Alyssa Bennett subscribes to a pretty simple philosophy.
"The better I rebound, the better I play," she said.
Bennett, Hampton's sophomore forward, and her Lady Pirate teammates played pretty well on Friday.
Bennett had 14 points and 13 rebounds as top-seeded HU defeated fourth seed Coppin State 64-43 in a MEAC semifinal. The two-time defending tournament champion Lady Pirates (25-4) avenged their only conference loss of the season and set up a rematch with second seed Howard (24-7) in Saturday's conference championship game at 4 p.m.
Hampton beat Howard 61-42 last year to win its second straight MEAC tournament title.
Junior forward Keiara Avant also had a double-double, with 12 points and 13 rebounds, as HU outrebounded Coppin State 62-28, including a 30-5 advantage on the offensive glass.
"We knew we had to hit the glass," Hampton coach David Six said. "They're one of the better teams in the league rebounding. We did a great job of that, and we did a great job defending. I can't say enough about the defensive intensity that we showed."
HU, winners of 10 straight, held Coppin State (20-12) to 14-of-46 shooting (30.4 percent.) The Lady Pirates shot just 31 percent but took 25 more shots, going 22-of-71.
Senior point guard Jericka Jenkins finished with 14 points, seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. She made just 4 of her 22 shot attempts, but one was a deep 3-pointer that put HU up 39-18 with 15:23 to play.
"In order for the ball to go in, I've got to keep shooting — keep shooting and keep attacking," Jenkins said. "That's all Coach Six told me today, was attack, attack, attack. I might've missed a lot of shots, but because I took shots, my teammates got the offensive rebounds, which turned into points for us."
The Lady Pirates, up 31-14 at halftime, pushed their lead to 48-25 on Bennett's layup with 9:50 to play, and led by as many as 29 on a 3-pointer from senior guard Choicetta McMillian with 6:43 remaining.
"Everything basically went their way today, but that's attributed to how hard they play," Coppin State coach Derek Brown said. "Balls just seemed to go their way — but they went after the ball. They outhustled us. They beat us in every point of the game."
The Lady Eagles came into the game ranked fourth in the MEAC with a plus-2.8 rebounding differential. The Lady Pirates, despite having no one in the top-five individual rankings, outrebound opponents by a league-best 5.6 boards per game.
"They have basically everybody on the perimeter," Brown said. "It's very hard to check people and box out people when they're crashing from those angles. But it's up to us to find a body. We've been trying to concentrate in the last couple of months to get ourselves out of the painted area and box out somebody, and not just turn when the shot goes up and go immediately to the rim. As we did that, they just ran by us and jumped over the top of us. … They're very athletic and they can jump and they're very physical."
Jenkins and McMillian will play in their fourth MEAC championship game in as many seasons on Saturday with an automatic NCAA tournament berth on the line.
No MEAC team, men's or women's, ever has received an at-large NCAA bid. The Lady Pirates, with an RPI of 76, beat Pitt 60-37 to open the season and also knocked off Boston College and Central Michigan.
Brown said HU, which lost in overtime to Kentucky in last year's Big Dance, is "absolutely" an NCAA tournament team.
"They had a very good non-conference year," he said. "If they do happen to lose, they should get an at-large bid."
Jenkins, though, isn't planning to leave anything to chance.
"Since I've been here, I've made it to the championship game every year," she said. "It's just something I expect, and I expect it from my teammates.
"Coach Six expects it from us, to survive and advance."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun