter University and Berry College will renew acquaintances at the Winthrop-King Centre tomorrow night in a doubleheader beginning with a matchup between Shorter's Lady Hawks and Berry's Lady Vikings at 6 pm and capped with a tilt between the No. 1-ranked Hawks and the Vikings at approximately 8 pm.
Tomorrow night's games are part of the annual Rome-Seven Hills Rotary Basketball Classic for Literacy. Members of the Rome-Seven Hills Rotary Club will be on hand taking donations and selling t-shirts with all proceeds benefitting the Club's Childhood Literacy Reading Program, which aims to supply books for underprivileged children in Rome and Floyd County.
The night will tip off with the women's matchup where the Lady Hawks (14-4) are in search of their third straight win overall and a second straight over Berry in the series.
Shorter and Berry (6-9) have split in each of the past two seasons with the Lady Hawks winning the second matchup each time. The Lady Hawks topped Berry 67-59 at the Winthrop-King Centre in the last meeting between the schools.
Both teams enter tomorrow night's game with momentum. Shorter has won four of five including its last two games by an average of 19 points. Berry has won two straight, including a 22-point win over Spelman on Saturday at the Cage Center.
The Lady Vikings have had to rely on a young group that features just one senior. That senior, guard Brittany Coughlan, leads Berry in scoring at 13 points a game and is shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. As a team, the Lady Vikings are knocking down 34 percent of their 3-point attempts and will look to stretch a Shorter defense that ranks No. 5 in the NAIA in field goal percentage defense and No. 9 in the country in scoring defense.
Shorter will counter Coughlan with the tandem of seniors Kelly Ellison and Robyn Foster.
Ellison, a two-time NAIA All-American, leads Shorter in scoring (13.1 ppg) and paces the entire country in assists per game (6.7). Foster ranks second on the team in scoring at 11.4 points a game and has been on a tear in Shorter's last five outings where she has averaged 16.4 points. During that stretch, Foster has made 12 of 32 attempts from 3-point range and is shooting just under 50 percent from the floor (30-for-61).
The men's showdown pits arguably the country's hottest team against one that is still in search of its first win.
Shorter's Hawks (18-0), which validated their program's first-ever No. 1 ranked with a 74-65 victory over fourth-ranked Southern Poly on Thursday night, will play their second high-profile game in just four days when the Vikings come to the WKC.
Shorter has won two straight in the series after scoring two close victories a year ago. While this matchup appears to be a mismatch on paper -- the Vikings are 0-16 with nine games remaining in their 2011-12 schedule -- the Hawks know all too well how topsy-turvy this rivalry can be.
Just two years ago, Shorter blew out Berry 88-60 on its home floor only to turn around and lose to the Vikings in Mount Berry by 16 a couple weeks later. The Vikings would like nothing more than to post their first victory of the season against their top-ranked rivals from across town in front of what is sure to be another packed house on the Hill.
Berry has three players averaging double figures in sharp-shooting freshman guard Nasser Almulla (13.8 ppg), sophomore post Lake Graham (13.3) and sophomore wing Mac Whalen (10.2). The Vikings hoist over 21 treys a game in their Princeton offense and Shorter will have to play a disciplined game on the defensive end to put pressure on Berry's playmakers.
The Vikings, on the other hand, will have to contend with Shorter's superior size and athleticism.
Berry, which has only one player listed at over 6-foot-2, will likely face a Shorter starting five with four players that are 6-2 or better -- including Shorter's front court trio of 6-5 Walter Hill, 6-7 Anthony Banks and 6-8 Dante Harvey. If zone is in the game plan, the Vikings will have to deal with a Shorter offense that ranks No. 2 in the NAIA in 3-point percentage at 42.2 percent.
Tomorrow night's games will be broadcast live on 95.7 FM The Ridge and are also available online by clicking on the LISTEN link available on the Shorter Athletics homepage.