Over the past few years, few have had a better look at Charlotte 49ers women’s basketball than Josh Feldman. As the ladies welcome Old Dominion to Halton Arena tomorrow night, the radio voice of the Niners was able to answer a few questions for us about what he’s seen so far and what he expects from the team going forward.
The non-conference schedule was certainly up and down for this team with its various highs and lows. What are their primary strengths and weaknesses that you’ve seen over these first 13 games?
I think this team has many strengths depending on the match up they are faced with. While they aren’t as big as last year, forwards Gabby Tyler and Kira Gordon have been able to play with most big bodies down in the post. The team’s biggest strength is point guard’s Ny Hammonds’ ability to make things happen. Coach Consuegra has said a few times that, as Ny goes, so goes this team. Last year that was true of Jenn and Slim. Ny has had some great games this season, but she has also had times where she has looked unsure, probably because last year the options were pretty clear cut: get the ball to two of the best post players in the league. This year, Ny (and the team) seem to react to whatever type of defense they find themselves matched up again. If they are matched up against a zone, the 49ers have the shooters to beat you (Hillary, Ciara, Lefty), but if a team is playing them man-to-man, then Ny may be their best weapon because she is so far and such a tough defensive assignment. And when she gets the ball to Gabby with two feet in the paint or on the block, it’s a pretty sure two points. If Gabby is getting position down on the block, that’s a big strength for this team.
As the senior leader of this team, how has Ny Hammonds been able to handle that role?
(See a lot of above) Ny’s needed to be a much bigger scoring threat this year, and she’s answered that challenge more often than not. Her defense has improved since last year, but she’s not necessarily the vocal leader that Jai Forney was. When Ny gets going, she is like this team’s energizer bunny: she can power the entire rest of the team. But without that battery charging everyone else, the team has struggled. As conference play gets going, I think she’ll start to feel that senior urgency a little more, which should feed off to her teammates. Much more leading by example.
How encouraging for the team is it to see Gabby Tyler back out there and active after her injury last season?
It’s scary to think of what this team would have looked like last year had Gabby been healthy, isn’t it? Not a lot of people realize that Gabby wasn’t even 100% cleared to practice until very close to the season, so she was still getting her conditioning back. Now that she’s gone through the non-conference portion of the schedule, I think she’s ready to face what C-USA has to offer in the post. She’s got to start out of foul trouble though. While the depth at the post is similar, and arguably better than last year (because Alexis and Olivia has an additional year of experience, and Kenya has shown flashes of potential), there’s still a significant drop off from Gabby’s abilities in the post compared to the bench players. She’s probably the toughest player on the team, and when she battles down low, it gives everyone else something to feed off.
Kira Gordon is second on the team with 11.5 points a game. Have you been surprised at how she is coming along and growing into what looks like a consistent scoring threat?
Not really. Last year, this team had a seven-player rotation when it counted: Jenn, Slim, Jai, Ny, Hillary, Ayanna and Kira. She played every game as a freshman (something that hadn’t been done by a 49ers woman in more than a decade). And last year when Jenn and Slim found themselves in foul trouble, it was Kira that seemed to come through with big plays to keep the team in it (home vs. Davidson game, on the road at URI, etc).
The other thing about Kira that people forget is that she was recruited as a guard but moved into the post when Gabby was lost for the year, so her skill sets make her a very dangerous match up. She’s not afraid to shoot the long straight-away two, which she seems to hit more often than not because post defenders sag off her, thinking she’s outside of her range when she isn’t. She’s also a lot quicker than other post players, which makes up for her lack of size down low.
As long as she remains confident and “up,” she presents tough match up problems. She can be physical enough to move bigger bodies out of the paint, which is important because she can’t just reach over them to snag rebounds. In the last few games, she’s done a much better job crashing the offensive boards than earlier in the season.
Another sophomore, Alexis Alexander, looks like she is emerging as a go-to rebounder. How important is her development if this team is to be successful in C-USA?
While I think it’s true that as Ny goes, so goes this team, and that Gabby and Kira are the keys down low, Alexis has the potential to be the true difference-maker on this team. Based on her minutes, she probably has to earn a little more trust from the coaching staff, but when she wants to be a force, she can be (a la the tournament in Las Vegas). She still has to work on taking quality shots and keeping her energy level up at all times, which can be tough for younger players, but if she does that, it gives the 49ers a true 3-headed monster in the paint that will no doubt come in handy when Gabby or Kira get into foul trouble.
What have you made of the younger players thus far (namely Lefty Webster and Ciara Gregory)? They both look like they have some range from outside (along with Ny), possibly taking a little pressure off of Hillary Sigmon.
Lefty and Ciara are both extremely talented, as are their fellow freshman classmates. Lefty rebounds like she’s at least 6’0” (and she isn’t anywhere close) and has a nose for the ball. Her defense is also very good for a freshman. She’s probably the best all-around player of the freshman class. Ciara’s shooting touch is amazing. Some of the 3’s she hit in this year’s game at Davidson were unreal. She’s going to have the green light to let it fly probably as soon as the ball gets across half court. Her defense has improved but still needs a little work for her to get more minutes, which will in turn allow her to become more of an offensive factor.