Penicheiro, Jolly Keep Foes On Guard
Ticha Penicheiro picks up the loose ball, dribbles behind her back, flashes upcourt and threads a no-look pass through traffic for an easy layup.
She’s been doing it since she was a child in Portugal, trading playground trash talk with the boys while emulating Magic Johnson. Today, she’ll bring her NBA-style game - the only thing missing is the dunk - to the grandest stage for women’s college basketball.
And the women’s Final Four ultimately could come down to two point guards with equal importance and opposite styles.
The 5-foot-11 Penicheiro is one of the main reasons why Old Dominion is playing Tennessee for its first national title since 1985. She’s the Lady Monarchs’ most inspiring and most invaluable player.
Even opponents watch and say, “Wow!”
“I enjoy watching her play,” Tennessee point guard Kellie Jolly said Saturday. “You always like to watch great players. She’s physical, she takes the ball to the goal real strong. She’s an excellent passer.”
So is Jolly, although her game is built more upon efficiency than flash. She dribbles upcourt with back erect and steps measured. There’s no improvisation, not much of a shot - her running jumper is more of a heave and a hope.
But in her own way, Jolly is just as important to the Lady Vols’ chances of a second consecutive national title. All-America forward Chamique Holdsclaw gets most of the points and almost all the publicity, but it’s Jolly who gets her the ball and holds everything together.
She missed the first 16 games while rehabbing a torn right knee ligament. The Lady Vols went 10-6 as Jolly watched her teammates throw the ball away and lose heart at critical moments.
Jolly came back determined to set things right.
“I sat on the bench and watched and learned from the mistakes our team made,” she said. “I also saw what they needed from me at the point guard. I think I went in and provided leadership and emotion.”
Teammate Pashen Thompson sees Jolly as an extension of coach Pat Summitt.
“Most of all, she brings heart to our team,” Thompson said. “She’s always fired up. If we’re losing our lead or we’re emotionally drained or someone’s upset, she calms them down. She’s like Pat’s assistant on the court.”
Penicheiro is the opposite of Jolly’s easy-as-we-go style. When she’s on the court, she keeps her teammates on edge with a game that’s definitely cutting edge in women’s basketball.
It has taken them a while to get used to it.
“The first day of practice, I was in absolute awe,” guard Stacy Himes said. “She just came out and started throwing behind-the-back passes and over-the-shoulder passes and we were not expecting it. This girl comes in that’s crazy, doing all this wild stuff, and we’re just sitting back and saying, ‘Wow!’
“In preseason playing pickup, I’m surprised no one broke their nose. We had our hands up, but we weren’t expecting the passes and they’d go right through into our faces. After a couple of hits in the nose, we started putting our hands up a little more. We got used to it pretty quick.”
Penicheiro had to adjust, too, toning down the moves she developed while growing up in Figueira da Foz, Portugal.
“A lot of people say I’m fancy and I’m a playground type of player,” she said. “Sure, I grew up on the playgrounds in Portugal, playing around guys all the time. That’s why I’m fancy or do behind-the-back passes.
“Guys always try to block your shots. They have the stereotype that women can’t play: ‘Oh, you’re a girl, I’m going to block your shot.’ They can jump higher than you. When you go to the basket, they always try to block you, so you try to pass to somebody to avoid getting blocked.”
Now that her teammates have gotten used to Penicheiro’s style - they look at her even when she’s looking at row 12 - the Lady Monarchs get much more than just swollen noses from it.
“It could be something simple, like a behind-the-back pass that other people do,” Himes said. “But Ticha does it with such flair that it’s definitely a pick-me-up.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Women’s championship Today: Old Dominion (34-1) vs. Tennessee (28-10), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
This sidebar appeared with the story: Women’s championship Today: Old Dominion (34-1) vs. Tennessee (28-10), 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)