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Chisholm, Reaves shine on senior day

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CINCINNATI -- This may be only their second year on campus at the University of Cincinnati, but seniors Chanel Chisholm and Bjonee Reaves have become leaders for a Bearcats team that has its most BIG EAST wins ever under head coach Jamelle Elliott.

Chisholm and Reaves were both recognized on Saturday during pre-game festivities for senior day. They were accompanied by their families while hoisting up framed jerseys and carrying more flowers than lovers on Valentines Day.

These two seniors have been the leaders of a team that is looking to improve to seven conference victories and a better seed in the BIG EAST Tournament with a win at DePaul on Monday. With a win the Bearcats will also inch closer and closer to a possible Women's NIT berth.

Chisholm and Reaves were the two standout performers on Saturday leading the Bearcats with 34 combined points, which was over half of the team's 62 points. Reaves led the way with 22 points and four assists while Chisholm added 12 points and six rebounds. These statistics were very appropriate as the two emotional players were able to perform magnificently on their special day.

"My family was in town from California but other than that it's just a normal game," Reaves said. "Yeah, our emotions were running high today and it had something to do with senior day, but I think it had more to do with the fact that we were trying to make a statement today. We wanted teams to know that Cincinnati is here and were not a cupcake team anymore."

"Of course emotions are going to be high like Bjonee said because it is senior night," Chisholm said. "We came into the game hoping to play like it was any other game and we were hoping for the win we just didn't get it."

Elliott knew how important these two were when they transferred to UC as juniors. Now they know how important it is to be a role model to the younger players. Sophomore guard Dayeesha Hollins attribute a lot of her success this season to Chisholm and Reaves.

"It's really good to see them succeed," guard Dayeesha Hollins said. "At Michigan when I was a freshman there wasn't very much support. Here I feel like they're always there and they have advice for me all the time. They helped me out for next year."

According to Elliott, Chisholm and Reaves were the most pivotal players during the team's recent four game winning streak. She is proud to see that the two seniors have been able to learn the importance of every game, an ideal that some underclassmen may have a tough time grasping.

"I think they understand and know the importance of every game now, because every game we play is one less game that they are going to be in a Cincinnati uniform," Elliott said. "I think they know the sense of urgency that their careers are winding down and I think they're playing the type of basketball where, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, they left everything on the floor."

Elliott agreed that it is an emotional time as a coach as well during senior day proceedings, but she is happy with the fact that Chisholm and Reaves have put themselves in a position, which the BIG EAST tournament may not be the last game(s) they play this season.

"We get another regular season game at DePaul where we get to be with our seniors and hopefully more than one game in the BIG EAST Tournament," Elliott said. "We're keeping our fingers crossed and it's looking good that we are going to be in the WNIT after that. We still have a lot of time with our seniors, we're going to make the most of it having those guys around because when it does end it's going to be different not having those two guys on my team."

Special Note:
After the game I was talking with Hollins and she had some very nice words for each one of her favorite seniors. I thought I would share them with you here.

"Bjonee knows how to take over a game," Hollins said. "She knows how to put her team on her back."

"Chanel is a great leader on the floor and even though she may not be scoring she is doing something else to help the team out," Hollins said. "Whether its encouraging the team or whatever she is always there for the team."
    

Previewing the opponent: Marquette Golden Eagles

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CINCINNATI -- A little over two weeks ago the University of Cincinnati women's basketball program seemed to be heading down a road they were all too familiar with. Now, given a recent upswing, the Bearcats (14-12, 5-8) are looking to extend a three-game winning streak as they take on Marquette tomorrow night from Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats now have an interesting opportunity in front of them as they finish off their final three regular season games. Three tough BIG EAST match-ups stand between UC and a .500 conference record. Some may say finishing .500 in conference play is nothing but a mediocre season at best, but the Bearcats who started 2-8 in conference play are ready to reach an 8-8 conference record that may catapult them into postseason play for the first time in the Jamelle Elliott era. So far so good for the Bearcats -- here is what Marquette brings to the court that may put all postseason dreams on halt.

UC is coming off a win at Seton Hall and recorded its fourth BIG EAST road win, which is the most since they entered the league in 2005-06. The trio of Dayeesha Hollins, Bjonee Reaves, and Chanel Chisholm continue to lead the way for the Bearcats as all scored in double-figures in New Jersey. Hollins had a team-high 16 points, Chisholm had 14, and Reaves scored 12.

Marquette (13-13, 4-9) fell at home against Cincinnati on Feb. 1 and is coming off a loss at Syracuse. Looking to avenge that loss the Golden Eagles will need a big game from their leader Katherine Plouffe, who averages 13.9 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. UC scored 64 points against MU in early Feb. and that is the most points the team has scored against a BIG EAST opponent all season. Hollins led the Bearcats with 22 points.

It is obvious that Cincinnati has more weapons on the court than Marquette, but it is always difficult to beat the same opponent twice in the same season. The tip is set for 7 p.m.

Examining the Schedule

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CINCINNATI -- Don't write of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Jamelle Elliott's squad won their fourth BIG EAST game on Saturday and while it may seem that the girls are still living at the bottom of the conference standings remember that there are still four regular season games left to be played.

UC has already played Notre Dame. Connecticut isn't on the remaining schedule; the Bearcats played them on Jan. 19. Louisville made it out of Fifth Third Arena with a win back in Dec. and games against Rutgers and Georgetown are no longer a topic of discussion in the locker room.

The moral of the story is that Cincinnati who currently sits a 4-8 in the conference has a chance to build on its recent momentum and make a real run at finishing anywhere but the bottom of one of the premier conferences in women's college basketball.

Let's take a look at the final four games for the Bearcats, two of which are at Fifth Third Arena. Next up on Feb. 18, the Bearcats travel to New Jersey for a match-up against the Seton Hall Pirates who are the BIG EAST's worst team at 0-15; 7-19 overall. Definitely a game they should win especially amidst the team's two-game winning streak.

On Feb. 21 the Marquette Eagles travel into Fifth Third Arena to attempt to avenge their loss to the Bearcats, which occurred on Feb. 1 in Milwaukee. It is always tough to defeat a team twice, but if the Bearcats use the game plan they did at the beginning of the month then a win is not out of the question.

Probably the toughest game remaining on the schedule, in my opinion, is against a team that just knocked off No. 2 Notre Dame. West Virginia comes to Cincinnati on Feb. 25 as this is the first of two games against the upper-echelon of the BIG EAST. With wins against Louisville and Notre Dame in their last two games it seems that the Mountaineers are playing well at the right time. This will be a very tough game for the cats, but remember West Virginia did lose to Providence, who Cincinnati beat five days ago.

DePaul is the other team that worries me as the Bearcats try to finish at 8-8 in the conference. The Blue Demons have been ranked for most of the season and are currently No. 22 in the polls. DePaul has a loss to Providence, but they also have wins against No. 14 Georgetown and No. 20 Louisville. This will be a road game so the Bearcats are an obvious underdog; they will need to be hitting on all cylinders in order to win.

This has been an up-and-down season to say the least. Although it is starting to get exciting at the right time and the Bearcats have a serious opportunity to build on Elliott's best season. Be sure to show up to Fifth Third arena and follow the women on GoBEARCATS.com.     

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Pitt Panthers

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CINCINNATI -- First home win in the BIG EAST this season? Check. First victory over Pitt since March 16, 2000? Check. The most wins under head coach Jamelle Elliott? Check. The Cincinnati Bearcats (13-12, 4-8) extended their winning streak to two and reached several team goals yesterday with a 62-57 victory over the Pitt Panthers (8-16, 0-11) from Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats were led yesterday afternoon by three players, which scored in double-figures. Senior guard Bjonee Reaves led the squad with a game-high 19 points and sophomore guard Dayeesha Hollins scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Senior forward Chanel Chisholm was a double digit scorer for the second straight game as well. Chisholm had 14 points. This was a true BIG EAST match-up as the teams were knotted up for most of the game. UC dominated from the free-throw line during the first half and used a 6-0 run during the final three minutes of the first stanza to control at the break. Cincinnati avoided several runs from Pitt in the second half as well and was able to seal the team's fourth conference victory of the season, while sending Pitt to their 11th conference defeat. Reaves, Hollins and Chisholm receive game ball awards for their efforts and production.

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Bjonee Reaves, 9 --
In addition to scoring a game-high 19 points, Reaves was also the only Bearcat to be on the floor for all 40 minutes. Reaves shot 6-15 from the field, including draining three three-pointers, one which helped UC regain the lead in the closing portion of the first half. Reaves only had one turnover and propelled Cincinnati to the most wins during the Elliott era. Don't be surprised if Reaves leads the Bearcats in scoring when the season is all said and done.

2. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 --  Hollins can score we all know that, but who knew the sophomore guard would grab key rebounds as well. Hollins' eight rebounds complemented her 15 point output. She also helped seal the game with one of her four steals, which is a statistical category that no other Bearcat has seemed to dominate like Hollins has this season. Hollins also led the team in assists yesterday and even though she had only three dimes it still shows her ability to get her teammates involved.

3. Chanel Chisholm, 9 -- Chisholm had her second straight double-digit scoring output of the season on Saturday scoring 14 points. She did most of her work from the free-throw line where she scored seven of her 14 points. Her senior leadership has proven to work wonders and her efficient shooting is something that the team is looking to have every game down the stretch. If Chisholm can continue to score in double-figures it will give the team a three-headed scoring attack that would lead to more wins down the stretch.

Honorable Mention: Jeanise Randolph -- Randolph added eight points to go along with her team-high 10 rebounds. Randolph played 10 more minutes than starter Tiffany Turner yesterday and even though Turner struggled she remains the team's first option in the low block. 

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Georgetown Hoyas

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CINCINNATI --The Bearcats made some runs to keep themselves in the game, but late it was the combination of UC's 24 turnovers and Georgetown's made free throws that really decided this BIG EAST tilt. Similar to the first half in which the Bearcats ended on a 7-0 run to cut the Georgetown lead to four -- Cincinnati ended the second half with a barrage of three-pointers, but failed to complete the upset. The loss to the Hoyas (18-5;7-3) ended Cincinnati's (11-12; 2-8) two-game winning streak. Leading scorer in the BIG EAST, Sugar Rodgers struggled in the early going, but was able to score 11 of her 19 points in the last 5:00 of the game. Her 19 points was a game high. Leading the Bearcats was Dayeesha Hollins who scored 17 points and Bjonee Reaves who also scored 17. Kayla Cook got in on the act late and was able to score 10 points by shooting 4-8 from three-point range. Cook, Hollins and Reaves receive game ball awards tonight for the efforts and production.

"Looks like the difference in the game was that we turned the ball over 24 times," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said after the game. "They pressured us for 40 minutes. (Dayeesha Hollins) had nine turnovers which is uncharacteristic for her.  I thought she tried to split those traps a little too much instead of reversing the ball. But, the kid's trying to make plays and you can't be mad at her for that. On the flip side of that, on the No. 15 team in the country, we cut it to five one time, we cut it to four. We had a two-on-one fast break with Bjonee (Reaves) to be able to cut it to three. We had our chances. Everybody talks about hanging around with the No. 15 team in the country.  I can't wait until we get to the point where not only do we hang around, but we make better decisions so that we can win these games. Georgetown probably didn't come out and play their best basketball. And, when a team that's ranked in the country doesn't come out and play their best basketball and we're still playing hard but we're not upping our level, it's still going to be hard to beat a bunch of teams. Today, we really didn't up our level enough to give ourselves the best chance to beat a very good Georgetown team."

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 9 -- Dayeesha continues to show why she is the Bearcats best player this season. Her defensive pressure against Rodgers was stellar in the first half and her production was needed to keep her team in the game. She continues to use her high-motor and athletic ability to her advantage. Her pace up and down the floor really propels this team, but it does seem that other players are watching and anticipating her to take over each game. She is certainly the straw that stirs the drink, if you will, and is key to the Bearcats success during the final six games and in the BIG EAST Tournament. A game-high nine turnovers, however, is an area for concern for Hollins who is still only a sophomore.

"In those situations I have to make the best decision and know where the open people are instead of rushing, and that's something I have to work on," Hollins said.

2. Bjonee Reaves, 9 -- Bjonee's confidence is something that everyone on the team can learn from. Reaves has shown this season that she has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor and a lot of that is predicated to her immense amount of confidence. She connected on big shots from deep in this game to help her team stay competitive. Her 17 points was tied for a team-high and while she hoisted up a lot of shots, it was needed for a team that was looking for any kind of look late in the shot clock on almost every possession. It is important that Reaves improves on her assist numbers, but having a consistent three-point jumper is her number one priority for the rest of the season.

"We knew coming into the game that they were going to be a very aggressive, physical team," Reaves said. "We knew they were going to trap all over the court.  We just have to do a better job of being poised and under control.  At times we showed it but the times we didn't they capitalized on it, and that's what good teams do.  We can't make those types of mental mistakes because good teams capitalize them."

3. Kayla Cook, 8 -- Kayla is your definition of a streaky shooter. Some nights she has it and some nights she doesn't. Against Georgetown, Cook struggled to get going in the first half but her onslaught of three-pointers made near the end of the game nearly brought UC back to win. Whether its is Elliott's instruction or Cook's demeanor she seems to not worry about the last play and continue to have confidence in her shot as the game progresses. Her 10 points tonight were key down the stretch and her eight rebounds was a team-high. It's good to see her get involved more via rebounds versus just settling for jump shots, but she needs to be more aggressive and demand the ball from her teammates to help contribute game-in-and-game-out.

Previewing the opponent: Georgetown Hoyas

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CINCINNATI -- The Bearcats are back in town after a three-game road trip to face a Georgetown team that comes into Saturday ranked No.17/15 in the two national polls. Cincinnati is as hot as any time this season coming off back-to-back BIG EAST wins; one at Syracuse in dramatic fashion and one in Milwaukee, Wisc. against Marquette this past Wednesday night.

"I can't say enough about my team," Head Coach Jamelle Elliott said. "I just told them in the locker room, there are a lot of teams in the country who get on a losing streak and their attitude changes and they feel sorry for themselves. I never felt that with my team. I knew that one of these games, we were going to come out on top if we stayed together and today it was a prime example of that. Everyone stepped up and gave us a chance to win."

The Bearcats (11-11), 2-7) hope to continue riding the momentum train tomorrow as they look to win three straight games for the first time since Dec. 29. A win tomorrow or another BIG EAST win down the road would also mean that the program will surpass last season's totals -- where they only had two conference victories.

"Everybody is getting involved and everybody feels confident that they are apart of our wins," Elliott said. "We've practiced hard and were just as prepared, so I'm looking forward to seeing how we come out against a good team at home."

The Hoyas (17-5, 6-3) are coming off an impressive throttling of Rutgers in D.C., where they nearly beat the No. 12 team in country by 20 points. Georgetown has the conference's leading scorer, Sugar Rodgers, who is averaging 19.8 points per game. She also has a team-high in steals this season with 56 over 22 games. Rodgers is also very efficient from the free throw line shooting a team-high 82.2 percent.

"They look to press off of any chance they get and they create a lot of points off their turnovers," Elliott said. "There's three keys to this game. Break their pressure and score while looking to be on the attack, transition defense, and not giving up second shots. If we can do those three things and hold them under their average we'll give ourselves a good chance to win."

Second on the squad with 11.9 points per game is senior forward Tia Magee. Magee earned her first career nod to the BIG EAST honor roll this week after the team's win against the Scarlet Knights. She also leads the team in rebounds grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Rubylee Wright is third on the team in scoring averaging 7.1 points per game. Last game Wright broke the program's all-time assist number when she recorded her 472nd assist. She leads the squad with 105 this season over 22 games played, which is an average of 7.1 per game.

Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves have been instrumental during the past two conference wins and will need to continue to lead this team down the stretch. A recipe featuring Hollins and Reeves scoring in double-figures along with sophomore Jeanise Randolph dominating the boards has become a success-ridden game plan for the Bearcats. Hollins leads the team with 14.7 points per game and she scored 22 points against the Golden Eagles to help the underdog Bearcats win in Wisconsin. Reaves, who hit a last-second shot against Syracuse to give her team the victory scored 18 against Marquette and is now averaging 12.7 points per game. Randolph has averaged 11 rebounds in the past two wins and seems to be fully healthy for the first time this season. Randolph will now be able to complement Tiffany Turner's 7.1 points per game with dominance on the glass, which Elliott and the coaching staff have been looking for since Randolph's return.

"Her (Randolph) coming back healthy and playing the basketball that allowed her to be on the BIG EAST all-freshman team last year is something that's good for us," Elliott said. "She's able to bang with the post players down low, get rebounds, and box out. It gives us another dimension inside not only with scoring, but like you said rebounding."


This game is set to tip-off at 2 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena. The men's basketball team plays after the women at 7 p.m. against DePaul to complete the double-header.

Around the Big East: 1/23

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Cincinnati's Status: (9-10, 0-6) -- As always we will start off with a glance at UC's status in the BIG EAST. The Bearcats are now sitting a game under .500 after starting the season with six straight wins and a 6-0 record. UC has lost all six of its BIG EAST contests thus far; most recently a loss to St. John's at Fifth Third Arena. The Bearcats had their lowest output of the season with only 34 points against the Red Storm. On the bright side, the Bearcats allowed the least amount points in a BIG EAST game this season, allowing only 51 points. UC joins Seton Hall and Pittsburgh as the only other conference teams that remain win less. Jamelle Elliott's squad will take to the road for three straight road games -- starting in Philadelphia when they face Villanova; then onto Syracuse, NY for a clash with the Orange; and lastly they will be in Milwaukee to play Marquette on Feb. 1.

On a positive note:
Jeanise Randolph had her season-high in points with 10 and her season-high in rebounds with 7 to lead the Bearcats against St. John's.

Next home game: After a three-game road trip where the Bearcats will be in different parts of the country they will return to Fifth Third Arena for a game against No. 20 Georgetown on Feb. 4.

Inside the TOP 25 (AP Poll as of 1/23):
2. Notre Dame
3. Connecticut
11. Rutgers
16. Louisville
20. Georgetown
23. DePaul

Game of the previous week: DePaul v. South Florida -- Two teams in the middle of the pack in the BIG EAST played an overtime thriller last Tuesday (1/17) from Bob Martinez Sports Center in Tampa Bay. USF ended up defeating DePaul who was ranked No. 19 at that time. The Bulls' Akila McDonald converted a lay-up with only nine seconds left in regulation to force overtime and then a Jasmine Wynn led Bulls team rallied to beat the squad from Chicago 66-63. Kaneisha Saunders also had a big game and was tied with Wynn for the team lead with 16 points on Tuesday night. DePaul's Anna Martin had 23 points, but failed to lead her team to victory and the Blue Demons lost only their fourth game of the season, but saw their national ranking drop four spots because of the loss.   

Upset of the previous week: Rutgers v. St. John's -- The trio of Eugeneia McPherson, Nadirah McKenith, and Shenneika Smith all scored in double-digits and gave No. 8 Rutgers their first BIG EAST loss of the season. Coming off a loss against Marquette the Red Storm were able to overcome a half-time deficit and out score the Scarlet Knights by 11 points in the second half leading to their 62-57 victory. The biggest statistic of the game was St. John's proficiency from the free throw stripe where they made 26 of 32 and 14 of 16 during the last five minutes. St. John's has won three straight meetings against Rutgers after struggling to beat them for a decade. The Red Storm is now moving its way up to the upper-echelon of the BIG EAST standings and will meet Rutgers again in New Jersey on Feb. 12.     

Game of the upcoming week:
Tennessee v. Notre Dame -- Tonight the BIG EAST leaders, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will host the No. 9 team in the country -- the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Pat Summitt's teams are always ready to play in big games and will be a test for a Notre Dame team who is undefeated in conference play and haven't loss since Nov. 20 when they played No. 1 Baylor. The Fighting Irish are undefeated in South Bend this season and will be facing a Tennessee team that has already tasted defeat four times this season. Skylar Diggins will still be the topic of discussion during this match-up, but will face a tougher test than usual because Tennessee has four players averaging in double-figures and athletic guards such as Meghan Simmons and Shekinna Strickland who can limit Diggins' play-making ability.
 
Prediction: I give Notre Dame the slight edge. 72-64 Fighting Irish. 

Previewing the opponent: St. John's Red Storm

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This week hasn't been too kind to the women's basketball program at the University of Cincinnati. During the past week the Bearcats fell at home to the No. two team in the country, Notre Dame, and the No. three team in the country, UCONN Huskies, on the road. Returning to her Alma mater was bitter sweet for head coach Jamelle Elliott, who saw a lot of press and warm reception while in Storrs. Her team's output did not match the thrill, however, as the Bearcats lost 80-37 on Thursday night to drop them to 0-5 in the BIG EAST and a 9-9 overall. Cincinnati will look to bounce back tomorrow when they face St. John's (12-7, 4-2) at home.

The Johnnies are coming off an upset win against Rutgers at home and have built a nice 4-2 record in the BIG EAST thus far. St. John's had three players score in double-figures against the No. 10 team in the country propelling them to victory. The leaders for St. John's this season include; junior Eugeneia McPherson who has scored double-figures in 13 consecutive games. She averages 14.2 points per game this season. The Red Storm has been playing better since senior forward Da'Shena Stevens has be reinserted into the line-up after healing from an early season injury. They are 7-2 since her return and she is averaging a team-high 7.4 rebounds per contest. Junior Shenneika Smith has been named to the BIG EAST honor roll two times this season already and averages 12.8 points per game. The third player averaging in double-figures is junior guard Nadirah McKenith who is averaging 11.7 points per game. The Red Storm is coached by Kim Barnes Arico, who is in her 10th-year at the helm.

The Bearcats must keep plugging away in order to record their first BIG EAST win of the season. Dayeesha Hollins has continued to play well this season, as she scored the team's first 13 points Thursday night at UCONN. Senior guard Bjonee Reaves continues to average in double-figures as well, but her production has been on the decline compared to Hollins. Elliott has not found any other consistent minutes from her bench or the rest of her starting line-up. Kayla Cook and Tiffany Turner went scoreless and while senior Chanel Chisholm added nine points while also contributing seven of the team's 25 turnovers in Storrs. Scoring will be necessary from the entire starting five on Saturday including some statistical additions from Jeanise Randolph and Alyesha Lovett off of the bench.

Tip off is set for 2 p.m. from Fifth Third Arena.

In Addition:

If you haven't read these already; here are some links from stories written about coach Elliott:

Jamelle Elliott Works to Build Her own Program

A special visit for Cincinnati Coach Jamelle Elliott

Game Balls & Player Ratings: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Cincinnati -- Skylar Diggins didn't look to shoot the ball from the opening tip. Instead, Diggins was content with running the floor and dishing the rock to whoever she saw open. She made it known that her passing abilities were as good as her scoring prowess by flaunting in style every time she dropped a dime. The BIG EAST preseason player of the year had 11 assists and seven rebounds to complement her lowest scoring output of the season of four. Irish senior Natalie Novosel or "Nasty" as her teammates call her was the sharpshooter of today's contest. She started off 6-6 from the field, 2-2 from deep, and perfect from the free throw stripe (5-5). She had 18 of her 21 points in the first half. Notre Dame doubled Cincinnati in the first half leading 42-21 at intermission and finished off the game with a 76-50 win. Dayeesha Hollins showed a spark for the Bearcats who committed 22 turnovers due to Notre Dame's pressure. Hollins scored 14 points and added four assists. Senior Chanel Chisholm also showed some aggressive play but wasn't able to get in a groove only scoring seven points. Bjonee Reaves had eight points on 11 shots. Hollins was the lone game ball honoree this afternoon for a Cincinnati that is still looking for its first conference victory.

"I think by far they are the best passing team we have faced all year," head coach Jamelle Elliott commented during the post-game press conference. "They definitely took advantage of our size in the post and took advantage of those high, low feeds. I think they are by far the best passing team and overall most disciplined team we faced so far this year."

Player ratings: (0-10; 10=Best)

Game Ball winners:

1. Dayeesha Hollins, 8 --
Dayeesha looked to have her quick step from the beginning of the game, but Notre Dame's smothering defense made it tough for Hollins to get her teammates involved. The Cincinnati native had 14 points, but most importantly was the only Bearcat player that seemed to give Notre Dame's defense any trouble. Hollins and Elliott stressed the fact the the players around Hollins must gain confidence in order to make the offense work in the future. Passing up shots is not an option according to Elliott, but was a common theme during this BIG EAST tilt.

"I think she looks really good," Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said about Dayeesha Hollins. "She's so hard to guard and we couldn't contain her. We tried to double team her and we weren't as effective as I would of liked. I think she really got off in the first half -- we did a better job in the second half guarding her, but I think she's going to be a very good player in the BIG EAST."

"Dayeesha is obviously our best player; I want her to have the ball in her hands as much as possible," Elliott said. "I just think we need somebody else to step up and make plays. Right now Dayeesha is kind of the only one on our team that is able to be successful against these types of teams. Teams are going to continue to take her away."  

Previewing the opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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This next stretch of two games for the Bearcats may be tougher than any two games for any program in the country during any season. Head coach Jamelle Elliott takes her team back to her Alma Mater, UCONN this coming Thursday for what should be an emotional moment for Elliott. Returning to the arena where she dominated college ball; Elliott and the Bearcats will face a team that has dominated the them since their inclusion in the BIG EAST. The Huskies are a team that has actually dominated most teams in college basketball in the recent years, except for the national runner-up squad in Notre Dame that UC will see tomorrow afternoon at Fifth Third Arena. This is one of those moments when the UC basketball fan sighs and shakes their head. Two game versus the no. 2 and no. 3 teams in the country, respectively are never fun. Then again, I guess you can look at it as a chance to drastically change the path of your season. Winning those two games wouldn't just be a great accomplishment. Winning those two games could vault the Bearcats into the projected NCAA tournament field and boost their confidence for their best BIG EAST finish.

"We're just trying to get better everyday as a team," Elliott said. "It just so happens that we have a tough stretch playing the number 10 team in the country, then the number two team in the country, and then the number three team in the country."

Notre Dame is propelled by All-American candidate and the conference's preseason player of the year, Skylar Diggins, who is averaging 16.9 points per game and 5.5 assists per game. In my estimations, Diggins is battling Baylor's Brittney Griner for national player of year honors and the first overall pick in the WNBA draft should they both come out. It will be tough enough for the Bearcats to focus on following Diggins every where she goes tomorrow, but they also will have to be cognizant of Natalie Novosel and Kayla McBride who also both score in double-figures; Novosel with 16.2 points per game and McBride with 12.2 points per game. Graduate student Devereaux Peters averages a team-best 7.6 rebounds per game.

"It's more about us," Elliott said. "The last 20 minutes of practice we did go over a couple of the half-court sets because obviously we want to know how we are going to guard their screens and everything. One of the things I do want to get better at is our zone. I want to be able to play more zone. I want us to execute in the half-court offense especially against the teams that are going to come out and deny us. We're going to see a lot of pressure these next two games. Hopefully this next two game stretch is really going to prepare us to be really successful toward the end of conference season. "

The run-down:

The Fighting Irish stand at 16-1 losing their only game this season against the no. one team in the land, the Baylor Bears. They are undefeated in conference play at 4-0 and are coming off a 20-point road win at Georgetown, who is ranked no. 17 in the national rankings. Notre Dame has scored 90 points or more in seven games this season and even topped the 100 point mark scoring 128 points in a game at Mercer. It's OK, you can sigh and shake your head again UC fans.

The Bearcats will need a heavy dose of, well, everything and anything tomorrow afternoon if they look to take down this juggernaut. Leading scorers Dayeesha Hollins and Bjonee Reaves must score over the 20-point mark and try to limit Diggins' output as much as possible to be successful. Kayla Cook is an important player as well because of her three-point shooting abilities, which will have to be on point tomorrow in an effort to limit Notre Dame's scoring runs and in order to cut down leads where UC can stay within striking distance. Their hard work on blocking out and playing sound defense in practice will have to show as UC cannot allow the Irish to convert on second chance opportunities. They must also limit the Irish's three-point shooting abilities to below average, which may hurt their confidence and force them into turnovers. It is expected that the Bearcats won't get too deep into their bench, so Alyesha Lovett will have to take advantage of her minutes and not become a downgrade off the bench. She will have to become a spark plug rather contributing to the final box score. The return of Jeanise Randolph needs to continue to complement Tiffany Turner and for the Bearcats to win, I believe Randolph will need to have a break-out game.

"You get in trouble when you say 'this is an easy one for us' and now all of a sudden you look bad and you never want to look bad as a top five team," Elliott said about taking advantage of Notre Dame in a trap game scenario. "Injuries can play a factor, so you have to play every game as it's the same way and I'm sure Notre Dame is thinking the same thing."
 
Additional game-time information:

The game is set to start at 3 p.m. pending the finish time of the men's game against Villanova that is being played at Fifth Third Arena at noon. If the men's game goes past 2 p.m. for any reason, then the women's game will not start at 3 p.m., but 60 minutes after the conclusion of the men's game. If the men's game finishes on-time or early, then the women's game will still keep a 3 p.m. tip-off.