- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Fast-starting CU opens TSAC
Jan 06, 2007 12:00 am
Cumberland's basketball teams have been playing for almost two months in preparation for tonight.
For the Lady Bulldogs, it's been a matter of building on back-to-back trips to the NAIA National Tournament. For the men, it's been turning around a program which went 5-26 a season ago.
It's mission accomplished thus far. But it may not be enough as Union visits the Dallas Floyd Center tonight for the TranSouth Athletic Conference openers. The visitors from Jackson are the preseason favorites to win both the mens and womens championships.
Union's women have won the last two NAIA national championships and are currently ranked No. 3 with a 9-2 record. The Lady Bulldogs' losses (both schools use the same mascot) came to No. 1 Vanguard (Calif.) and No. 4 St. Xavier (Ill.). Tonight's 6 p.m. tipoff will be their first game since Dec. 8 while Cumberland beat Brescia last Friday to work off some Christmas rust.
"They've got athletes, they've got pople who can shoot the three," Cumberland coach Clint Mason said of Union, which boasts a front line of 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4.
Cumberland, which is 1-38 against Union lifetime (according to Union's media guide) rose three spots to 11th in the latest NAIA poll released Wednesday with a 10-1 record. The Lady Dawgs' only loss was at No. 19 Georgetown.
"I would venture to say we've got one of the best teams Cumberland has ever had, at least as a four-year school," Mason said. "We've got six seniors and 11 upperclassmen. We're a veteran ballclub. I think we have a deeper bench than Union does.
"Last year, we had some easy non-conference games. This year, we toughened up our schedule. That's prepared us for (tonight). We have three or four quality wins."
Mason said Union, which utilizes an effective 2-1-2 halfcourt trap defense, has been playing seven deep. The fourth-year Cumberland coach said he expects to start Ashley Cross at the point, Connecticut-transfer Kiana Robinson at the two-guard, veteran C'Kala Humes at the wing, junior Renae Williams at power forward and Tomika Hall in the low post with Kari Maddox, Isabelli Cunico and Mariel Ruis among others coming off the bench.
"We're going to have to keep our composure," Mason said. "We're going to have to be patient and run our offense. We're going to have to play without fear.
"We're very deep. We're going to transition and get the ball up and down the court. We've got to play like we belong."
Cumberland's men haven't proved they're all the way back, yet. But at 8-3, the Bulldogs have received enough votes in the NAIA poll to be rated 37th. Fifth-year coach Lonnie Thompson, who took the Bulldogs to the National Tournament in 2004, said this team should have an even better record at this point.
"We should be 11-0," said Thompson, noting two of the losses came in the last 10 seconds and the other in the final two minutes. "When we brought in 13 new guys, they had to learn me, I had to learn them. They're learning how tough it is to play NAIA ball. A lot of the NAIA is just as good as Division I basketball. We're two, three possessions away from 11-0. Had I kept everything together, we wouldn't be as physical as that team three years ago, but we could compete with them."
But keeping everything together became problematic during the holiday break as small forward DeCorey Young was ruled academically ineligible. At the same time 6-foot-6 post Rodney James became eligible, but will probably be sidelined for tonight's 8 p.m. conference opener with a knee injury.
Thompson had depth behind Young, but, "potentially, he could have been an all-league player. It's hard to replace him in two weeks," the coach said.
But barring a complete collapse, the next two months should bode well for the Bulldogs.
"If these things continue to go well, we'll be in the top half of the league," Thompson said. "That's a big step up from last year."
Union fell seven spots to 12th in the new poll with a 7-3 record. But the Bulldogs have been to the nationals nine of the last 10 seasons.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.