NORFOLK — No women's college basketball program rules its conference like Hampton does the Mid-Eastern Athletic. Not Baylor, Stanford or Tennessee. Not even Connecticut.
This is not to suggest that the Lady Pirates rate with those national-caliber programs. But it does illustrate the scope of Hampton's dominance, on display again Saturday in its 93-59 dusting of rival Norfolk State at Echols Hall.
Odd thing is, coach David Six, steering the Lady Pirates toward a fifth MEAC championship in as many seasons on the job, cares and speaks little about a league winning streak that stands at 42, Division I's longest current run.
"That's just peripheral noise to us," Six said. "We don't even talk about that … and the reason is, I'm old school. We prepare for Norfolk State just like we do Kansas State."
The Kansas State reference is not random. The Lady Pirates (21-4, 12-0) defeated the Wildcats in double-overtime Dec. 21, yet another major-conference pelt for Six's program.
"One of the things we've tried to do is become more athletic," Six said. "The biggest difference you'll see right away between a (major-conference) school and a mid-major school is athleticism. You might have one kid or two kids that are athletic, and they'll have 10.
"The first teams we had were not athletic, but they were cerebral kids. They were great in the classroom, they would listen. You could tell them something one time and they got it. These kids are a little more instinctive than they are cerebral."
The difference is visible at point guard, where last season Nicole Hamilton took over for Jericka Jenkins. This year Hamilton and senior forward Alyssa Bennett team with freshman Malia Tate-DeFreitas to form a more fluid core that led Six to shelve a dribble-drive offense for a more fast-paced approach.
Indeed, Hampton's speed overwhelmed Norfolk State (10-12, 6-5), creating open looks that translated to a season-best 49.2 shooting percentage and 13 combined assists for Hamilton (eight) and Kenia Cole (five).
"Nicole is not a point guard by nature," Six said. "She's a two guard, much more athletic than Jericka, much more instinctive. You liken her to Maverick in Top Gun, kind of fly by the seat. She's going to take more chances."
A glider in the paint, Bennett is Hampton's best and most reliable player, but Tate-DeFreitas leads the team in scoring. She was especially effective from beyond the 3-point arc Saturday, hitting 7 of 10 on her way to a game-high 33 points.
As late as the final five minutes, Tate-DeFreitas and Bennett had more points (55) than Norfolk State (54).
"I was real confident in my shot tonight," Tate-DeFreitas said. "Once I drove to the basket a couple of times, they kind of relaxed on me, and I was able to get my shot off (outside)."
"Still can't outshoot me," Six joked as he exited the locker room.
Much to Six's occasional consternation, this squad isn't as good defensively as recent editions, a shortcoming that will be especially problematic if Hampton returns to the NCAA tournament. But the Lady Pirates are averaging about seven more points per game than last season, and their output Saturday was their third-highest this season.
"I found out last year that when you have kids that are a little more instinctive, you can't overcoach," Six said. "It's different every year, and it's a coach's job to figure that out."
What isn't different is Hampton's MEAC success. The Lady Pirates are 79-6 versus the league under Six.
But no matter how ruthless during the regular season, Hampton is keenly aware that its only route to the NCAA tournament is to win the MEAC tournament and accompanying automatic NCAA bid. Such is life in a conference replete with lower-tier programs whose mere appearance on your schedule drags down your Ratings Percentage Index ranking.
Through little fault of their own, the Lady Pirates have been saddled with relatively low Selection Monday RPIs of 130, 77, 62 and 79 the past four years, and their current profile is similar: No. 93 RPI and only three games versus the top 100: Hampton lost to LSU and Georgia Tech and defeated Southern Mississippi.
So if the Lady Pirates reign at the MEAC tournament next month at Norfolk Scope, they can pretty much bank on a No. 15 or 16 regional seed for the fourth time in five years.
"It's like officiating," Six said of tournament selection committee decisions. "What are you going to do? We're not going away. … One of these days we're going to win an NCAA tournament game. I believe that. We've been knocking on the door."
Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.