Smith twins, South Florida surging
Physiology played its part in Andrea and Andrell Smith having an opportunity to play together this season.
After they played their part in a week that could define South Florida's season -- wins against No. 12 Louisville and No. 21 Syracuse -- the twin sisters are taking matters into their own hands to make sure this lasts as long as possible.
As President's Day arrived with its invitation to celebrate great leaders by buying stuff you don't need for slightly less money than you would otherwise pay for stuff you don't need, South Florida found itself in familiar February territory. The Bulls were in the middle of the Big East table and struggling to stay afloat in postseason waters at No. 77 in the RPI.
South Florida coach Jose Fernandez has done considerably more winning in Tampa than those who preceded him, but he also has more experience than he would like with NCAA tournament bubbles bursting. The program hasn't appeared in that field since 2006, instead becoming WNIT regulars (winning it in 2009). So he knew what to make of an overtime loss against Notre Dame, a loss in the final seconds against Villanova and a three-point setback against Louisville -- all results incurred in the month of January that left his team 6-5 in the Big East, with three of its final five games against ranked teams, and the other two on the road.
"The NCAA committee could care less about your close losses," Fernandez said.
It does care about quality wins, and South Florida got one of the premium variety when it beat Louisville, 73-62, on Wednesday behind 35 points on 11-of-16 shooting from Andrea Smith. It was Louisville's second loss at home and the first time it allowed more than 60 points on its court. Andrea had big scoring nights earlier this season against Notre Dame and DePaul, but those came in games in which she shot the ball more than 30 times.
"She's the type of kid that wants the ball in her hands," Fernandez said. "Outside of the Louisville game, where she let the game come to her and she took good shots and she didn't force shots, in some of those other games that she had high numbers, her shooting percentage wasn't very good. I think it was more of her pressing and her attacking and taking contested shots. It was more high volume to get to 30.
"Against Louisville, it was high percentage and low volume."
Andrea was the top scorer a second time in Saturday's 68-66 win against Syracuse with 18 points, but she had help from Andrell, who finished with 16 points, six assists and six rebounds. Together, the twins hit 8-of-17 shots from the 3-point line against the Orange. Barring an epic upset against Connecticut, South Florida can guarantee a winning conference record with a win at Rutgers or Georgetown.
Both Andrea and Andrell signed with South Florida out of high school but ultimately attended Gulf Coast Community College for two years. Andrell suffered a torn ACL in her left knee early in her first season at Gulf Coast and retained four years of eligibility. That should have meant that after living and playing with Andrea for 22 years, she was on her own this season. But 58 seconds into a Big East tournament game against Pittsburgh at the end of the 2010-11 season, in what proved to be South Florida's final game of that campaign, Andrea went down with an injury.
It turned out to be an ACL tear in her left knee, same as her sister. She redshirted the following season, steered through rehab by Andrell.
The two are distinctly different players. Though a point guard in part because of an injury that sidelined Shalethia Stringfield for the season, Andrell is the distributor and defender. Andrea, as her performance against Louisville suggests, is the pure scorer. Andrell, too, is the one with the temper, the one Fernandez had to work to coach early in her time at South Florida. Where they are identical in ways beyond appearance, separated mostly by a small mole on Andrea's right cheek, is in their approach to basketball. Fernandez suggested it is a common sight to see them running multiple miles on the treadmill a few hours before games. If your leading scorers do that, others follow.
"We don't have one McDonald's All-American on our team," Fernandez said. "For us to be successful, we've got to be well prepared. We run good stuff. But outside of the 20 hours [of practice] a week, if the only work you're putting in is when I make you put in work those 20 hours a week, we're not good enough. They have relentless work ethics."
Unlike college, they won't be able to choose to stay together with what comes next, whether in the WNBA for one or both, or in European leagues.
So they might as well make the season they have last as long as possible.
She also starred
Courtney Osborn, Miami (Ohio): More than a few players are nearing the finish line in the race to 2,000 career points, but Osborn showed a finishing kick worthy of distance runner Moses Kiptanui to become just the 10th active player to get there. More importantly in her mind, presumably, she also helped her team pick up two important victories in a crowded conference race. Osborn opened her week with 19 points on just eight shots from the field (and eight more from the line) in a win at Buffalo. That moved her to within five points of the milestone, and she blew by it early in a weekend win against MAC contender Bowling Green. Osborn finished with 33 points in a 76-61 win and matched a career high with seven 3-pointers.
The senior from just outside Indianapolis also had seven assists in Saturday's win, meaning she either scored or assisted on 19 of Miami's 29 field goals. Making Osborn's career scoring accomplishment all the more impressive is that she also ranks in the top 10 among active leaders in assists. The only other player to score 2,000 points and make that list in assists is another native Hoosier whose name might ring a bell: Notre Dame's Skylar Diggins.
Next to 2,000 points should be Florida International's Jerica Coley. The nation's leading scorer this season needs just three more points to get there. Assuming she doesn't go on a six-game scoring drought, she'll manage it in fewer than 100 career games. Tennessee-Martin's Heather Butler is the only other junior among the top 25 active leaders.
Georgia Tech's Tyaunna Marshall makes a repeat appearance under this heading, this time after scoring more than half her team's points in Sunday's upset win against Miami. Marshall finished with a career-high 37 points on 18-of-30 shooting. She also had 27 points and 10 rebounds earlier in the week in a win against Wake Forest. As a result, the Yellow Jackets can finish the regular season with a winning record if they beat Clemson and Boston College.
Honorable mention No. 2 to Virginia Tech's Monet Tellier. The Hokies took it on the chin Thursday against North Carolina, but Tellier held her own with 15 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 34 minutes. That's the kind of moral victory typically available to a player on a team with two conference wins by late February, but Tellier made sure the victory in Sunday's game against Florida State was of the real, tangible see-it-in-the-standings variety. Her 24 points were more than any two Seminoles combined, and she added six assists to match her opponent's entire total. The result was Virginia Tech's third win of the conference season, and the weekend's biggest surprise.
Team of the week
Texas Southern: Don't look now, but Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has things rolling in Houston. A season after Texas Southern finished 5-26 overall and just 2-16 in the SWAC, the Hall of Fame player in her first season at the helm in Houston has the Tigers celebrating the first regular-season conference title in program history and closing in on the top 150 in the RPI -- a not insignificant accomplishment out of a conference that regularly serves up a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Texas Southern is almost perfect in 2013, a Jan. 2 loss against Southern the lone blemish that preceded 14 consecutive wins. That streak is still intact entering Monday's game at Alabama State after the Tigers clinched the title with wins against Mississippi Valley State and Alabama A&M last week. There isn't a Cooper-Dyke-like scorer fueling the run, but Texas Southern's four leading scorers average between 10 and 11.8 points per game. And maybe there is a star in the making all the same. Freshman Te'era Williams scored 20 points against Mississippi Valley State and 25 points against Alabama A&M. Over the past nine games, she's averaging 15.8 points per game.
Podium finishes for Duke and LSU because, well, when else is Texas Southern going to get top billing against them?
Duke sure looked like (at least) a No. 2 seed in beating Florida State and Maryland in the days after learning Chelsea Gray won't be back. The rotation is perilously short -- just three subs were used against the Seminoles and two against the Terrapins -- but the pieces still add up to a balanced whole. Facing Natasha Howard and Tianna Hawkins, Duke's Elizabeth Williams put up the kind of numbers you want your remaining All-American to produce: 20 points and 13 rebounds against Florida State, and 16 points and seven rebounds against Maryland. Alexis Jones finished the week with 13 assists against seven turnovers. And unlike some recent vintages of the Blue Devils, this one has a 3-point component that is an equalizer for undermanned teams everywhere.
Combined with its win against Georgia two weeks ago, LSU's victory against Kentucky on Sunday ought to provide some reassurance that the NCAA tournament first- and second-round site in Baton Rouge will include the home team. Playing days after the death of her grandfather, Jeanne Kenney hit all five of her 3-point attempts and led all scorers with 22 points. And the Tigers took good enough care of the basketball that they outscored the Wildcats in points off turnovers.
Before next weekend
Baylor at Oklahoma (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET Monday): Enjoy watching Brittney Griner play college basketball while you can. But while Griner owns the upper hand against the Sooners, winning the past five meetings after losing two of three as a freshman, she doesn't have scoring honors entering this game. She is averaging 19 points per game in eight career meetings, while Oklahoma's Aaryn Ellenberg is averaging 20.6 points in five games against Baylor.
Davidson at Chattanooga (Monday): A regular season that began with a win against Tennessee is on track to finish with a conference title for Chattanooga, but the work isn't yet done. The Lady Mocs play their final two games against second-place Davidson and third-place Appalachian State, with the former in position to pull even in the loss column with a win Monday. Chattanooga won at Davidson on Jan. 18, but it was a 60-56 game.
Syracuse at Notre Dame (Tuesday): There isn't much reason to castigate Syracuse for losing at South Florida, especially the way the Bulls are playing, but it does shift the Orange a little closer to the hot seat for all the reasons mentioned last week. A loss here could easily snowball into a losing streak with Villanova and Louisville up next.
St. John's at Villanova (Wednesday): This is the second of four games in eight days for Villanova, following Sunday's loss at home against Louisville and next Saturday's trip to Syracuse. The RPI still smiles on the Wildcats, but they can't take anything for granted. Meanwhile, St. John's is making a late run of its own, fueled in part by a big week from Nadirah McKenith (16 points and eight assists at Marquette, 21 points and four assists against Rutgers).
Maryland at Florida State (ESPN3, ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET Thursday): This space mentioned last week that Florida State showed in a win against North Carolina how good it can be at its best. Unfortunately, Sue Semrau's team has spent a good bit of the rest of its time recently emphasizing the contrast. With three losses in their past four games, including NC State and Virginia Tech, the Seminoles face a big test at home.
Delaware at Hofstra (Thursday): It's worth a mention as the final regular-season meeting between Delaware's Elena Delle Donne and Hofstra's Shante Evans, two of the players who were already part of the 2,000-point club.
Michigan State at Purdue (Thursday): It's time to worry about seeding for the conference tournament. The fifth-place team will have to play an extra game against the No. 12 seed, and these are two of four teams within a game of each other in third through sixth place at the moment.
Texas A&M at Tennessee (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET Thursday): Didn't we have an SEC race at one point? Tennessee closes with this game and a trip to Kentucky, but stumbles from the rest of the league mean the Lady Vols also have a two-game cushion on anyone else. Still, after losses against Baylor, Stanford and Notre Dame, this is the time for them to look like they should at least be the SEC's best postseason pick.
Stanford at Washington (Thursday): The good news is Washington can't finish worse than fifth in the Pac-12, but will the league send five teams to the NCAA tournament? After dropping games at Utah and Colorado, the Huskies could really use a win at home against Stanford or Cal. Small problem -- they last beat the Cardinal on Dec. 22, 2005.