Jina DeRubbo, the veteran women’s basketball coach at Washington & Jefferson College, did all she possibly could Saturday afternoon when the Presidents played undefeated Thomas More, the No. 6-ranked team in NCAA Division III.
She called some early timeouts. She substituted. She yelled. She cajoled. She changed defenses. She changed offenses.
Nothing worked with any consistency.
It all added up to a 96-62 loss for W&J, which wasn’t a surprise. Thomas More is that good. With Division I transfer Sydney Moss, who averaged 11.8 points per game as a freshman last season for Florida, Thomas More’s program has been taken to a level that before this year was only a pipe dream for PAC teams.
After the loss to Thomas More, DeRubbo talked about the Saints having the ability to make it to the national championship game. That’s certainly a possibility.
At 2-2 in the PAC and 7-4 overall, W&J is in the middle of the pack in the league. But that hasn’t stopped DeRubbo from believing her team is still capable of returning to the NCAA Division III tournament. In recent seasons, second place in the PAC has been good enough to garner an at-large berth in the national tournament, and playing Thomas More as many as three times will help the PAC runner-up’s strength of schedule.
To get back to the NCAA tournament, W&J likely will have to win 13 of its 14 remaining regular-season games and get to the conference tournament final. That means the Presidents can’t afford to lose to anyone not named Thomas More.
The Presidents lost their first two games of the season, to Illinois Wesleyan, now with a 7-5 record, and 8-3 Johns Hopkins, and had a 20-point loss at PAC rival Saint Vincent, a game in which W&J shot a miserable 24 percent from the field.
The Presidents will need to beat Saint Vincent at home Jan. 29 and win all their other games to keep those NCAA hopes realistic. That’s what makes Wednesday’s game at Waynesburg (3-1, 5-6) so critical. The Yellow Jackets are in a rebuilding season under coach Sam Jones but have played a strong schedule and shown an ability to pull a surprise. Waynesburg has won four of its last five games, including a 77-75 upset at La Roche. The Yellow Jackets are the only Division III team to be beat the Redhawks (9-2).
• After opening the season with four consecutive losses, the California University women’s basketball team has turned around its season, winning five in a row and seven of eight. The Vulcans (2-2, 7-5) could take a seven-game winning streak into a Jan. 18 game at once-beaten Indiana. The battled-tested Vulcans will not be an easy team to play in the postseason.
• Quick, can you name the only undefeated boys or girls basketball team in the O-R’s coverage area? That would be Carmichaels boys, who are 9-0.
The Mikes, who are led by senior forward Brandon Lawless (26.8 points per game), were to play a challenging two games in two days this week. Carmichaels was to host Clairton tonight, but that game has been postponed because of the cold weather. A makeup date has not been finalized. The Mikes play a non-section game Wednesday at Frazier (5-4). Carmichaels edged Frazier, 57-55, on the Mikes’ home court Dec. 10.
• The powers-that-be at Penn State seem determined to hire a former Nittany Lions player as the school’s next head football coach. Former PSU players Al Golden and Mike Munchak already have interviewed for the job with Golden announcing that he is no longer a candidate.
Here’s some advice for Penn State: hire the best coach available, regardless of where he played his college football. Only one coach of a team in a BCS bowl this year (Stanford’s David Shaw) is at his alma mater, and the two coaches in last night’s national championship game, Auburn’s Guz Malzahn and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, didn’t even play Division I football.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at email@example.com.