Akron, OH -- Successful programs are hallmarked by an uncanny ability to defend home court. Vanquishing 26 challengers over the last 30 games, the Akron women's basketball team has effectively labeled James A. Rhodes Arena a no-fly zone. The Zips charged into the 2015-16 season on Sunday, clipping the visiting Clarion Golden Eagles' wings and winning an exhibition tilt, 79-50.
"It's just the first one," Akron coach Jodi Kest said. "It gave us an opportunity to see some of the younger kids play, but it's a long season. We just want to get better every practice and get better every game."
The plucky Akron team pinned Clarion to the hardwood after the first quarter, jumping out to a 14-point lead. The score rested around a one-point margin until the Zips claimed a 6-5 advantage and commenced a 19-6 run to seal the period. Senior guard Anita Brown dropped 13-of-25 points the Zips scored and spurred the run that condemned the Eagles.
"We just like to play uptempo," Kest said. "I thought she got good looks, and I thought her teammates did a great job of getting her the ball in a position where she could be effective."
Brown weaved through Clarion's defense, driving into the paint and kissing the ball off the glass time and time again. Brown set the Zips on a 9-3 run over the middle of the quarter and pushed the score from 9-5 to 18-8.
Sophomore forward Greta Burry established an inside threat for Akron, going off for seven points in the first period and finishing the game with 11 points and nine rebounds.
"We're a lot taller than them, so we wanted to get the ball inside," Kest said. "We felt like it was an advantage if we pounded the ball inside, so that was one of our game plans."
The Golden Eagles' shoulders sagged, their expressions became weary and the energy they started with evaporated. The attitude adjustment that occurred as they faced a 10-point deficit invited the Zips to continue pounding the ball down the floor and through the basket with little resistance.
Akron's unmatched aggression and endurance got it the looks it wanted. Clarion cut its deficit to 13 at 28-15 in the second quarter, but never got any closer as the Zips piled on the points.
Senior forward DiAndra Gibson emerged as Akron's go-to in the paint throughout the second quarter, scoring seven of her 12 total points. Senior guard Megan Barilla also found her legs to contribute five of her seven before the halftime break, while Brown continued to dominate with five more points.
Heading into the locker room, the Zips enjoyed a comfortable 20-point advantage. The edge grew even gaudier by the end of the third period as they led the Golden Eagles 68-33. By this point, the trio of seniors and Burry, who returned this season with 23 games of experience, had already reached their point totals and impacted the game as much as they would.
Brown concluded the competition as the high scorer with 23 points, while also collecting four assists and seven rebounds. Gibson put together a well-rounded performance with five rebounds and three assists to complement her 12 points. Barilla led the team in assists with six and Burry led in rebounds with nine just missing a double-double.
Clarion managed to score against a green Akron lineup in the fourth, but all-in-all the Zips defense hung tough and only allowed 50 points. On the game, Akron forced Clarion to shoot at 27.6 percent from the field.
"Some of it was us, and some of it was them today," Kest said. "I think we can always get better defensively."
The Zips scored a bulk of their points early on via offensive rebounds and finished the game with 17 second-chance points; however, they also showcased a collective shooting percentage of 45.2 from the field. The performance was a solid beginning to their season as they return from an overall record of 22-9 in 2014-15, but Kest will look for the team to make improvements in coming weeks.
"It was important, but I think we could have done a much better job," Kest said. "I think once we watch tape we'll realize that we missed a lot of bunnies today that we need to clean up and take advantage of those mismatches and those twofers."