BALTIMORE--The America East preseason favorite UMBC women's basketball team opens its 2011-12 campaign Friday evening when it welcomes cross-town rival Morgan State to the RAC Arena for a 5 p.m. tipoff. The game will be televised on ABC 2's Live Well Network and can also be heard on V1370 AM, as well as V1370.com. And as always, the game will be streamed live at UMBCRetrievers.tv.
RETRIEVER UPDATE: UMBC is the preseason favorite to win the America East Conference after winning the 2011 regular-season title with a 13-3 record in league play. The Retrievers posted a 20-12 overall mark, matching the school record for victories in a season, and earned a berth in the WNIT after falling to Hartford in the conference semifinals. UMBC returns three all-conference players from a year ago, including senior guards Erin Brown and Michelle Kurowski, both first-team selections, and senior center Topé Obajolu, a third-team and all-defensive team honoree. Kurowski and Brown, who were both also named to the preseason all-conference team, were the highest-scoring tandem in the America East last season, as each ranked in the top five in the league with 14.6 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. Kurowski enters theseason with 1,263 career points, which ranks seventh all-time at UMBC and is the most of any active player in the America East. Brown led the Retrievers in both rebounding (6.0 rpg) and 3-point shooting last season, ranking second in the league with 2.1 three-pointers per game. Obajolu led the America East in blocks with a school-record 56 last year and also ranked third on the team with 10.6 ppg. In addition, UMBC ranked among the conference's defensive leaders, holding opponents to a .352 shooting percentage and allowing just 55.2 points per game.
LADY BEAR UPDATE: Morgan State is coming off its most successful season at the Division I level, going 17-15 overall, finishing second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and earning the league's automatic berth to the WNIT. However, the Lady Bears lost the top three scorers from that team, including second-team all-conference selection Brittany Dodson. Guard Jamesia Smith is the team's top returning scorer with 6.0 ppg last season, while guard Moneshia Davis is the top returning rebounder (4.1 rpg). Morgan State was picked to finish fifth in the MEAC preseason poll.
WHO'S UP NEXT: The Retrievers hit the road for the first time this season when they visit Monmouth on Sunday at 3 p.m., which will be the Hawks' opening game. The Retrievers are 3-8 all-time against their former Northeast Conference rival, but the teams have not met since the 2003 NEC Tournament semifinals, a 48-40 win for UMBC. Monmouth was tabbed to finish fourth in the NEC this season after finishing second and earning a WNIT berth a year ago.
Inside the Series...
Friday's game marks the 21st all-time meeting between UMBC and Morgan State, and the Retrievers hold an 11-9 series lead, but the teams have not met since 2005 despite being separated by less than 15 miles. The first meeting occurred on Jan. 16, 1969, a 34-31 victory for the visiting Retrievers. UMBC has won five straight meetings and 10 of the last 12.
In the last meeting between the two teams, the 2005 season opener, the Retrievers defeated the Lady Bears, 72-50, in the Retriever Tip-Off Tournament. Matea Pender led UMBC with 13 points in the game, while Amanda Robinson tied a school record with six blocks. No Morgan State player reached double figures, but three Lady Bears had eight points each.
News And Notes...
For Starters: UMBC is 8-17 in season openers since 1986-87, its first season at the Division I level. Last year, the Retrievers fell at Delaware, 59-44.
PLAYING FAVORITES: The Retrievers were chosen as the 2011-12 America East preseason favorites by the league's head coaches. The Retrievers received five first-place votes and 60 total points to edge Boston University. Prior to this season, UMBC had never been picked higher than fifth (2008-09, 2010-11).
It Takes Two: Senior guards Michelle Kurowski and Erin Brown were selected to the America East preseason all-conference team by the league's nine head coaches. The duo represented the highest-scoring tandem in the America East last season, as each ranked in the top five in the league with 14.6 and 14.3 points per game, respectively, and both earned first-team all-conference honors.
Against the Best: UMBC's non-conference schedule features games against seven teams that advanced to the 2011 postseason, including four of its first five opponents. Of the seven, Maryland, Princeton, Hampton and Navy earned berths in the NCAA Tournament, while Morgan State, Monmouth and Loyola played in the WNIT.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: UMBC claimed its first-ever America East regular-season title on Feb. 23 when it defeated Albany, 62-55. The Retrievers took the league by surprise, posting a 13-3 record with 10 wins in their last 11 regular-season games after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. As the top seed in the America East Championship, the Retrievers automatically qualified for a berth in the WNIT when they dropped a 66-48 decision in the conference semifinals to fourth-seeded and host Hartford, the eventual conference champion.
Setting the Mark: UMBC's 20 wins in 2010-11 matched the school record, which was set by the 1985-86 squad, and were the most in the program's 25-year Division I history. The Retrievers were hot over the last three months of the season with 19 wins in their last 26 contests after starting the year 1-5. Prior to last season, UMBC had not finished above .500 since 2005-06, when it went 15-13. In addition, the Retrievers' 13 America East victories were their most ever in their eight seasons in the league; prior to last season, UMBC had not won more than seven America East contests (7-9 in 2006 and 2010) or finished higher than tied for fourth (2010).
All-Conference Trio: UMBC guards Michelle Kurowski and Erin Brown were both selected to the America East All-Conference First Team last season, while center Topé Obajolu was tabbed to the Third Team. Kurowski and Brown gave the Retrievers two players on the America East first team for the first time ever; Carlee Cassidy in 2008 is the only other Retriever ever to earn first-team honors in the America East. In addition, with Obajolu's inclusion on the third team, UMBC placed three players on all-conference squads for the first time in its eight seasons in the America East. Obajolu was also voted to the All-Defensive team, the first Retriever to earn that honor since Sharri Rohde in 2007 and just the second UMBC player ever.
Coach of the Year: UMBC head coach Phil Stern was named America East Coach of the Year in a vote of the league's nine head coaches. Stern guided the Retrievers, who were picked to finish fifth in the America East preseason poll, to their first-ever America East regular-season title. Stern oversaw a +6 turnaround from 2009-10, when the Retrievers posted a 13-17 overall record and 7-9 league mark. Stern is the first UMBC women's basketball coach to be named Coach of the Year since Kathy Solano in 1994 in the Big South. In addition, while it was his first Coach of the Year honor at the Division I level, Stern garnered the accolade twice in the Division II Peach Belt Conference while at USC Aiken (2000, 2002).
Home Sweet Home: UMBC went 12-1 at the RAC Arena last season, a new school Division I record for home wins, surpassing the 1990-91 team's previous mark of 11. The Retrievers have won 11 straight at home since Dec. 4, 2010, matching the school record set from Jan. 28, 1986-Jan. 22, 1987, and dating to Feb. 7, 2010, the Retrievers have won 15 of their last 16 home games.
Join the Club: Senior guard Michelle Kurowski ranks seventh all-time at UMBC with 1,263 career points, and she is four rebounds shy of becoming the 11th Retriever ever to reach both the 1,000-point and 500-rebound plateau. Kurowski became the 17th member of UMBC's 1,000-point club on Jan. 3, 2011 at Stony Brook. She reached the milestone in her 74th career game, making her the third-fastest Retriever to accomplish the feat, as only Tammy McCarthy and Felice Pinkney needed less games. In addition, she will be the 15th member of the 500-rebound club.
Head of the Class: Senior guard Michelle Kurowski was recently named one of 30 candidates nationwhide for the prestigious Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes senior student-athletes who exemplify excellence in the four C's of community, classroom, character and competition. The award is just another in Kurowski's long list of accolades, which include America East Women's Basketball Scholar-Athlete, Capital One Academic All-District First Team and Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Team. Kurowski graduated Magna Cum Laude from UMBC in May, maintaining a 3.82 GPA as a psychology major, and is currently competing as a graduate student while pursuing a teaching certificate and a master's degree in early childhood education.
Making the Grade: UMBC was recognized on the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Academic Top 25 for the second year in a row, ranking 20th among NCAA Division I programs during the 2010-11 academic year with a 3.374 team grade-point average. In addition, the America East recognized 10 of UMBC's 13 women's basketball student-athletes on the league's academic honor roll for earning a GPA of 3.0 or better during the spring semester, with eight team members garnering commissioner's honor roll status for a GPA of 3.5 or higher. In 2009-10, the Retrievers' 3.578 team GPA was the third-best in the nation.
Bragging Rights: UMBC will take on seven of the other eight Division I schools in the state of Maryland in 2010-11, facing five in the first six games of the season. The Retrievers will host Morgan State (Nov. 11), Maryland (Nov. 19) and UMES (Dec. 6) and will travel to Coppin State (Nov. 16), Loyola (Nov. 22), Towson (Nov. 27) and Navy (Dec. 20). Last season, UMBC posted a 4-2 record against its in-state rivals, defeating Coppin State, Loyola, Towson and Navy but falling to Maryland and UMES. The Retrievers are 76-124 all-time against the other eight Division I schools in the state.
In the Polls: The Retrievers are ranked 21st in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 preseason poll. UMBC received 150 points to crack the top 25 for the first time after consistently receiving votes during the final six weeks of the 2010-11 campaign. Two of UMBC's 2011-12 opponents - Princeton (No. 4) and Hampton (No. 11) - are also ranked in the top 25, while Navy, Hartford, Boston University and Loyola all received votes.
Against the MEAC: UMBC is 30-29 all-time against current members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Retrievers have a winning record against Coppin State (11-9), UMES (6-2) and Morgan State (11-9), with the most wins (11) and losses (9) coming against cross-town rivals Morgan State and Coppin State. UMBC has never faced Bethune-Cookman, Floirda A&M, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T or South Carolina State. The Retrievers will take on four MEAC opponents this season (Morgan State, Coppin State, UMES, Hampton).
Junior Circuit: UMBC's three juniors accounted for 69.5 percent of the team's scoring last season (1,263 of 1,817 points). Guard Michelle Kurowski led the Retrievers with 14.6 points per game, followed by forward Erin Brown (14.3 ppg) and center Topé Obajolu (10.6 ppg). Kurowski ranked second the America East, while Brown was fourth and Obajolu 12th; UMBC was the only team with three players ranking in the top 15 in scoring in the America East.
Block Party: Center Topé Obajolu set a new school record for blocks in a season with 56; Monica Logan's previous mark of 47 had stood since 1996-97. Obajolu became the fifth Retriever ever to record 100 career blocks on Jan. 23 against New Hampshire, and she now has 120, which ranks third. She led the America East with 1.8 blocks per game last season. Obajolu set a school record with seven blocks against Coppin State on Nov. 16. The previous mark of six was achieved three times.
Special K: Senior guard Michelle Kurowski ranked second in the America East with 14.6 points per game last season. She has averaged 13.7 points per game in her career, the third-best career scoring average in school history, and she has ranked in the top 10 in the America East in scoring each of her first three seasons, the first player to do so since Vermont's Courtnay Pilypaitis in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09. Kurowski is the America East's active scoring leader with 1,263 career points.
Charity Case: Guard Michelle Kurowski led the America East in free throw percentage for the second year in a row in 2010-11, and her .894 clip from the foul line was a UMBC record and ranked sixth in the NCAA. Kurowski ranks second all-time at UMBC to current assistant coach Kristin Drabyn with a career .848 mark at the charity stripe. As a team, UMBC led the America East with a .735 free throw percentage, as well.
Raining Three's: Senior guards Michelle Kurowski and Erin Brown are the eighth and ninth Retrievers ever to sink 100 career 3-pointers. They are just the second-ever set of Retriever teammates with 100 three-pointers apiece and the first since Shalayna Johnson and Jessie Brown in 2002-03.
Double Your Pleasure: Seven of the Retrievers' 10 returning players have scored in double figures at least once in their careers, led by senior guard Michelle Kurowski, who has reached double digits in 61 of her 92 career games, including a career-best eight straight from Dec. 21, 2010-Jan. 20, 2011. In addition, senior forward Erin Brown scored at least 10 points in 26 of 32 games last season and is currently riding a nine-game double-figure streak which dates to Feb. 5 against Maine.
Tenacious D: UMBC ranked second in the America East and 16th in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense last season, holding opponents to a .352 clip, and also ranked second in the league and 33rd in the country in scoring defense, allowing 56.0 ppg. Opponents shot less than 40 percent against UMBC in 25 of 32 contests last season, including less than 30 percent seven times.
Three's Company: UMBC has made at least one 3-pointer in 52 straight games dating to Dec. 28, 2009, against East Carolina. The Retrievers' 140-game streak, which had dated to Feb. 5, 2005, was snapped the previous game, Dec. 22, at West Virginia, when they went 0-for-10 from long distance.
Follow the Retrievers: UMBC fans can now keep up with their favorite teams in a number of ways, as UMBC Athletics is on social media sites Twitter (@UMBCAthletics), Facebook and YouTube. Fans can also follow head coach Phil Stern on Twitter (@UMBCwbb), and the team can also be found on Facebook.
Retrievers All-Access: All of the Retrievers' home games will be video streamed live through UMBC's multimedia website, UMBCRetrievers.tv. An All-Access pass, available for $59.95, gives fans the opportunity to watch all the live coverage of various UMBC home athletic events. Single-game subscriptions for all live events will also be available throughout the season for $5.95.