Preview: WBB looking to continue build up toward SSAC Tourney
By Jim O'Hara
ROME – The goals they set before the season began, a conference championship and national tourney berth, are still there. This week, however, the Shorter University women's basketball team has just one thing on its mind: momentum.
"It's what we've been talking about for the last few weeks," Shorter head coach Vic Mitchell said as the No. 20-ranked Lady Hawks, who have won seven straight games and 11 of their last 12, prepare for their final two regular season tests this week. Shorter hosts Southern States Athletic Conference power Lee on Thursday before hitting the road on Saturday to take on SSAC foe Truett-McConnell.
"We righted the ship and we want to play well going into the tournament," the coach added. "But there are still a lot of things to play for. We want as much momentum as we can have."
After suffering through a 2-3 stretch following an extended holiday break, the Lady Hawks have been on a momentum tear in the past few weeks. Shorter's latest win came last Saturday via a convincing 77-48 victory at Brewton-Parker that improved the team's overall record to 23-5 and 14-3 in the conference.
That win clinched the SSAC East Division's No. 2 seed for next week's SSAC tournament that will be held in Rome at The Forum.
"I was real proud of how they played [against Brewton-Parker]," Mitchell said. "I was worried about that game because it was a long trip and the third road trip of the week, and Brewton-Parker was fighting to get into the tournament. But the team responded."
In that win, one in which the Lady Hawks hit 62 percent of their shots from the floor, Shorter saw four seniors finish in double figures. Allison Danner led the way with 13 points, Kelly Ellison and Robyn Foster added 11 each, and Brittney Smith connected for 10.
The performance, Mitchell quickly points out, was the latest example of how the Lady Hawks have continued to build on their momentum down the stretch.
"I think we've gotten back to being a more balanced team," the coach pointed out. "We know we've got to have three or four players in double figures every game and we've done that.
"Plus, in the last three to four weeks our shooting percentage is up and we've gotten back to being a good defensive team," said Mitchell. "We're also as healthy as we've been all year."
Defensively, Shorter has become one of the stingiest teams in the NAIA.
The Lady Hawks are currently ranked No. 3 in nation in field goal defense allowing opponents to covert just 32 percent their shots, while Shorter is fifth in scoring defense giving up 52.4 points a game.
That kind of defensive effort has certainly played a big role in helping the team make the transition to the offensive end of the hardwood where the Lady Hawks are averaging 70 balanced points.
Shorter enters the final week with three players in double figures with Foster and Ellison providing 11.7 and 11.3 points a game, respectively, and Smith contributing 10.4 points. Junior Shelby Farrer and Danner have also been consistent for Shorter averaging nearly eight points a night.
Ellison, a two-time NAIA All-American who on Monday was named to the 2012 Capital One Academic All-America First Team, remains the initiator of the Lady Hawks' offensive attack, leading the nation in assists by averaging 6.7 a game, while Smith anchors Shorter's strength under the boards where she pulls down a team-leading 8.4 rebounds.
All will have to come into play on Thursday in the Lady Hawks' final home game of the year against No. 4-ranked and SSAC unbeaten Lee, which brings a 28-1 overall record and a perfect 19-0 SSAC slate to the Winthrop-King Centre. The Flames handed Shorter its lone setback during Shorter's on-going surge on Jan. 28 in a 71-58 decision.
"It's turned into a real rivalry," Mitchell said about the matchup, one that has seen the two teams split wins over the past two years and one the Lady Hawks' seniors – Danner, Ellison, Foster, Smith, Abbie Daniel, Damisha Moore and Megan Queen – would love to win to cap their final home appearance.
"No one is thinking about next week," said Mitchell. "So far we've had a very, very good season. We've done what we needed to do.
"We want to go into the tournament as strong as we can and with the momentum."