Seahawks look to make big statements this weekend


Noah Powers/The Seahawk

UNCW head coach Karen Barefoot

Lanre Badmus and Elijah Mize

Chemistry, confidence, “next play mentality”, trust, teal-collar work ethic. Those have been hallmarks of the UNC Wilmington women’s basketball team over the last year and a half under coach Karen Barefoot.

Those hallmarks have been essential to the Seahawks’ (9-5, 2-1 Colonial Athletic Association) much-improved season up to this point. Now, with the CAA’s last two undefeated squads in James Madison (12-3, 4-0 CAA) and Towson (10-5, 4-0 CAA) both visiting the Port City this weekend, UNCW has the chance to put the rest of the conference on notice in its biggest tests of the season thus far.

The  Seahawks go into this weekend with two victories from three conference games, including a come-from-behind 75-70 victory away at two-time defending conference champions Elon last Sunday. That win, in which the Seahawks erased a 16-point deficit, showed the virtues of the teal-collar work ethic. Now, they are looking to go on a roll and put the rest of the conference on notice that they are potential conference title contenders.

JMU, the first of the two opponents, pays a visit to Trask on Friday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Dukes, who lead the nation in rebounding under third-year head coach and university alumnus Sean O’Regan, come into the Port City off a blowout 84-49 home victory over Northeastern last Sunday and have not lost since before Christmas.

Coach Barefoot asserted that the team’s focus is on one game at a time, beginning with preseason-favorite JMU.

“We definitely know that it’s going to be a battle, no doubt about it,” said Barefoot. “When you look at James Madison – that’s our focus right now, not Towson – they’re extremely talented, very physical, very aggressive. We’ve got to make sure that we stay together and execute the game plan.”

Barefoot also mentioned that the Seahawks have to attack right away and “offense will be our best defense.” She also said how the home crowd “sixth man” will be essential to give the team the energy and confidence they need to be at their best.

Both teams have doubly-dangerous scoring threats at the guard position. While the Seahawks have redshirt senior Shrita Parker (18.6 points per game) and redshirt junior GiGi Smith (14.4 PPG) carrying much of the scoring load, the Dukes will be hoping for big nights from juniors Kamiah Smalls (18.1 PPG) and Lexie Barrier (10.3 PPG).

Barefoot addressed the two matchup battles, saying all hands would need to be on deck to stop the JMU pair.

“I think they would matchup really well, but we’ve got to be smart,” Barefoot said. “We’ve got to defend the shot and the drive. When there are threats like that who can do it all, we’ve got to play our best defense…defending the three, defending the drive and blocking out.”

Smith, who paced all scorers with 22 in the win over Elon, said she feels prepared for the challenge Smalls and Barrier both pose.

“I feel very prepared. I’ve been working really hard in practice,” said Smith. “We know their specialty, we understand how they are as players, and as long as we have KYP within our brains there’s no reason why we can’t come out successful.”