James Madison’s Dawn Evans might just feel right at home Sunday afternoon.
The senior superstar, who has led the 11th-seeded Dukes to a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, just so happens to hold the record for the most points scored in a single game in her team’s first-round venue.
Add that to the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of JMU fans will make the less-than-an-hour trip over the mountain to Charlottesville to paint the John Paul Jones Arena's seats purple and gold, and Evans and the Dukes (26-7) could give No. 6 Oklahoma a scare at around 2:30 in Sunday's second game at John Paul Jones Arena in the first round of the Women’s NCAA Tournament in the Dayton Regional.
“If there was one place we could play, it would be here,” Evans told reporters before practice at the arena on Saturday. “For JPJ to be 45 minutes away from JMU means a lot to us. We are going to treat it like a home-court game.”
Evans, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 23.2 a contest, dropped a JPJ-record 38 points on Dec. 6, 2009. Just one day later, the child actress who plans to get back into showbiz after basketball, was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease. A year later, Evans scored a school-record 42 points against the Hoos in Harrisonburg on the night JMU hosted a fundraiser for NephCure, an organization for the cure of Nephrotic Syndrome, which is related to FSGS.
Her senior classmate, Lauren Jiminez, has battled injuries her entire JMU career. The 6-foot-4 center is playing arguably the best basketball of her career of late, including a career-high 31 points on senior day Mar. 2, and is determined to give her team a shot at its first Sweet 16 appearance in 20 years.
“I wouldn’t want to end on a better note,” said Jiminez, who has missed 32 games -- including six this season -- due to injury or illness in her four years at JMU. “We are not just here to be here, we are trying to make some noise.”
When asked how nice it was to have Jiminez at full strength, Evans added: “She is a huge presence on the floor. She helps all of our guards by opening things up. Without her we were missing a lot, and for her to be healthy when it matters most is great.”
Evans holds 40 school records, is JMU's all-time leading scorer, is the CAA's all-time 3-point leader, and has hit over twice as many career 3-pointers (387) as any other player in school history. The Clarksville, Tenn., native was named the CAA player of the year after finishing as runner-up the previous two seasons, then claimed tournament MOP honors as the Dukes won for the second straight year.
“I knew she had crazy range and I know she could create and get to the rim, but I've been incredibly impressed with her ability to pass -- that may be her greatest gift of all,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said of Evans’ game. “She’s a very clever, crafty passer and that makes her extremely dangerous.”
Oklahoma will counter with its own star guard, Danielle Robinson, who was a preseason All-American. The senior floor general leads the Sooners in scoring, assists, and steals, and is one of just three players ever who have scored over 2,000 points, dished out over 700 assists, and come away with over 300 steals (Nancy Lieberman and Virginia legend Dawn Staley are the other two). Robinson, along with Evans, is one of 20 national finalists for the Wooden Award, and the two are very familiar with each other’s game.
“With her range, she really has the ability to change games,” Robinson said of Evans. “Her ability to shoot the ball makes you guard her outside, but she also has the ability to kick to the shooter and drop it down to her post player.
“She is definitely special, it is incredible the numbers she puts up and what she does for her team.”
Robinson is complimented in the backcourt by freshman guard Aaryn Ellenberg, who puts in 16 points a game. The Sooners (21-11) have gone to two straight Final Fours, and will have their work cut out just to advance out of Charlottesville.
JMU coach Kenny Brooks hopes that the support that his team has received around town will continue, and perhaps lead the Dukes to Dayton to play for a region title this time next week.
“We were going through the mall and people were saying, ‘Go Dukes,’” the coach said in Saturday's press conference. “I don't know where they were from -- I didn't ask -- but the fact that they were recognizing that we were here was special for us. It's great to be here and be so close so our fans can travel.”