CIAA women's Tournament

February 28, 2005|By Bill Free

CIAA women's Tournament

Site: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

When: Today, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday

2004 champion: Shaw

2005 favorite: Shaw. The hometown team and two-time defending champion comes into this year's tournament on an even bigger high than last season, being ranked No. 2 in the USA Today/ESPN/Women's Basketball Coaches Association Division II Top 25 poll. The Bears are 26-1 overall compared with last season's 28-3 mark, and they are 16-0 in the league for a second straight season. Shaw has the conference's third-leading scorer in Joy Hairston (18.9 average), but this team's built around defense and overall talent. The Bears have this season's CIAA Defensive Player of the Year, Jessica Hawkins, who is joined on the All-CIAA team by Kiarsha Curtis, Hairston and Natassia Boucicault.

Dark horse: Bowie State. The Bulldogs (15-11 overall, 10-6 in league) have enough front-line talent to put up a fight, but depth is a problem, as it was last year. If CIAA Player of the Year Allyson Hardy and 6-foot center Rachill Robinson, the league's No. 2 rebounder, both have big-time performances in their farewells to the league as seniors, the Bulldogs are capable of stunning top-seeded Shaw in front of the Raleigh faithful.

Player to watch: Hardy, Bowie State. Few have forgotten Hardy's 50 points last season in an opening-round 84-60 win over St. Augustine's. It was one of three times the 5-7 marvel scored 34 or more last season, and she has hit 30 or more three times this year, with 36 her high. She leads the league in scoring (22.0 average) and free-throw shooting (86.4 percent), is sixth in three-point percentage (.364) and is 10th in steals (2.65).

Outlook: It's hard to see any team other than Shaw winning - unless one factors in the opening round of the NCAA Division II women's South Atlantic Regional tournament last season when eighth-seeded Augusta State pulled off an 81-64 upset over top-seeded Shaw on its home court.

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