The men’s side of the 2018 Paradise Jam wrapped up Monday with No. 12 Kansas State being crowned champion, and now it’s time for the women to take the court at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center, and the quality of basketball should be exceptional.
Team’s participating in the women’s side of this year’s Paradise Jame come to St. Thomas with a combined 25-3 record.
The action starts at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day when no. 17 South Florida takes on the University of Kentucky in the Island Division. The University of North Carolina (3-1) and UCLA (3-1) round out the first day of Island Division action when they take the floor at 4 p.m.
The Reef Division features the No. 2 team in the country, the University of Connecticut (2-0), starting tournament play at 8:30 p.m. against Ole Miss (3-1). In the other match up in the division, Purdue (4-0) will take on St. Johns (2-0).
UConn has started its season with some convincing performances, outscoring Ohio State and Vanderbilt by a combined 165-90 in early season action. The Huskies have four players averaging double figures and the nation’s fourth highest field goal percentage, 53.8 percent. Crystal Dangerfield leads that pack as she as averaged 18.5 points a game while shooting an efficient 71.4 percent from the floor this season. Napheesa Collier enters the tournament averaging a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The last two Huskies to average double-digits in scoring are Katie Lou Samuelson with 17 and Megan Walker with just over 14.
The first team looking to upset the No. 2 team in the country will be Ole Miss out of the SEC. The Rebels offense starts with guard Crystal Allen, who has scored more than 16 points in each of the team’s four games so far this season, averaging a team high 18 a game. On defense, Jhileiya Dunlap will make driving opponents think twice about going up for shots in the paint as she as averaged nearly two blocks a game in the same stretch. Freshman Mimi Reid has made an impact early on, putting up 12 points 15 rebounds and 10 assists in the team’s last two games and earning Conference Freshman of the Week.
The St. John Red Storm will need the strong play of sophomore guard Tiana England, who currently is tied for second in the country with eight assists per game. Their leading scorer so far this season is Akina Wellere, averaging 12.5 points a game, Qadashah Hoppie is teams best long-range option, shooting at 40 percent clip from downtown this season. Expect them to take care of the basketball well in this tournament as their 9.5 turnovers a game is the second least in NCAA women’s basketball. The team also is tied for the second best scoring defense in the country, giving up just 42 points a game.
Their opening opponents are the Purdue Boilermakers, who have three reliable scoring options. Ae’Rianna Harris is averaging 15 points a game while Dominique Oden trails narrowly with an average of 14.8 and Karissa Mclaughlin has averaged 14. Harris is also the team’s leader in rebounds with 10.5 a game.
In the Island Division, nationally ranked South Florida will look for options to replace one of nation’s top players, Kitija Laksa, who they lost for the season early on due to injury. She was averaging 16.3 points a game. In the team’s first action since she went down, senior Laura Ferreira stepped up her play, dropping a career high 34 points on 8-of-11 three point shooting in a 87-70 win over Oklahoma. Sydni Harvey has been averaging 12.5 points a game and could also help fill the scoring void. On defense the Bulls are led by Beatriz Jordao, whose 13 blocks are fourth best in the country. As a team they are blocking 5.3 shots a game. Jordao, also has some offensive touch to her game, averaging 11.8 points on 75.9 percent shooting.
Kentucky has a stiffing defense, giving up 44 points a game, tied for sixth in the country. The Wildcats are blocking six shots a game, a mark that puts them 18th in the nation. Rhyne Howard, who leads the team with two of those blocks a game, is also the team’s leading scorer with 16.3 points a game. Both Maci Morris and Taylor Murray are averaging around 14 and half points a game.
The UCLA Bruins could use Paradise Jam as an opportunity to get into the AP Top 25 poll as they received eight votes in the latest rankings. They already have a win against a top 25 opponent, having defeated No. 14 Georgia 80-69 earlier. Their top scoring option is Japreece Dean, who will come into the tournament averaging more than 15.8 points, while the supporting cast of Kennedy Burke and Michaela Onyenwere, who was named the PAC-12 and National Player of the Week on Monday, are both averaging 13 points a game this season.
North Carolina looks to bounce back from its first loss of the season. The Tar Heel to watch is Janelle Bailey, always a threat for a double-double. She averages 17.5 points and 9.3 rebounds a game. Shayla Bennett is another disruptive force that will cause problems, coming up with 3.3 steals a game and putting up 13.3 points a game in the team’s early action this season. The Tar Heels feature a third double digit player in Paris Kea scoring 15.5 points a game while shooting 37 percent from downtown.
More information and tickets are online here.