Saturday, January 05, 2008

Davidson faces off against two very different Catamounts

Today will be a full day of basketball up here in Davidson, N.C. I will not be available to host a live blog or post an original story directly after either game, but I will try to get some thoughts online by Sunday.

Annette Watts' women's team will kick off the action at 2 p.m. against Western Carolina. Although the Catamounts come into this matchup with a seemingly harmless 8-5, 0-1 record, they continue to be every bit the team that fought Chattanooga to the bitter end in last year's conference title game. This year, Western Carolina has won at Clemson, at Louisville, at Oregon State and Hawaii. Their losses have come at the hands of Minnesota, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Chattanooga, and, most recently, UNC Wilmington. The Davidson men's team might know a little something about how a record doesn't really reflect the true quality of a basketball squad.

The Catamounts have been led by a high-scoring trio of upperclassmen: Monique Dawson, Brooke Johnson, and Ashley Pellom. All three players have averaged in double figures this season, while the 6-4 Johnson has averaged 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks a game. Unfortunately for the Catamounts, however, Johnson was seriously injured in last week's loss to Chattanooga. Reports are that she won't be returning this season.

The Wildcats will be bolstered by the return of Katie Hamilton who saw limited minutes in her first game back against College of Charleston last week. Although she is still not at full speed, Davidson hopes that Hamilton can give them another scoring threat on the perimeter to take the defense's attention away from Alex Thompson and Honna Housley.

The most important matchup in this game will be Mercedes Robinson and Julia Paquette against forward Kendra Eaton. Davidson completely floundered against this same group of forwards last year, and they were unable to stop the easy layups in the paint. The top six scorers for the Catamounts are all upperclassmen which means that they will be highly disciplined and difficult to rattle. The Wildcats will need to shoot a high percentage from the field and limit turnovers in order to have a chance to pull out the victory. If they can take advantage of Johnson's absence and learn to play well in the matinee timeslot, the Wildcats could be rewarded with a signature conference victory.

In the nightcap, the Davidson men's team will take on a similarly clad, yet totally different Western Carolina basketball team. While the female Catamounts have enjoyed immense success over the past few years, the men have struggled mightily in the Southern Conference and look to be going down that road again after stud sophomore Nick Aldridge was asked to leave the team.

The Catamounts have very little identity as a basketball squad right now, and that showed as they dropped an embarrassing conference loss to lowly 2-11 Furman on Thursday night. Conversely, the Wildcats are coming off a commanding victory over conference leader Georgia Southern where they had three players score in double figures, and led by a score of 21-3 at one point.

Things to watch for:

-Katie Hamilton might be back, but she won't be at full speed. Watts will be walking the fine line of giving Hamilton valuable playing time versus keeping her fifth-year star healthy. In the past, this team has fallen into bad habits of letting Hamilton do all the scoring for them. If they do not integrate her back into the offense effectively and efficiently, they might not be as successful as hoped for in conference play.

-In Davidson's last home game against High Point, star forward Julia Paquette went 2-12 from the field, missing open layups left and right. She cannot afford to lose her calm in the next two home games against WCU and Chattanooga.

-Although Will Archambault did hit a three-pointer in Davidson's blowout victory over Georgia Southern, he played the game at a slower pace than normal. I wondered if the ankle injury that he sustained at N.C. State had anything to do with it. If Paulhus-Gosselin replicates his effort from Thursday and stays out of foul trouble, Archambault might be given plenty of time to think about his ankle and his intensity.

-Although Kyle Hines and his UNC-G Spartans still lurk on the horizon, the Southern Conference does not offer much in terms of overpowering frontcourts. GSU's Louis Graham was supposed to be an all-conference player, but he could not stop Thomas Sander in the ways that the ACC teams could. Andrew Lovedale almost seemed surprised that he was able to elevate and get his hands on so many tipped balls around the basket. Ultimately, the effectiveness and consistency of Davidson's frontcourt will determine just how successful this 08 campaign will be.

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