ELON, N.C. – For the first time in program history, Elon University women’s basketball is dancing in the NCAA Tournament and will take on sixth-seeded West Virginia on Friday, March 17, at 2:30 p.m. inside XFINITY Center in College Park, Md., on ESPN2. Elon’s NCAA Tournament debut will come after third-seeded Maryland takes on No. 14 Bucknell at 12 p.m. noon.
Friday’s game will air on ESPN2 and WatchESPN with Courtney Lyle and Tamika Catchings on the call. The game will air in its entirety on ESPN2 in the states of North Carolina, West Virginia and a portion of Pennsylvania and will be part of ESPN’s Whip-Around coverage across the rest of the United States. In North Carolina, the game will follow sixth-seeded NC State and 11th-seeded Auburn in Austin, Texas, on ESPN2. Fans can also hear the game against the Mountaineers over the airwaves on WSOE 89.3 FM or online on Phoenix All-Access with Riley Beal on the call.
TIME TO DANCE
Elon women’s basketball is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history this year. The bid comes on the heels of the program’s first-ever regular season and conference tournament titles. Elon defeated UNCW 82-48 back on March 1 at home to claim the regular season title before going on to beat James Madison, 78-60, on March 11 in the CAA Tournament Final in Harrisonburg, Va., to win the CAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. This is the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Elon basketball, men or women.
Elon and West Virginia have met four times to date with the Mountaineers winning all four matchups, all in Morgantown, W. Va., dating back to 2010. The Phoenix and Mountaineers last met a season ago on Dec. 28, 2015, with West Virginia taking a 67-57 win. The 10-point loss is the closest margin of defeat for the Phoenix against the Mountaineers.
ABOUT WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers ran through the Big 12 Tournament as the No. 6 seed and defeated No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 12 Texas and No. 2 Baylor en route to the program’s first Big 12 championship. Standing at 23-10 on the season with a regular season conference mark of 8-10, the Mountaineers have won four in a row dating back to Feb. 27 in the regular season finale against Kansas. West Virginia is led by Tynice Martin’s 18.6 points per game and is shooting 41 percent from the floor. Lanay Montgomery is averaging 10.7 points per game on 68 percent shooting (149-for-219) from the floor. She also leads the team with 8.9 rebounds per contest. Off the court, West Virginia head coach Mike Carey’s daughter, Chelby Carey, is a second-year law student at Elon Law School.
Top-seeded Elon methodically pulled away from second-seeded James Madison last Saturday on the way to an 18-point, 78-60 victory over the Dukes in the CAA title game. JMU’s largest lead was two in the opening two minutes. After that, Elon took the lead back for good on the way to the title, leading by as many as 22 points midway through the fourth quarter. Lauren Brown led Elon with 17 points with Essence Baucom adding 16 and Shay Burnett and Malaya Johnson each chipping in 14. Burnett finished with a double-double by adding 10 rebounds to go with six assists. The win marked Elon’s first over JMU since it transitioned to the CAA.
In the CAA Tournament last week, Elon shot 54.1 percent from the floor in hitting 91-of-168 shots across three games at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va. Elon’s 56.5 field goal percentage against William & Mary in the CAA Semifinals represents the highest shooting percentage in a game this season. On three occasions during the regular season, Elon shot above 50 percent. In the CAA Tournament, Elon shot better than 50 percent in all three games, never shooting below 52.6 percent (30-for-57) in the quarterfinals against Hofstra. The performance was the third-highest among the 32 conference champions in the NCAA Tournament behind UConn’s 58.4 percent (104-178) in the AAC Tournament and Maryland’s 54.6 percent (101-185) in the Big Ten Tournament.
With three players – Lauren Brown, Shay Burnett and Jenifer Rhodes – reaching the 1,000-career point mark this season, it marks the first time in program history a trio of teammates have reached the milestone in the same season. Before this year, two players reaching 1,000 points in the same season had been done twice by Venessa Corbett and Lou Williamson in 1979-80 and Elizabeth Ward and Laura Case in 1992-93.
Head coach Charlotte Smith is no stranger to a member of the ESPN2 broadcast team. In 2006, Smith played for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA with Friday’s color commentator, Tamika Catchings.
Elon earned four votes in the USA TODAY Coaches poll Tuesday. It also checked in at No. 21 in the NCAA RPI entering the tournament. Elon ranked No. 2 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll last week heading into the CAA Tournament and received one first-place vote. The Phoenix was No. 5 in the final release of the espnW Mid-Major poll on March 1.
With 27 victories this season, it marks just the second time Elon has reached the 20-win mark as a Division I program and is the first time Elon has earned the accomplishment in regular-season play. Last time Elon reached 20 wins in 2010-11, the Phoenix finished 20-13 and recorded its 20th win in the 32nd game of the season in the WBI against USC Upstate.
Elon’s nine-game winning streak from Dec. 17 against ETSU to Jan. 15 against Drexel was the most the team has won in a row as a Division I program. The last time Elon had won that many in a row came during a 12-game winning streak in 1981-82 under coach Mary Jackson. Elon’s only losses in the last 25 games have come against James Madison on Jan. 20 and Feb. 12 by six and seven points, respectively. Only UConn (25-0), Drake (24-1) and Belmont (24-1) have better records over the course of the last 25 games. Elon is tied at 23-2 with Maryland and Baylor.
ON THE ROAD
Elon has been stellar away from Alumni Gym this season. Through the CAA tournament, the Phoenix is 16-4 away from home, including neutral games, with an 11-4 record in true road games. Prior to the loss at JMU on Feb. 12, Elon had won each of its previous nine road games. The nine-game road winning streak marked the longest streak for the program as a Division I team. The previous long was five games from Jan. 8 to Jan. 29 in 2010-11, the final season of the Karen Barefoot era.
MAKING IT LOOK EASY
With 16 wins in conference play this season, the mark surpassed the 2012-13 season when Elon won 14 Southern Conference games. That number stood as the most wins in a conference season for the Phoenix until this year’s 16-2 championship mark.
Elon’s six biggest CAA wins to date all came this season. To close the regular season on March 1, the Phoenix beat UNCW 82-48 (+34) for the largest CAA win to date. Prior to that, Elon defeated Charleston on Jan. 13 and Towson on Feb. 3 by 28 points each and beat Hofstra in the CAA quarterfinals and William & Mary in the CAA semifinals by the same margin. In those games, Elon topped Charleston 84-56, beat Towson 83-55, downed Hofstra 78-50 and topped W&M 88-60. Back on Jan. 8, Elon also beat Delaware 69-42 (+27). Before this season, Elon’s biggest CAA wins were both 22-point margins last season over Towson and UNCW.