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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Young talent keeps Ohio State rolling

By Michelle Smith

Jim Foster has won 750 games coaching women's basketball. So when he tells you that there's more than one way to play the game, you can take his word for it.

For most of his 10 years coaching at Ohio State, he's been fortunate enough to have a dominant post player, the kind you camp out in the block and just get the ball to.

First it was Jessica Davenport and then Jantel Lavender. Between the two of them, they won seven Big Ten player of the year awards.

But Davenport has been gone for a while and Lavender ran out of eligibility last year.

And his team looks different now. He's got a strong backcourt with guards Samantha Prahalis and Tayler Hill, who are his go-to scorers, averaging more than 39 points a game between them. He's got post players such as Ashley Adams, who are more "European," who can play face-up, away from the basket.

He knows people wondered whether they would be as good, as evidenced by the fact that his team began the season out of the national rankings. But he never did.

"I thought we'd be a good team," Foster said. "I thought we had the pieces, but we would play differently."

He knew something, apparently, other people didn't. Because this team is 12-0, the best start in program history, ranked No. 12 in the nation -- with wins over LSU, Florida State and Cal -- and turning out to be a pleasant surprise to everybody but the head coach.

"We are playing the way this team should be playing," Foster said. "You have to remember, I spent 13 years at St. Joseph's and I didn't have anyone taller than 6-foot-1 when I was there. And we won a lot of games there.

"I know people thought we might struggle a little bit this season, but I'm really enjoying this team."

Five for the marquee

Jacki Gemelos, USC. The Women of Troy's senior guard is out for the season -- and the rest of her college career -- after she sustained a fifth ACL injury in the first half of Saturday's loss to Texas A&M. Gemelos' comeback from the previous four injuries has been an inspiration. News of this latest injury brought coach Michael Cooper to tears after the game and broke hearts around the country. But Gemelos said she will rehab the knee and make another run at continuing her career in the WNBA. If anybody can do it, Gemelos can.

Baylor. The Bears are the undisputed No. 1 team in the country after taking down Connecticut in Waco on Sunday night. So the big question is, can Kim Mulkey's team get through the Big 12 schedule, which is a complete double round-robin this season, without a loss?

Natalie Novosel, Notre Dame. Novosel, a Lexington, Ky., native, propelled the Irish to a very big win over previously unbeaten Kentucky on Sunday with 23 points. She did not do it alone. The Irish had five players in double figures in taking down one of the hottest teams in the country.

Delaware. Elena Delle Donne continues to lead the Blue Hens into uncharted territory. They improved to 10-0 -- one of only nine remaining unbeaten teams in Division I -- with a 68-47 win over Providence. She led the way with 29 points and nine rebounds, surpassing the 20-point mark for the 13th straight game. She remains the national scoring leader at 29.2 points per game.

Sydney Carter, Texas A&M. The senior's 3-pointer with 10 seconds left lifted Texas A&M to a come-from-behind win at home over USC, keeping the Aggies' 47-game home nonconference win-streak intact. She finished the game with just 11 points, and the game-winner was her only 3-pointer in five attempts.

Five names you should know, but probably don't

1. Gennifer Brandon, Cal. The Bears lithe forward spent 16 months sidelined with a stress fracture in her lower leg. But she is clearly healthy after her 24-point, 24-rebound performance in the Bears' 77-75 home loss to Ohio State.

2. South Carolina. The Gamecocks aren't exactly unknown, but Dawn Staley's team has had trouble cracking the realm of the national elite. Defeating No. 16 North Carolina and holding the Tar Heels to their lowest offensive total since January 2010 is a good start.

3. Haiden Palmer, Gonzaga. Palmer transferred to Gonzaga as part of the mass exodus at Oregon State in the spring of 2010. And she has found her place on Kelly Graves' team. She scored 22 points, and had the game-winning 3-pointer with two-tenths of a second remaining to vault the Zags to a big win over No. 13 Georgia in Las Vegas.

4. Courtney Hurt, VCU. The senior forward is following up on last year's outstanding season with another. She put up her fifth straight double-double with 30 points and 16 rebounds in Sunday's win over Coppin State. Hurt has averaged 27.7 points a game over the five-game stretch and currently ranks fifth in the nation in scoring.

5. Brittany Hrynko, DePaul. The Blue Demons' freshman forward put up a career-high 25 points on Friday in a big nonconference win over Arizona State. She added five assists and three rebounds.