ELON, N.C. – The Elon women’s basketball team is set and ready for its first appearance in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) as the Phoenix travels to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech (18-14) in the first round on Thursday, March 19. Tip is set for 7 p.m. in McCamish Pavilion.
A Look at the Phoenix
After being selected to finish sixth by the league’s head coaches in October, the Phoenix defied expectations by tying for third in the regular season with an 11-7 mark and earning the tournament’s four seed. In its first CAA Women’s Basketball Championship appearance, Elon defeated fifth-seeded UNCW, 60-48, before falling in the semifinals to top seed and eventual champion James Madison, 63-60. Elon is 19-12 on the season, which marks the best regular-season record for the maroon and gold under fourth-year head coach Charlotte Smith.
Last Time Out
The fourth-seeded Elon women’s basketball team led for 22 minutes in the CAA semifinal game against top-seed James Madison, but was unable in the end to knock off the Dukes, falling 63-60 on March 14. A free throw by JMU’s Toia Giggetts gave the Dukes the three-point lead with 27 seconds remaining, allowing Elon a chance to tie the game. The Phoenix was unable to hit two good opportunities from beyond the arc and was forced to foul with 10 seconds left in the game. The Dukes missed all four of its chances from the free throw line in the final seconds but managed to grab the offensive rebounds to keep the ball in hand and finish out the game. Shay Burnett was the leading scorer for the Phoenix with 18 points after an 8-of-9 day from the line. Jenifer Rhodes also finished in double figures with 13 points. Josepha Mbouma led the team on the boards with eight rebounds, while Malaya Johnson recorded three blocks.
Scouting the Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech finished the regular season with an 18-14 overall record and went 7-9 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Jackets regular season ended with an 84-64 loss to North Carolina in the second round of the ACC Tournament on March 4. One of Tech’s biggest wins of the season came on Feb. 26 when the Jackets knocked off No. 16 Duke, 71-62, in Atlanta. GT is led by sophomore standout and All-ACC First Team selection Kaela Davis who is the fastest player to score 1,000 career points in program history. Davis averages 19.1 points per game and owns the program’s single-season scoring record with 621 points this season. Three other players – Sydney Wallace (13.1 points), Aaliyah Whiteside (13.0 points) and Zaire O’Neil (11.3 points) – average in double figures for GT. On the boards, Roddreka Rogers comes close to averaging a double-double with 9.9 rebounds and 9.7 points per game. A 2014 NCAA Tournament team, Georgia Tech is making its first appearance in the WNIT since 2002 and its fifth appearance overall. In four appearances in the WNIT, the Jackets have gone 5-3, including the 1992 WNIT title. This is the first time under 12-year head coach MaChelle Joseph that the Jackets will play in the WNIT.
Thursday’s first round WNIT game marks only the second meeting between Elon and Georgia Tech in women’s basketball. The teams last met over 15 years ago on Nov. 26, 1999, in a tournament at GT. The Yellow Jackets claimed the win, 85-53, to take the 1-0 advantage in the all-time series.
Elon in Post-Season Competition
The 2015 WNIT marks Elon women’s basketball’s third post-season appearance at the Division I level. The Phoenix made its first ever DI post-season appearance in the 2011 Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI) and advanced to the quarterfinals after a 103-72 win over USC-Upstate in the first round. Elon appeared in the WBI again in 2013 with another trip to the quarterfinals after a 68-61 win against Eastern Kentucky. The Phoenix is 2-2 all-time in the postseason at the DI level.
CAA in the 2015 Postseason
Elon is one of five Colonial Athletic Association teams that are playing this postseason. James Madison, who won the conference tournament, is participating in the NCAA Tournament, while William & Mary is playing in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. Drexel and Hofstra join the Phoenix as one of three CAA schools in the 2015 WNIT.
Elon holds a 26-25 all-time record in games played in March. As a player and assistant coach at UNC spanning 13 seasons, Elon head coach Charlotte Smith experienced a combined record of 60-20 (.750) in the month of March.
Down to the Wire
Eight of the last 10 games for the Phoenix have all come down to the wire with the final point differential no more than four points in each game. Elon claimed wins over CofC and William & Mary by four points and victories at Northeastern and against Delaware in overtime by one, while falling to UNCW by four, Hofstra by two and Drexel and James Madison by three.
Seniors Zora Stephenson and Sam Coffer are both moving up the list in Elon’s record book. Stephenson has made 226 three-pointers in her career and is currently third in the record book in that category, just eight triples from tying second. Her 80 baskets from three this season already ranks fifth on Elon’s single season record list. Coffer currently ranks fourth on the all-time blocked shots record list with 125 career blocks.
Spark of the Bench
The extra spark that Elon has had off the bench has been a tremendous asset so far this season. The Phoenix is out scoring its opponents, 671-491, in bench points. Sophomores Lauren Brown and Jenifer Rhodes have been a big part of the team’s depth with the two players averaging 7.9 and 8.1 points per game, respectively.
Elon ranks first in the conference and 28th nationally with 5.1 blocked shots/game, while Malaya Johnson (1.4) ranks fourth, Jenifer Rhodes (1.2) ranks sixth and Sam Coffer (1.0) ranks ninth in the league in blocks. Elon posted a season-high 11 blocks in its game at NC State on Dec. 7 and again at Hofstra on March 1. That mark tied a team-high mark under head coach Charlotte Smith. The only other time the Phoenix has recorded 11 blocks in a game in the last four years was at Georgia Southern on Jan. 13, 2014.
On the Defensive
On the defensive side of the ball, Elon is first in the league in blocked shots (5.1/game), fourth in field goal defense (38.6 percent) and fifth in three-point field goal defense (30.5 percent).
From the Field
Elon is first in the CAA in field-goal percentage and fourth in field-goal percentage defense. The Phoenix owns a 42.0 shooting percentage after a 31-game regular season, while holding opponents to 38.6 percent. Malaya Johnson is second in the league with her 51.9 shooting percentage, while Shay Burnett (46.7 percent) and Jenifer Rhodes (45.0 percent) rank 11th and 13th, respectively.
Beyond the Arc
The Phoenix is shooting 35.3 percent from the three-point line and is second in the league in the long-distance shooting category. The team is fifth in three-point defense with opponents only shooting 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. Two Elon players currently rank in the top five in the conference in three-point field goal percentage. Zora Stephenson (38.5 percent) ranks third and Lauren Brown (37.8) percent ranks fourth. Stephenson also ranks 40th nationally with 2.58 three-point field goals per game.
Head Coach Charlotte Smith
Elon head coach Charlotte Smith is in her fourth season with the Phoenix and owns a 69-56 career record. Smith led Elon to its second straight Southern Conference Tournament semifinal appearance and a 10-8 overall conference record last season, while coaching the team to an 11-7 regular-season record in its first season in the Colonial Athletic Association this year.
If Elon advances to the second round, the Phoenix will face the winner of the Ole Miss/UT Martin game. The WNIT second round is scheduled to take place from March 21-24.