Dawn Staley was in the national spotlight during her playing career at Virginia. Now, as a coach, she is part of another ranked team.
The women’s basketball team broke into the national rankings yesterday at No. 24 in the Associated Press Top 25. It is the first ranking in the program’s 71-year history and comes on the heels of the Owls’ second upset of a ranked opponent this season. They knocked off then-No. 25 Richmond on Sunday, just over a month after downing then-No. 22 Rutgers.
Staley said neither she nor the team has reason to rest on their laurels after achieving a ranking.
“I have more initiative going into practice now that we’re in the top 25,” Staley said. “There’s going to be added pressure on us and on me.
“There’s a hex on the top 25, similar to what happened with Richmond [Sunday]. They certainly enjoyed the fruits of their labor there and we went after that. So did George Washington [earlier in the week]. Our guard is going to be up. You have to be sure to have your guard up in the top 25.”
The women’s basketball team got where they are by winning big twice last week. Its 82-62 rout of Richmond was supposed to be a showdown of the Atlantic Ten’s top two teams. After all, the previous three matchups were decided by just one basket each.
The Owls (15-3, 7-0) have won 12 straight, tying the program’s all-time record set in its inaugural season of 1923-24. Junior center Candice Dupree posted a career-high 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Sophomore forward Kamesha Hairston and senior guard Cynthia Jordan added 16 points each to help keep the Owls undefeated in conference play.
It was the second time this week the Owls dominated an A-10 opponent. Last Thursday at home against Fordham, the Owls scored 21 unanswered points to start the game, eventually routing the Rams, 69-43.
“We weren’t really expecting [the fast start],” Staley said. “But we did expect to play aggressive defensively and kind of create some offense from our defense, and I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”
Jordan led the Owls in that game with 20 points, five rebounds and four steals.
“I just took advantage on the open shots,” Jordan said. “It’s just executing what the coaches wanted and just being ready to shoot at all times.”
While Jordan controlled the perimeter, Dupree was equally dominant in the low post. She finished the night with 14 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
On the horizon for the Owls is George Washington on Thursday. The Colonials, winners of nine of their last 11 games, currently own third place in the A-10 West Division with an 5-1 conference record, 12-5 overall.
They are coming off a 97-42 pounding of St. Bonaventure on Sunday in which they set a conference record with 34 assists.
George Washington is led by senior all-American candidate Anna Montanana. The 6-foot-1 forward from Valencia, Spain is averaging 15.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
The defensive combination of Montanana and forward/center Jessica Simmonds (14.9 points, 8.0 rebounds) might be an interesting matchup for Dupree.
After a near two-year absence, guard Khadija Bowens made her return to the Owls.
The 5-foot-11 senior has made solid contributions off the bench so far, averaging 6.2 points per game in 10 games.
Since being reinserted into the lineup in late December, the University City High School product has added much-welcomed scoring depth to Staley’s bench.
“She’s playing aggressive and she’s exhausting herself when she gets on the court,” Staley said of Bowens. “And that’s what you’re seeing, someone who has been away from the game and wanting it for such a long time. She’s not just relying on getting back. She wants to be a contributor in a big way.”
The Owls also picked up an unexpected addition in sophomore transfer Fatima Maddox. Maddox, a point guard, transferred from New Mexico, where she averaged 7.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in eight games this season.
Due to NCAA regulations, Maddox will not be eligible to play until next January. She will bolster a backcourt that will lose Jordan, the starting point guard, to graduation.
“Certainly, [Maddox] brings some added speed and experience at the Division I level,” Staley said. “She played at a pretty decent basketball program at New Mexico. We’re just looking to get her used to how we’re running things around here. She should be a great addition to our team.”
Jonathan Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.