NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Tick, tock.
You can set your clock, sundial or calendar by it. There will come a moment in a given second half when DFW T-Jack shows up like an uninvited dinner guest and ruins everyone's evening. The tendency has been imprinted on this elite team's identity this summer like DNA.
"At the end of the game, we realize what we're playing for," DFW's Ashley Eli said after a 63-46 victory over Ring City that featured wait for it a second-half surge to break open a tight game. "We look at our sleeves for coach Marques (Jackson) and realize this is it. When we were younger, we could do this to teams all the time. Now the older teams are better and we can't just try to be a second-half team. It's going to come back to bite us."
It already has. DFW has walked the tightrope a few too many times this summer. They were blown off twice in the Windy City by the Fairfax Stars. That was after they blew a layup at the buzzer to lose to Essence at their own event in Dallas.
So now a team that many expected to be the summer circuit's dominant team after an almost-cakewalk of a tournament championship at Boo Williams Nike Invitational in the spring puts its vulnerabilities on display on a daily -- here, twice daily -- basis. This emboldens opponents, who have to feel like they will be given an opportunity to hang around and maybe hit the lottery at the end for an upset. And it stresses the players for whom the time remaining to fulfill a promise to their late coach, Jackson, to win Nike Nationals ticks, louder and louder, like the countdown in "24."
"This definitely is not the way we want it to go," said Moriah Jefferson, the team's superstar and spiritual leader. "We know what we want to do, what we need to do. It's just not happening."
Jefferson and her teammates try to look at their late breakthroughs in a positive light. DFW T-Jack creates such a furious pace with its pressure defense and uptempo offensive attack that most opponents inevitably crack. However, there is a benefit to the occasional blowout, jumping on an outmanned foe, putting the game away and resting the mainstays.
The lack of such mini-vacations could at least partially be to blame for the rash of injuries that hit the team earlier this month. And maybe it has other consequences. The fact that DFW is bursting at the seams with, ahem, chemistry problems is one of the least well-kept secrets on the club circuit. Just try walking past the DFW cheering section without being accosted by a parent counting touches and newsprint inches for his or her child.
Another twist in chemistry, the late arrival of post and Baylor commit Kristina Higgins and late addition of super-soph Brianna Turner, actually could save DFW this tournament. With so many talented guards, DFW's offense often resembles a Soul Train line, with each taking a turn at displaying her best moves. In addition to being an extremely difficult way to consistently score the basketball, the approach also has ignited some of the internal jealousies over possession of the basketball.
Twice, once in the first half, and then during their decisive, second-half run, DFW soared with the 6-foot-4 Higgins and 6-3 Turner in the game. Both help lock down the lane as the guards blast around the court like twisters on the prairie. They also provide a much-needed source of easy buckets.
"We need to go inside-out," Jefferson said, "instead of outside-in."
Realizing such an approach seemed out of kilter with established DFW sensibilities, Jefferson added, "I know that sounds weird, but now we got some bigs, that's the way it's got to go."
Probably better yet for DFW that Big Ball is a late-arriving solution. It fits a timetable whose urgency increases as this week progresses.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.