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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, February 19, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Youth movement impacting Lady Pirates

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Sharon Baldwin-Tener’s team is fronted by the type of senior class that can help bring the Lady Pirates to new heights. But as the season goes on, East Carolina's newest 100-win coach is starting to see that it’s her freshmen that can help keep them there.

Senior guards Lacoya Terry, Jasmine Young and Gabriela Husarova are averaging 17, 11 and three points per game, respectively, and Terry and Young are leading the Pirates in virtually every category. They are giving spark and substance to ECU’s 15-10 team that swept Southern Miss and Central Florida over the weekend to climb three places in the Conference USA rankings.

But with four games left on the regular season schedule and the Conference USA Tournament just three weeks away, different nuances of the squad are starting to emerge.

Players like sophomores Allison Spivey and Kim Gay have been major contributors, and freshmen Jean Best, Ashley Clarke and Crystal Wilson become more important to their team’s performance with each outing.

Best, a native of Wilson, was just named C-USA Rookie of the Week for the second time in three weeks. Wilson is second at ECU in offensive rebounds, and Clarke is the third leading distributor of assists on the team.

The more comfortable those three become in the environs of Division I ball, the more promising the postseason looks for the Lady Pirates.

“I think our freshman group is probably one of the best freshman groups we’ve had. They’ve gotten a lot better. They’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing,” Baldwin-Tener said. “It’s exciting to know that this year we’re deeper than we’ve ever been.”

If they manage to finish in the C-USA top four – they’re tied for sixth now and would have to win out the rest of the slate and see a few fortuitous losses for that to happen – ECU would have to win three games for a conference trophy.

The most likely scenario is that they’ll be playing four, and it heartens Baldwin-Tener to know that she can turn to an increasingly confident bench down the stretch.

“I think a lot of times the deeper teams win," she said. "If you have the best starting five but your bench is not as good, it’s going to be hard for you to win a lot of games in a row. So I think that’s one advantage we have, that we can play a lot of people.”

Best has provided a valuable post presence for ECU, especially after she got the first-year jitters out of the way. Her early-season hesitation had less to do with the actual intensity of the college game than with the expectation of the intensity, and now she has found her rhythm even against more experienced opponents.

“When I first got here, I wasn’t very comfortable at all, because people told me how much different it was going to be,” said Best, who collected her first double-double as a Pirate against UCF with 19 points and 13 rebounds. “I really had my mind focused on, it was going to be harder than what it was. I’ve gotten more physical now, and now I’m getting the hang of it more.”

Sunday’s game – an 86-83 overtime win over Central Florida – was a milestone in more ways than one. It was Baldwin-Tener’s 100th win, and the crowd of 3,112 was the largest in Lady Pirate history.

When Baldwin-Tener arrived six years ago, the women’s home games were drawing an average of 190 fans. Coming on the heels of Friday’s Southern Miss win, it was the kind of game on which a successful late-season run can hinge.

But to capitalize on that momentum, the team must figure out how to produce on the road. With games Friday at Memphis and Sunday at UAB, the team is hoping to reproduce its home-court magic — the Lady Pirates are 11-1 in Minges — in unfriendly arenas.

“I think when we’re on the road we’ve got to think like we’re at home, really not put ourself in a bad situation,” said Clarke, a freshman guard from Myrtle Beach. “I think we just go out and play hard.”

In the road games that haven’t gone the Pirates’ way, rebounding has been the sticking point, Baldwin-Tener said. They are leading the conference in scoring offense, with an average of 70.8 points per game, but they are sixth in rebounding margin and eighth in rebounding defense.

“The last couple of games we’ve had away we actually have shot the ball well, but we’ve been outrebounded bad,” said Baldwin-Tener, whose team is also second in the conference in both scoring margin and assists. “And you can’t do that; you can’t give them more opportunities than you get.

"We’ve just got to have the aggression that we have here offensively and defensively, and I think we’ll be OK.”

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02/19/2009 01:21:21 AM

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