Junior point guard Katie Nelson said it's now or never for the Massachusetts women's basketball team.
"If we're going to go to the NCAA tournament, I think this is the year that we're going to go," said the former McDonogh standout. "If we go into the tournament [Atlantic 10] strong and stay positive, I think we can make it."
The reason for Nelson's optimism this season is simple: talent.
"We have a lot of talent," she said. "It's not an issue of talent at all. If we find a little team chemistry and get to know what everybody else is going to do, we'll be good to go."
Nelson has twice watched her NCAA tournament hopes quashed. First came a late fade after an 8-1 start her sophomore year, and then a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year.
"My knee feels really good," said Nelson. "A little bit earlier in the season, there was a little soreness but nothing too serious at all."
The 5-foot-7 player scored seven points and had five assists and three rebounds Sunday in a 65-55 A-10 loss to Xavier, the top team in the West Division. UMass fell to 6-6 in the A-10 and 13-10 overall.
Nelson is averaging 8.1 points, which is third on the team, is tops in assists with 3.8 a game, and has a 3.0 rebound average. She leads the team in three-point shooting with 45 and is hitting 61.8 percent from the line.
UMass coach Marnie Dacko said: "Katie runs our offense and sees the floor well, and she's an excellent three-point shooter. I'd like to have her concentrate just on being a one [point guard], but we need her shooting, so she has to be a one and a two [shooting guard]."
Nelson credits a lot of her basketball savvy to her father, Johns Hopkins coach Bill Nelson.
Joynes has big game
Rutgers sophomore center Byron Joynes (Towson Catholic) tied his career high with 10 points and had seven rebounds Sunday in an 81-64 Big East loss to Providence.
The 6-9 Joynes leads his team in rebounds in league play with an average of 5.6 per game and is second overall with 4.8 per game. He has started all 21 games this season and is averaging 4.1 points. He has shot 46.6 percent from the field and 67.9 percent from the line.
Before hitting just two of four from the line Sunday, Joynes had converted 12 of his previous 13 free throws. He had hit 12 straight before missing his final free throw in a 62-61 overtime victory over Seton Hall eight days ago. In that game, Joynes played a career-high 38 minutes.
The Scarlet Knights are 8-13 overall and 2-9 in the league.
Byers responds: 37
Lebanon Valley senior point guard J.D. Byers (Westminster) celebrated his appearance in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" by scoring 37 points in a 71-64 victory over Elizabethtown on Saturday.
Byers made the Feb. 7 issue for hitting a last-second, 15-foot jumper Jan. 9 against New Jersey City to win the Rinso-Marquette tournament.
His 37 points against Elizabethtown were four shy of his career high. He hit 12 of 12 free throws, was seven of 13 on three-point attempts and scored 13 of his team's first 16 points. Byers leads the Commonwealth Conference with a 22.4 scoring average.
The Flying Dutchmen are 15-5 overall and 7-4 in the league.
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