THE OPENING TIP
The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi women's basketball team will head to Katy for the first time in four years, as it goes in as the No. 6 seed and will take on No. 7 McNeese State in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Merrell Center. The Islanders are 3-1 all-time in the first round of the tournament. The winner will move on to take on Central Arkansas on Friday at 1:30 p.m. The Islanders will have to win three games to make it to the championship game.
• The Islanders are currently on an eight-game winning streak, the longest since the 2003-04 season. One more win would give the Islanders their longest streak in school history.
• With their 18 wins this season compared to four a year ago, the Islanders now have a +14 win differential, which is the best in the nation through play on Thursday.
• A&M – Corpus Christi has outscored last year's team by a total of 505 points going into the tournament. A year ago the Islanders didn't even hit the 70-point mark once. This season they are 10-1 when scoring 70 or more, including two 90-point games.
• Brittany Mbamalu now holds the record for threes made in a single season, as she hit three more against HBU last week to give her 78, breaking the previous record of 75. Jasmine Shaw is right behind her at 73, meaning the duo has combined for 152 of the team's 192 treys a mark that breaks the school record of 180 in 2003-04.
• The Islanders picked up two firsts in the postseason awards for the university, as Royce Chadwick was named Coach of the Year, while Shaw was tabbed as the Newcomer of the Year.
LAST TIME OUT
The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi women's basketball team used a 22-1 run to overcome a 19-point second half deficit, posting a come-from-behind 59-55 victory over Nicholls on Senior Day at the American Bank Center. The Islanders (18-11, 11-7 Southland) finished in a tie for fourth in the conference just a year removed from a four-win season.
Shola Adebayo led the Islanders with 16 points and four steals, while Alissa Campanero posted 15 points and Kassie Jones added 10. Emani White scored 20 points to lead all scorers in a losing effort for Nicholls (16-13, 11-7), while JonMarie Guillory finished with a game-high 11 rebounds.
KATY IS CALLING
For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the Islanders have punched their ticket to the Southland Conference Tournament. They will enter as the No. 6 seed, which is tied for the second-highest seeding in school history. The only higher seed the Islanders attained was in 2010, as they were the three seed and made a run to the championship game before falling to Lamar.
However, that team was invited to the Women's Basketball Invitational, and is the only team in school history to make it into a postseason tournament outside the Southland Conference Tournament. In the WBI, A&M – Corpus Christi won the first two games, which it hosted in the Coastal Bend before falling to Memphis on its home court.
Focusing back on the conference tournament, the Islanders are 3-1 all-time in the first round. Their only loss came in 2009, as A&M – Corpus was the eight seed and fell to top-ranked UT-Arlington by 22.
In their first game of the tournament the Islanders will match up with McNeese State for the third time this season with the first two results being very different from one another. In the game in Lake Charles, the Cowgirls exploded out of the gate to jump out to a 24-8 lead and eventually took a 44-25 lead into the half. The Islanders could never recover from the deficit or McNeese draining more than 50 percent of their threes, falling 79-51, by far the most lopsided loss of the season.
Back in Corpus Christi last week, the Islanders found themselves with the big lead at the half against the Cowgirls, as they were up by 14 at the break. However, McNeese came storming back to start the second half, going on an 11-0 run to cut the lead to four. A&M – Corpus Christi showed some mental toughness though, as it held on to the lead down the stretch, making all seven of its final free throws in the last 1:19 to secure the victory.
The winner between the two schools will move on to the quarterfinals to take on Central Arkansas who holds the three seed after failing to secure the top spot in the bracket despite needing just one win in its final three games. The game for the winning team will be at 1:30 p.m. Friday against the Sugar Bears.
With wins in the last eight games, the Islanders now boast their longest win streak since the 2003-04 season and are just one win away from setting a new school record. During this streak, the Islanders have outscored Southland foes by an average of eight points a game. They have also held a significant advantage on the boards, pulling down 42 more boards than their opponents.
These numbers have been an incredible turnaround when comparing these games to the seven losses the Islanders suffered in their first 10 conference games. In the defeats the Islanders were being outscored by 10 points a game and giving up 71.6 points per outing. During the consecutive wins, the Islanders defense has been relentless, limiting the opposing offenses to just 59.1 a game. A&M – Corpus Christi has also seen its rebounding margin flip from -3.4 to +5.3.
The offensive aggressiveness the Islanders have displayed as of late also shows up in the stats, as they have made 168 trips to the line compared to 117.
ON A ROLL, ROYCE
After taking his team from a four-win season to 18 wins in just a year, A&M – Corpus Christi head coach Royce Chadwick became the first coach in program history to be named the Southland's Coach of the Year. This dramatic turnaround of 14 more wins from one season to the next by Chadwick is the best regular season improvement by any team in the nation this year.
He has also coached his team to a midseason turnaround this year as well, as with the team sitting at 3-7 with its chances of making the Southland Tournament looking very grim, Chadwick helped orchestrate eight consecutive wins for the Islanders to storm into the tournament with the No. 6 seed an a tremendous amount of momentum.
Although this is the first award for an A&M – Corpus Christi coach, this is the second such accolade for Chadwick, as he was also named the Southland Coach of the Year in 1997 at Stephen F. Austin. This makes him the first coach in league history to earn the award at two different institutions.
YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU SHAW?
Jasmine Shaw, a senior transfer from Marshall, joins her coach who she also played for with the Thundering Herd in picking up postseason hardware, as she became the first Islander to be named the Newcomer of the Year. She also was Second Team All-Conference, becoming the first in the program since Jade Davis was named Third Team All Conference in 2009.
Shaw has tallied eight games of 20 or more points this season and is averaging 15.2 points a game, which ranks seventh in the Southland. Last season, no Islander had more than two games exceeding 20 points throughout the entire campaign and she becomes just the sixth Islander to record at least eight 20-plus point games in a single season. Her 15.2 a game is also the highest average in eight years for the Islanders and was the seventh-best mark in the Southland during the regular season.
Also among other Southland competitors, Shaw was first in the league in three-point percentage (40.7), second in free-throw percentage (87.8), second in threes made per game (2.6) and 11th in steals (1.5). The Cincinnati, Ohio, native currently ranks third all-time in the Islanders record book with 74 made threes this season. She only needs one more to move into a tie for second and is four made triples behind teammate Brittany Mbamalu. She has also tied the school record for threes made in a game, dropping seven from long range twice this season.
Shaw has been an all-around player for the Islanders this year, guiding the team to several victories in different ways. The game against Tennessee State being a perfect example, as Shaw set a career high in rebounds with 13 — seven offensively — and in assists with nine. She also knocked down seven of her nine free throws to give her 14 points on the night, meaning she came just one assist short of picking up the first triple-double in Islanders' history. For good measure, she also hit the game-winning jumper with five seconds left and recorded four steals in the matchup.
During conference play, Shaw has tallied 14 games with 10 or more points in 18 total contests despite double teams and constant face guarding, and has been a warrior as of late, battling injury, but still playing an average of 27.5 minute a game in the last two outings.
Freshman Brittany Mbamalu has made a significant impact on the team, especially with her pinpoint shooting ability from three-point range. With 78 threes this season, she now sits atop the Islanders' record book for single-season threes made and has even entered the career top 10, sitting in ninth in her first collegiate season of play.
In her first two games, she only saw two minutes of action combined. However, she logged 19 minutes of play against Southern Utah, and hit three threes for nine points, earning herself a spot in the starting rotation and never looking back the rest of the season. She can light it up from anywhere on the court and is a threat to shoot anytime, as she has already shattered the three-point attempts record which sat at 201, as Mbamalu currently sits at 231 pulled triggers from deep.
This is exactly what the coaches want her doing though, as she is almost unstoppable when she gets going. She is currently averaging 2.7 made threes a game, which ranks her at the top of the Southland and 39th in the nation. Like Shaw, Mbamalu has tied the school record twice for threes made in a game, as she hit seven in game on two occasions. She could have easily broken the record either night though, as she had six in the first half of each of those games before the defense did nothing but faceguard her the final 20 minutes in both.
A FRESH LOOK
An obvious aspect when looking at the box scores over the second half of the conference season is the presence of Islanders freshmen in the starting lineup. Coach Chadwick and his staff infused Camesha Davis and Kassie Jones into the lineup for the first time together on Jan. 23 and the freshmen flourished, as the duo combined for 29 in the Southeastern win, followed by a combined 31 against New Orleans with Davis notching her first double-double as well as career highs with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
The duo has continued to play well down the stretch, combining for more than 14 points a game. Davis has also been a vital asset on the boards for the Islanders, pulling down 5.9 rebounds a game in the last 12 games, starting in each.
The Islanders had a wealth of distribution when it came to their contributions against New Orleans. All 12 players on the roster not only played in the game, but all of them also recorded double-digit minutes. Eleven of the 12 grabbed rebounds, 10 of the 12 scored points and nine of the 12 recorded assists in the ballgame.
Against SHSU all 12 players once again saw playing time with 10 different players getting in the scoring column and just as many pulling down at least one rebound.
Only 10 players saw action against the Lady Cardinals, but each of those players played double-digit minutes and nine of the 10 scored. Half of those players also recorded at least eight points. Only seven players scored in the win against UIW, but nine played at least 10 minutes. Despite Shaw's dominating offensive performance, everyone chipped in for the Islanders, as 10 players saw at least 14 minutes of play with each of them recording points.
However, against Oral Roberts, they had a consistent group on the floor with each of the starters recording at least 23 minutes. They also had 45 of the team's 61 points.
In the game one against HBU, 10 players saw action with all 10 recording double-digit minutes. The Islanders also had a huge contribution from Shola Adebayo, who took advantage of her second career start with a career-high 26 points. Alissa Campanero (14) and Brittany Mbamalu (11) also chipped in for more than 10 of the points on the scoreboard. In the next game against the Huskies all 11 players saw action, while Brandi Huff (21) and Jasmine Shaw (20) combined to be the first Islanders duo to score 20 or more in the same game this season.
For the first time since Jan. 30 against Sam Houston State, four different Islanders had double-digit scoring performances in the win against McNeese. Shola Adebayo led the way for the second time in three games, hitting six field goals and six free throws for 18 points. Seniors Darley (13), Shaw (11) and Huff (11) were the others to hit at least 10.
The Islanders came just short of pulling off this feat in back-to-back games, as Adebayo had another huge night against Nicholls to lead the Islanders in scoring with 16, while Campanero knocked down four threes for a total of 15 points with Jones chipping in 10 more. Huff came just shy of being the fourth with nine points to go along with seven rebounds.
STOPPING ON DIMES
The Islanders recorded 240 assists against Southland foes during the regular season, averaging 13.3 a game. In all of conference play last season, the Islanders only mustered a total of 176 assists.
The Islanders dropped 27 dimes against the Lady Lions, which marked the most against a Southland opponent and were just three off the school record of 30 that was set against Huston-Tillotson on Feb. 19, 2001. The three games prior to the game at Lamar represented three of the top four assist games on the season.
This season, the Islanders have already tallied four games with at least 20 assists after not having any in the last three seasons combined.
At home against HBU, Alissa Campanero registered one of the best nights for any Islander in terms of assists, as she tallied 13 to give her the second most in a single game in Islanders' history.
ROLLING UP THE POINTS
The 180 points in the back-to-back wins against Southeastern La. and UNO were the most since the Islanders scored a combined 181 points on Dec. 9, 2006 and Dec. 16, 2006 with 85 vs. Huston-Tillotson followed by 96 against St. Mary's. The last time A&M – Corpus Christi scored that many against two D-I opponents was during the last two games of 2002-03 season, as it scored a combined 181 against IPFW and Lipscomb.
With the 97 points scored against UNO, as well as the 90 points the Islanders hung on Houston Baptist in their second meeting, A&M – Corpus Christi has now scored at least 90 in two games for the first time since the 2009-10 season in which that squad did so twice as well. This also comes after the team failed to even score 70 in any game a year ago.
When the Islanders have put the numbers up in bunches this season they have had a high win percentage, tallying a 10-1 record when scoring at least 70 points. They are also 10-1 when shooting at least 40 percent from the floor. The team has now outscored last year's squad by 505 points, an average of 17 points a game.
CRASHING THE BOARDS
After losing the battle of the boards in the first three games by getting outrebounded by 27 the Islanders have battled back to outrebound 18 of the final 26 teams on their schedule, which has caused them to pick up wins in several games. In fact, the Islanders came back to snag at least 11 more rebounds than their opponents the next five games to turn the trend on the glass.
One of A&M – Corpus Christi's most impressive rebounding games came in a historic 53-point win over New Orleans, as it snagged a remarkable 29 more rebounds than the Privateers were able to secure.
In the Southland the Islanders are one of the best rebounding teams, as they rank second in offensive rebounds (15.0), third in rebounding margin (+3.8), fourth in overall rebounds (40.7) and sixth in defensive rebounds (25.6). Senior Ashley Darley has been one of the main board crashers, despite being a guard, as she ranks first on the team and 20th in the league with 5.8 caroms a game. The Corpus Christi native especially loves to get boards on the offensive end, as she is 10th in the conference with 2.7 a game.
Senior Brandi Huff had a breakthrough performance in the matchup against Tennessee State, setting a career high in rebounds while matching her top scoring outing. The Rockport-Fulton native notched her first career double-double, pulling down 11 boards to go along with a team high 15 points. She then matched her career high in rebounds against UTSA, picking up five on offense and six on defense.
Against UTPA, she hit double figures in the scoring column for the third time of the season with 12 points. Then at Texas Southern, Huff had seven points and six rebounds and tied career-highs in blocks (2) and steals (2).
Huff had arguably the biggest game of her tenure with a career-high 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds against Huston-Tillotson for her second double-double of the season. She went 7-of-9 from the field and made all seven of her shots from the charity stripe. Huff also blocked two shots and dished out two assists.
After struggling in the Southland opener, Huff bounced back to score nine points against Oral Roberts. She also set career-highs in the game with three steals and four blocks. Then, against Northwestern State she helped crash the boards with seven rebounds, as well as going a perfect 3-for-3 from the field for six points. She followed that up with nine points against SFA.
Despite coming off the bench against Southeastern, Huff had one of her biggest games in conference, going 8-of-13 from the field for 18 points to go along with six rebounds in a big win. Then, once again off the bench, Huff scored 14 in the dominant win against New Orleans. She then kept rolling with her third consecutive game with double digits in the score column with 13 against SHSU, giving her 45 points over that three-game stretch.
Despite Shaw's big performance against UIW and ACU, Huff had two terrific games to supplement Shaw with seven rebounds to go along with five points against UIW, and then followed it up with eight points and six rebounds against the Wildcats. After failing to pull down any rebounds against ORU, the senior came back to snare seven boards against HBU.
Huff then joined up with Shaw to become the first duo this season to each score at least 20 points in a game, as she scored the first nine points of the game vs. HBU for the Islanders to eventually tie a career high with 21 points.
She was then just shy of double-doubles against both McNeese State and Nicholls, as she pulled down nine rebounds and scored 11 points against the Cowgirls and followed that up with nine points and seven rebounds against the Colonels.
Even though A&M – Corpus Christi has enjoyed its remarkable turnaround, the Islanders could have stormed to an even better year if they could have scored just a few more points in a couple games this year. Eight of the Islanders' 11 losses this season have come by single digits. The only game in which they really were blown out was a 28-point loss at McNeese. Against Lamar, another of the team's double-digit losses, the Islanders held a three-point lead before turnovers caused a tough second half of play. If you exclude those two games from the equation, the Islanders have lost their other nine games by a combined total of 53 points, an average of just 5.9 points.
During the early signing period, the Islanders received National Letters of Intent from Emmeri Archer (Brooklyn, N.Y./ South Shore HS), Daryon Fields (Spring, Texas/St. Pius High School), Ashley James (Highland Village, Texas/Marcus High School) and Jennifer Ramirez (Brooklyn, N.Y./ASA Junior College).
A 5-foot-7 guard, Archer comes to the Islanders as a three-star recruit with a 90 ranking from ESPN. It also ranks her as the 18th player nationally at her position.
Coming from Spring, Texas, Fields will bring some inside presence to the Coastal Bend. The 6-foot-2 post is ranked 42nd in the nation at her position and 309th nationally overall. In her junior year at St. Pius, Fields nearly averaged a double-double with 10 points a game to go along with eight rebounds each time out.
James, a 5-foot-4 point guard from Marcus High School in Flower Mound, Texas. In her junior year, she was named first team all-district and the defensive player of the year in her district. That season, James averaged 10 points, four steals and three assists per game. She has also picked up district MVP and offensive player of the year awards during her high school career.
Ramirez, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., comes to the Island University from ASA Junior College in New York City. Ramirez played her high school basketball at New York City Lab School. In her junior season she averaged 18.8 points, including a 35-point performance in her team's playoff game, as well as 6.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds a game.
To purchase tickets to see the Islanders during the Tournament, call 825-BALL (2255) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All-session passes for the tourney are available for just $75, and guarantee a seat in the Islanders' section at the Merrell Center for all A&M-Corpus Christi games with the men's games included as well. Furthermore, all students from any Southland school will be admitted with a valid student ID.
If you can't make it up to Houston, this game will be streamed online at southland.org where you can also find live stats. Fans can also listen to the game on ESPN 1440 with Yannis Koutroupis on the call. And as always, for all the latest on Islanders Women's Basketball, be sure to follow the team on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersWBB) and like the team's official Facebook page (Islanders Womens Basketball).