The Vanguard University women's basketball team used tape cutters exclusively for their intended purpose this season. The Lions, who open their 10th straight trip to the NAIA Tournament in Jackson, Tenn. today at 1:30 p.m. against Langston University, might, in fact, have worn out at least one pair in 2010-11, tending to an outbreak of injuries that crippled their chances to cut down the nets for an eighth straight campaign.
Coach Russ Davis and his players have ceremonially sheared nets from the rim about a dozen times in the previous seven seasons, piling up Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles, as well as the 2008 national championship.
This year's NAIA Tournament run, however, is virtually doomed from the start, as the No. 19-ranked Lions (17-11) are the underdog against Oklahoma-based Langston (28-5).
Vanguard is the No. 5 seed in its eight-team quadrant, while Langston, the Red River Conference champion, is seeded No. 4.
Vanguard, however, just might have enough to extend its first-round winning streak to nine, as Langston has been eliminated in the first round the last two seasons and is 3-8 in eight tournament trips.
The Lions, in fact, have reached at least the quarterfinals of the 32-team event at Oman Arena every year since falling in the first round in 2002. That run includes semifinal exits in 2003, 2006 and 2007.
In his 14th season at the helm, Davis, a former Estancia High girls coach, has created one of the NAIA's premier programs. The Lions' 13 trips to the national tournament are topped by only seven schools. Only six schools have more NAIA Tournament wins than Vanguard, which is 23-11, and only four schools have surpassed Vanguard's four Final Four appearances.
Should the Lions get past Langston, the No. 2 national seed, Campbellsville of Kentucky (28-3) would be the likely second-round matchup Friday.
Union of Tennessee (31-1) is the No. 1 seed, while GSAC champion Azusa Pacific (28-5) is the No. 3 seed. Union beat APU in last year's title game.
Among those playing their final game(s) at Vanguard will be seniors Sarah Boyd and Molly Pfohl, both of whom were key contributors to the national title when they were freshmen.
Boyd, who leads the NAIA in assists with 6.8 per game, and Pfohl are both first-team All-GSAC performers. Pfohl is averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds. Boyd, who has practiced sparingly due to a leg injury that she continues to play through, chips in 11.4 points per contest.
The UC Irvine men's basketball season came to an end in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament for the third straight season as the No. 8-seeded Anteaters fell to top-seeded Long Beach State, 79-72, Thursday at Honda Center.
UCI finished 13-19, and will say goodbye to senior starters Darren Moore, Patrick Rembert and Pavol Losonsky.
First-year coach Russell Turner brought an up-tempo offense that helped the Anteaters lead the Big West in scoring, but injuries to frontcourt players Eric Wise and Adam Folker, as well as the failure of French import Maxime Chupin to gain his eligibility from the NCAA, made it difficult for the 'Eaters to realize their potential.
"The toughest thing was, I never had the team this season that I envisioned having going into the season," Turner said after the season-ending loss. "But, the bottom line is, I've got to do a better job. I've got to find a way to make the players we end up having effective."
Rembert, who as a freshman helped UCI reach the Big West Tournament title game, finished with 107 assists this season, giving him an even 300 for his career. That total ranks No. 7 in UCI history, two ahead of Michael Hunter, who completed his eligibility last season.
Wise, who missed 12 games and played only briefly in another due to leg injuries, averaged 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. With 1,280 points, he is No. 11 at UCI, four points behind Jeff Von Lutzow.
Wise's 553 career rebounds rank No. 15 at UCI and just 62 would elevate him into the top 10 at No. 9.
Orange Coast College women's basketball coach Mike Thornton is as competitive as any coach, but his sense of perspective was never more apparent than after his team came one win away from reaching the state final four, a win that would have been No. 500 in his 22 seasons at OCC.
Thornton thanked his players for getting the most out of their ability in a 24-9 campaign and brushed aside any thought that not reaching the 500-win plateau was among his concerns after a 49-46 home regional playoff loss to Cypress.
"I think there's a chance we'll probably win at least one next year," Thornton said. "Obviously, I would have loved to have gotten it with this team. It would have meant a lot to me to have gotten it with this team. But it really never was a priority. [The season] was all about this team doing as well as it could."