UC-State rivalry renews tonight
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia State and Charleston get together, geography dictates a rivalry game should ensue.
While the student bodies and fans treat it as such, it's hard to tell just how much it matters to the players, the vast majority of whom aren't even from the area.
UC's Tino diTrapano (George Washington) and State's Bo King (Charleston Catholic), who is out with an injury, are the only two players on either squad from the Charleston area.
Still, as the two teams meet for the first time this year today at 6 p.m. at Eddie King Gym, there's no doubt in UC coach Mark Downey's mind as to where this game stands.
"It definitely is," Downey said of the game's status as a rivalry. "We've got a lot of new guys this year as well as they do, but it'll be interesting as to how both teams handle it. There will be a big crowd. I remember last year, the new guys they had were really excited to play the game. I think the returning guys get to the new guys and tell them about the bragging rights and cross-town rivalry and things. I know I talk about how they dominated the rivalry before last year. It's not really a rivalry when they're winning every game.
"It'll be a slugfest again, whether it's high scoring or low scoring. It's always a tough, close hard-fought boxing match really."
West Virginia State coach Bryan Poore agreed, but said once the game starts all the extra stuff should go away.
"I think some of the returning guys that have played in this game before can help," Poore said. "But once the ball goes up in the air, it's going to be a game. It could say 'Timbuktu' on the other uniform, but you hope that you've got guys that when the lights come on and the ball goes up in the air, they're ready to play."
The Jackets (6-7 overall, 4-4 West Virginia Conference) sure treated it like a rivalry the first two times the teams met last year as State, which came in with a meager .500 record while UC rolled in at 12-4, pulled off a 60-59 upset.
That win came in the midst of a four-game winning streak for the Yellow Jackets, and while UC got its revenge in the second meeting at Institute, it was just by six points.
"The thing they've done to us in the past is they've really gone to the offensive glass and tried to be physical with us," Downey said. "They did that last year in the first game at home. We've got to do a good job of keeping them off the glass. [David] Ford and [Raymon] Austin are two big bruisers and they're going to try and pound it into them. They don't shoot the ball real well but they always seem to shoot it better against us. We've really got to guard them, keep them out of the paint, and we've got to rebound the ball. We've just got to go get it."
Austin (6-foot-8, 220 pounds) returned from injury after the break and has twice posted double-doubles, including 26 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday's win over Shepherd.
Ford has been State's most consistent player over the past two seasons. He also notched a double-double Thursday with 18 points and 10 boards.
UC (10-2, 6-2) is riding a hot hand of its own.
Terrell Lipkins ranks eighth in the WVC in scoring at 17.9 points per game and sixth in assists with 5.36 per contest, but Downey said Lipkins' rebounding has made a huge difference lately. The point guard is averaging 5.9 boards and could play a pivotal role in slowing down State's big guys.
"He's a dynamic player," Downey said. "He's been through a lot. He's had three deaths in the family in the last three months or so and it's been a little bit tough to keep him focused because of that, understandably. But when he's on, he's really, really good. We need some other guys to start following suit."
Poore knows that following a win over Shepherd with a win at UC could kick-start a big run through the conference slate and said the key to getting there is to act like the game isn't a rivalry at all.
"I think in this game you've got to stay even keel and not get too high or too low or too pumped up," Poore said. "It's going to be an emotional rivalry game. UC-State always is. We've got to try and get our kids to battle and compete because we know Charleston is going to. I think we will. I think our team is coming together. We're nowhere close to where we need to be and want to be, but we're improving. This team has a chance to be pretty good at the end of the year."
First-year West Virginia State women's basketball coach David Smith is dealing with a problem not many coaches in the history of sports have had to contend with.
Too much experience.
That's because the 10-player Yellow Jackets roster is without a freshman or a sophomore, a fact illustrating a cupboard that was left beyond bare by the previous coaching regime.
On the other hand, maybe this group of juniors and seniors, who are by now well grounded in the cross-town rivalry between State and Charleston, will be more than ready to go as the two teams meet today at 4 p.m. at UC.
The Yellow Jackets (4-7, 4-4) started hot, winning their first three games before dropping seven in a row, a slide that ended Thursday in a 93-75 win over Shepherd.
"These kids are all new to me, and everything we do is new to them," Smith said. "It's a learning process and there's going to be ups and downs. We were shorthanded to begin with and we've been hit by injuries and illness and that hasn't helped us."
Indeed, State played Monday's game against West Virginia Wesleyan with just seven players, and although Jordan Brock returned in Thursday's game, her minutes were limited because of the flu.
Meanwhile, Charleston and fellow first-year coach Adam Collins have also been up and down this year, although the Golden Eagles roster is the complete opposite of State's in terms of experience.
Nine sophomores and a freshman make up the bulk of UC's roster, while guard Chrissy Keir is the team's only senior.
Still, UC (6-5, 3-4) has managed a winning record thanks in large part to a 4-1 mark at home, a fact not lost on Smith.
"They are really good at home," Smith said. "They shoot really well there and they put up a lot of points. We're going to have to be able to put points on the board to stay with them. They come at you with a lot of different players and good defense."
UC coach Adam Collins didn't return the Gazette-Mail's calls requesting an interview.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.