C-USA: The Odd Couple: Rompola and Smith

By Jean Neuberger - October 12, 2006

One coach inherits a team with a strong defensive approach to the game, but has trouble putting the ball in the hoop. The other coach fields a team that can score at will, but struggles mightily on the defensive end.

"I think Rhonda (Rompola) and I should team up," said UAB Head Coach Audra Smith.

Smith's Blazers were second in the conference in scoring, averaging 69.4 points a game, and were found in the top three in every offensive category. However, the Blazer defense gave up an average of 69.1 points a game, making too many games way too close for Smith's liking.

"Last year was an improved year," Smith said. "It was improved, but not good enough. We can score, but we can't defend very well. We lost Crystal McFadden to a torn ACL this year, so we'll need some others to step up, especially Amanda Jones, who is 6-3. We have to press more defensively as well."

Would Smith take a page from former UAB men's coach Mike Anderson, whose "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball", created a lot of turnovers and defensive pressure for opposing teams?

"We tried a bit of that last year," Smith said. "The key to running a defense like Coach Anderson used to run is that you have to have depth. We didn't have depth last year, so we couldn't run a lot of what he did. We have much better depth this year though, so we'll add more of his style of defense this season."

With McFadden out for the year, Smith will turn to All-Conference guard Carmen Guzman to lead the UAB attack.

"Carmen should be an attorney," Smith said. "On and off the court, she can really plead her case well. She's very focused this year on getting our team to the NCAA Tournament. Personally, I would love to see her continue her basketball career after college, but she's also a smart person and smart player. She's a criminal justice major, but she really needs to be an attorney. "

As for SMU's Rhonda Rompola, her scenario is completely the opposite of Smith's. The Mustangs were near the bottom of the C-USA ranks in offense, but were ranked much higher in defensive statistics.

"We'll have a very interesting team this year," said Rompola. "We had one senior, but we found out she can't play this season because of a deep knee bruise. We'll have to rely on our juniors and ask a lot from our freshmen. We have to score more though. We haven't scored well in the last few years. We've stressed to our players over and over that we have to free ourselves up better for good shots."

The media believes that the Mustangs can succeed offensively, picking SMU to finish in a tie for second in the conference.

"By now, you've all seen the pre-season poll," Rompola said. "We have a statement to make. We have so many teams in this conference with four or five starters back. It's our second year, and we're getting more familiar with teams on the East Coast, but we have to make a statement this year."

Posted by Jean Neuberger at 08:54 PM on October 12, 2006

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