Four Hundred Ninety-Eight Down, Two To Go
GREENSBORO - North Carolina A&T women's basketball coach Patricia Cage-Bibbs is close. She secured victory No. 498 on Saturday as A&T earned a 66-45 win over archrival N.C. Central Saturday as 4,447 fans packed Corbett Sports Center to see it.
Bibbs needs two wins in the Aggies final three regular-season games to pick up her 500th win or else she will have to do at the MEAC Tournament held March 5-10 at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., or during the 2012-13 season.
"I'm going to keep coaching until I get it," Bibbs said jokingly. "But seriously, it's not going to be easy. No one wants to be the one (who gives up her 500th victory). We're going to get everyone's best shot."
Therefore, Bibbs said, she has her team focused on finishing strong as the MEAC Tournament approaches.
"If it comes, it comes," she said. "That's something that I will be happy for, and I will be happy for all the players and coaches who helped me reach another milestone."
Bibbs hopes she can change that wording to milestones before the season is over as the Aggies have their sights trained on winning Bibbs' 11th conference tournament and her second as the head lady at A&T.
"We're trying to get our young ladies into a postseason mentality," said Bibbs. "That means one loss can end your season. You can't afford to play poorly this time of year."
The first four seeds in the tournament are all but established with Hampton, Florida A&M, Howard and Coppin State all but guaranteed a bye. Despite those four teams being established at the top, there is room for the Aggies to earn a fifth seed and play the No. 12 team in the conference. The Aggies will still have to win four games to capture the MEAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Losses by S.C. State and Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday have the Aggies (12-14, 7-6 MEAC) in the No. 5 spot.
The Aggies climbed in the standings thanks to a stellar rebounding performance that saw A&T out-rebound the Eagles 53-31 with JaQuayla Berry leading the way with 23 points and a career-high 16 boards. Berry's performance moves her to within 25 points of reaching 1,000 for her career.
Tiffanie Adair (12 points, 10 rebounds) chipped in with another double-double, her third in as many games.
But what got the Aggies going early was the 3-point shooting of Amber Calvin. Calvin hit three 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the game to give A&T an 11-5 lead. When Adriana Nazario pulled up for a jump shot just inside the 3-point arc, the Aggies had their biggest lead of the first half at 27-14 with 6:24 remaining.
""It is absolutely terrific when Amber does what she does," said Bibbs about the redshirt sophomore who finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists."She is a wonderful playmaker, and when she is open she can knock the shot down.
That 3-point shot adds up, and we are happy she was able to do it quickly and increase the margin," added Bibbs.
The Eagles cut the lead to 30-20 at the half, and opened the second half with a Jasmine Alston 3-pointer to slice it to seven. NCCU (3-23, 1-12) kept the game close throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half, but a Berry jumper off of a Calvin pass opened up an 8-0 run for A&T. Calvin followed with a baseline jumper, Adair added turnaround jumper off of a feed from Kelsei Ewings and Berry completed the run with a steal and a layup to give the Aggies a 55-37 lead with 6:37 to play.
"A lot of times you don't know what the team is going to come out with because in a game like this records go out of the window," said Bibbs. "We did a lot of good things, especially in the second half. I am very impressed with our rebounding; we are definitely improving with that."
The Aggies will continue to fight for the No. 5 seed as they take on S.C. State on Feb. 25 in Orangeburg, S.C., at 2 p.m. The Bulldogs, a team that is 6-6 and a game behind A&T in the MEAC, defeated the Aggies on Feb. 11 in Corbett Sports Center. If the Aggies can avenge the loss, it will put Bibbs in a position where she can earn victory No. 500 at Savannah State on Feb. 27 or at Corbett on March 1 against Norfolk State.
"We don't really talk about it. We just try to focus and keep winning," said Calvin. "If we just focus on winning, the 500th will come."