Dec. 29, 2011
NEW ORLEANS - Much has been made of the Tulane University women's basketball freshman class during the early portion of the 2011-12 season, but on Thursday evening in Fogelman Arena, it was the upperclassmen's turn to shine as the Green Wave defeated Hampton, 66-53, in the championship game of the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic.
Junior guard Olivia Grayson 24 of her team-leading 26 points in the second half while senior center Brett Benzio posted her fifth double-double of the year with 13 rebounds and a career-best 21 points. The win marked the Wave's fourth consecutive Tulane/DoubleTree Classic title as Tulane concluded its pre-conference schedule 11-2. Hampton, meanwhile, fell to 9-3.
Grayson added five assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals to her scoring output. She was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after averaging 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals while connecting at a 44.4 field goal percentage (12-of-27) and hitting 75.0 percent of her free throws (12-fo16) during the two-day event. Benzio was named to the Tulane/DoubleTree Classic All-Tournament Team, as were Hampton's Jericka Jenkins and Ariel Phelps, Central Michigan's Jessica Green and College of Charleston's Latisha Harris.
"She's had some big games," Tulane head women's basketball coach Lisa Stockton said of Grayson. "She's had some great scoring games for us. The one thing with her game is she will score - and she's a great scorer - but she does so many other things.
"Her rebounding is so important to us. She's the one that was guarding (Choicetta) McMillian most of the night tonight and that was really important. She gets the ball to other people, like going to Brett inside, and she does so many things that are so valuable for us. With a young team, you've got to have that stable guard out there that knows where to put the ball."
Tulane shot 41.8 percent from the field against the Lady Pirates, including a 15-for-29 performance (.517) in the second half which saw the Green Wave turn a two-point halftime lead into a 13-point victory. Defensively, the Green Wave held Hampton to a .298 clip (17-of-57).
Benzio and Grayson were the lone Tulane players to finish with double-digit scoring totals while freshman forward Tiffany Dale added seven points, seven rebounds and four assists. Benzio, freshman guard Jamie Kaplan and junior guard Tyria Snow each had three assists, and Snow added a trio of steals. Benzio led the team with a pair of blocked shots.
"We knew they were going to be tough," Grayson said of Hampton. "We watched them the night before and we saw how they played. They're a real scrappy team. We just prepared for that at shoot-around and we knew we were going to have to take care of the ball. It was just something that we prepared for before the game."
Neither team could score early on and Hampton tallied the game's first points on a pair of Jenkins 6:03 into the ballgame. That, however, was one of just two leads the Lady Pirates would hold as a Danielle Blagg 3-pointer put Tulane ahead 7-5 and the Green Wave never trailed again.
Hampton rallied from five points down to tie the game at 15-all at the four-minute mark, but Tulane used a 6-0 run as Benzio sandwiched a pair free throws and a jumper around an Adesuwa Ebomwonyi layup to give the Green Wave a 21-15 advantage. The Lady Pirates answered with two more Jenkins free throws and a layup by Keiara Avant to make it a two-point ballgame at the break.
After going into the locker room at halftime on top 21-19, Tulane's stretched the lead to double-digits at 46-36 with 7:57 left in regulation before Hampton rallied with a 5-0 run to make 46-41. The Green Wave got ahead by 10 again at 56-46 with 2:52 left to go only to once again see the Lady Pirates rally and slice the margin to six on a Jenkins jumper 28 seconds later.
From there, however, Jenkins was called for a foul and Hampton head coach David Six was whistled for a technical to change the complexion of the contest. Grayson hit 3-of-4 free throws after the infractions and added two more after another Jenkins foul with 1:52 remaining on the clock.
Tulane broke the Hampton press for an easy layup by Dale, who was fouled on the play and hit the ensuing free throw to cap an 8-0 Green Wave run and put the game out of reach. Hampton got a 3-pointer by Nicole Hamilton to cut the Tulane lead to 11 and Benzio closed out the scoring with a layup with six seconds to go.
"I thought it was a costly technical," Stockton said. "Sometimes technical are in the middle of the game and they don't really affect the game. I thought that was really costly for them. We got to the free throw line, it was a distraction for a second and we had the free throws. I thought that really cost them because they had the momentum at that point."
Jenkins led all players with 28 points while handing out a game-high seven assists and pulling down three rebounds. Phelps had eight points and a team-best 10 rebounds to go with three blocks in the losing effort.
The Green Wave return to action on Thursday, Jan. 5, when they open the Conference USA portion of their schedule at Memphis. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7 p.m. From there, Tulane will play host to league foe UCF on Sunday, Jan. 8, at 2 p.m. in Fogelman Arena.
For tickets to that game and future Green Wave home events, contact the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office either in person, over the phone at 504-861-WAVE (9283) or via the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com. The Ticket Office located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr. Center on Ben Weiner Drive, is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tulane/DoubleTree Classic All-Tournament Team
Jessica Green, Central Michigan
Latisha Harris, College of Charleston
Jericka Jenkins, Hampton
Ariel Phelps, Hampton
Brett Benzio, Tulane
Olivia Grayson, Tulane (MVP)