First-place Spartans concerned with playing well, not milestones
By Rob Daniels
In this season of three- and four-digit records in UNCG women’s basketball, Lynne Agee prefers two seemingly humble figures: 4 and 0.
Those are the totals of Spartan wins and losses in Southern Conference play, and they represent the program’s best start to a league season in a decade. The current club will try to equal the 5-0 mark of the 2000-01 team when it hosts Georgia Southern on Wednesday. For Agee, the Spartans’ coach for three decades, the distinction provides something of a cover, a here-and-now diversion from discussion of her personal advancement toward 600 career victories.
Because, yes, that is happening, too.
“We’re very pleased with where we are, and I’m sure it’s a big surprise to a lot of people, but our team is working hard,” Agee said.
And it’s working under normal circumstances. All of the previous three seasons were disrupted by knee injuries to point guards. The ailments compelled others to move into other positions and prevented continuity from developing.
Now sophomore Dayshaun Richbow is running the operation and freshman Breonna Patterson is a capable backup. That means seniors Monique Floyd (small forward) and Amanda Leigh (off guard) can play to their strengths.
“It was a huge struggle,” Leigh said. “This year, we have been very fortunate to not lose any of those positions. For this to be our senior year and be able to come back means a lot to us. We’d like to go out on a bang, and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
This bunch isn’t going to run you out of the gym. In league play, it shoots 40 percent from the floor and holds opponents to nearly the same figure, 39.7 percent. UNCG is in the middle of the SoCon pack in nearly every important statistical category.
One factor has made the difference. Through four league games, the Spartans are plus-nine in turnover margin. Per game.
“We have everybody going after it,” Floyd said. “You may not be the one getting all the steals, but you can count on someone being there to get it.”
The positive turnover margin has meant 12 additional field-goal attempts per contest.
“The little stuff makes a big difference,” Leigh said. “We’re starting to press and realizing that in order to score points, we have to play defense.”
Floyd is on track to become the 22nd player in UNCG history with 1,000 career points. At 874 entering Wednesday’s game, she would be only the second to reach the milestone in the past six years, a fact that underscores the program’s bad run of injuries.
Leigh has an outside shot at 1,000 – she’ll need to average 17.5 points a game the rest the way to do it. Floyd and Leigh would be the fifth pair of UNCG teammates to take the court with 1,000 or more.
More likely is Leigh’s pursuit of UNCG’s record for career 3-point field goals. Averaging 2.5 per game so far in 2010-11, she needs to deliver three long balls a game the rest of the way to surpass the mark of 193, achieved by Jasmine Byrd from 2003-07. Byrd is currently scoring more than 13 points a game for an undefeated German professional team.
“The senior class came here when our program was successful,” Agee said. “They experienced success. And then we struggled for several years with issues that we had no control over. Those seniors in particular are motivated to be successful and to carry us to victories.”
The unspoken factor is the coach’s proximity to another coaching milestone. The NCAA’s 600 Club includes only 29 members throughout all divisions of play. Agee, the first person in history to coach a team to the NCAA tournament at all three levels, is likely to become the Baskin-Robbins of women’s basketball, i.e. the 31st coach in the group. Tom Shirley of Philadelphia University has 598 wins to Agee’s 596.
Equally understood is that the sixth century of wins has been harder and longer than the previous five.
“As the head coach, it all falls on you,” Agee said. “You’re responsible. Whatever the issue is, you carry the load of it, and I can honestly say that it’s very difficult to have had success and go through a period of time where it’s not there because you question everything you do. Everybody does. We had to talk and talk and talk the last few years as a team. That’s a great challenge when you’re feeling disappointed, too.”
But for now, that’s ancient history. Going to the gym is fun again. Heck, walking around is fun, Agee said. The Spartans have been tested in all four SoCon games but have prevailed without fail.
They’re in the middle of a stretch of five games in 11 days that includes the season’s longest conference road trip, the double-whammy of Chattanooga (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and Samford (Birmingham, Ala.). If UNCG keeps winning, No. 600 will come at the College of Charleston on Jan. 15. Given the chance, the coach will call it No. 8. As in 8-0, with the Spartans still alone atop the SoCon standings.
“They’re comfortable together,” Agee said. “They like to laugh and have a good time. I like the cohesiveness and the way it’s melding together.”
- UNCG -