Updated: January 27, 2014, 12:14 AM ET

Parkinson turning around program at IUPUI

By Graham Hays | espnW.com

DeAirra Goss Graham Hays/espnWDeAirra Goss scored 26 points Saturday as IUPUI improved to 14-6 overall, 4-1 in the Summit.

When he was named interim coach of an IUPUI program in the midst of implosion, Austin Parkinson already knew the players despised "breakfast club," team runs of at least a mile each morning.

So Parkinson, until that time an assistant coach for the school's men's basketball team, told his new players to meet him at the track at 7 a.m. soon after he took the job. Once there, he recited a series of grueling sprints and distance runs they needed to complete. Considering the command came from someone who played at Purdue for Gene Keady, an old school coach if there ever was one, it probably didn't seem all that difficult to believe.

After a few steps, he called them to a halt. They returned inside.

"My idea of breakfast club is actually having breakfast," he recalled telling them. "We sat and we talked."

Nothing better symbolized how much of a mess the IUPUI women's basketball program had become five years ago than the fact that by the time the school fired head coach Shann Hart in the fall of 2010 shortly after an Indianapolis Star report of misconduct, more than 40 players and coaches had left the program in her six seasons. The technical term "without cause" was applied to Hart's dismissal, leaving open the question of culpability, but whatever did or didn't happen on her watch, such attrition spoke to an unhealthy program.

So perhaps nothing better illustrated how things have changed at the Indianapolis school than the sight of DeAirra Goss scoring 26 points and shutting down the reigning Summit League player of the year in a 70-68 win against IPFW on Saturday, a result that pushed IUPUI to 14-6 overall and 4-1 in conference.

Goss, after all, transferred to IUPUI three seasons ago. Transferred in.

She wanted to be a part of the program that is no longer a pariah.

Austin Parkinson and Alex Mislan
Graham Hays/ESPNCoach Austin Parkinson with associate coach Alex Mislan have guided IUPUI to a 4-1 mark in the Summit.

They play some good basketball in the Summit League. Just ask Penn State, which lost earlier this season at South Dakota State, or Michigan State, which lost at home against IPFW. Saturday's matchup was an entertaining, tense game that pitted not just in-state rivals tied for second place in the standings but two of the conference's best players in Goss and IPFW's Amanda Hyde.

The older sister of Kentucky guard Bria Goss, DeAirra spent her first two college seasons at Western Michigan as a role player, to some degree as she was for Indianapolis powerhouse Ben Davis High School (although she's one of the top 10 scorers in that school's history, she shared her four seasons with and ceded scoring honors to former Penn State All-American Alex Bentley). It wasn't until this season that she was asked to lead an offense. In five conference games, she's averaging 19.8 points per game. And she still plays those other roles. A week ago she took the lead in holding South Dakota top scorer Nicole Seekamp scoreless. Saturday, the normally über-efficient Hyde scored just 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, breaking a string of six consecutive games in which she scored at least 23 points.

"The neat thing is she's never been the best player until this year, so she had to learn the responsibility that came along with that," Parkinson said of Goss. "The one thing I think is huge for her, and why I think she's maybe the best player in the league, is because she plays offense and defense. … Where so many players in our league are offensive minded, I love the fact that she does both."

What Parkinson inherited in his first season was a mess, a 4-24 ordeal that came on the heels of a 3-26 season under Hart. But in nearly three full seasons since his interim tag was removed, IUPUI is 47-37 with a roster built largely from the substantial talent pool in Indianapolis and surrounding communities.

The Jaguars nonetheless found themselves with a mess at least partly of their own making to clean up Saturday.

In about a four-minute span between media timeouts midway through the second half, IUPUI made one field goal and committed six turnovers. From a 52-39 lead with a little more than 12 minutes remaining, it found itself facing a 66-62 deficit with a little more than two minutes to play. When Goss made just one of two free throws with 18 seconds remaining, IUPUI still trailed by a point. But instead of fouling, the Jaguars came up with a steal on the ensuing inbounds play and an offensive rebound putback from Akilah Sims with 9 seconds left to reclaim the lead.

"We got out to that comfortable lead and then just started throwing the ball over the place," Parkinson said. "They not only made a run, but they were hitting 3s left and right, left and right. But it showed our toughness. The good news is we've been averaging double-figure [margins of victory] the past couple, so to be in a close game and actually pull it out, especially when we looked dead in the water, was good."

All the more considering how recently the entire program appeared dead in the water.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.

Weekend talking points

1. Kentucky stabilized, not cured: If you have enough options to pick a most surprising Kentucky defeat this season, do they by definition stop becoming surprises? Maybe that is not fair to a team that goes to sleep Sunday ranked No. 9 with a 16-4 record, but not quite three weeks after a loss at home against Florida, Kentucky dropped another game in Lexington, against Alabama on Thursday. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half Sunday against Arkansas, more of the same was in the works.

Instead, Kentucky rallied for a 68-58 win. Crisis averted, right? Well …

Kentucky entered Sunday's game shooting just 42.7 percent on two-point field goals in SEC play, compared to 49.7 percent on the same shots out of conference. The Wildcats also forced 18.8 turnovers per game in their first six SEC games, compared to 25.6 per game out of conference. The two developments are not unrelated. If they aren't getting points off turnovers, or at least possessions off turnovers, they aren't pushing the pace of play. And for all its strengths, Kentucky in its half-court offense is not always a thing of beauty. See: Samarie Walker, DeNesha Stallworth and Azia Biship combining to hit 4-of-17 shots as the primary options inside Sunday. Some of that was them, some was the looks they got.

The run that put the Wildcats back in front for good concluded with Janee Thompson swiping away a careless dribble from Calli Berna and going end-to-end for a layup, followed by an easy look for Walker off a Kentucky offensive rebound and a pull-up 3-pointer by Thompson on the secondary break. That's Kentucky basketball. A few minutes of it was enough Sunday, along with some hot shooting from Jennifer O'Neill, but it was still missing much of the day.

A side note: One more reason Kentucky struggled? Arkansas freshman Jessica Jackson, who is now doing to SEC defenses what she did to lesser opponents in the first half of the season. She finished with 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting, showing off the 3-point range and off-the-dribble ability that make her so tough to defend at 6 feet, 3 inches.

Makenzie Robertson
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtBaylor's Makenzie Robertson went 6-for-10 from 3-point range for 18 points in Sunday's win.

2. Baylor and Oklahoma State leave us wanting more: The best game of the weekend, at least among ranked teams, took place Sunday afternoon in Stillwater, Okla,. because the supporting casts of both No. 12 Baylor and No. 8 Oklahoma State refused to let tough shooting days from their respective leads ruin the fun.

Billed as a showdown between lead guards Odyssey Sims and Tiffany Bias instead became a battle of wills between the likes of Baylor's Makenzie Robertson and Nina Davis and Oklahoma State's Kendra Suttles and Roshunda Jones. Sims ultimately came up with the winner, hitting a layup and a free throw with three seconds left in overtime, but Robertson rescued the Lady Bears when they squandered a big lead by hitting two 3-pointers late in regulation, one with Sims off the court and another to pull level with six seconds remaining, and another in overtime. She finished with six 3-pointers, five in the second half or overtime.

It was a compelling game in which both teams showed big-game depth. Now let's get to the rematch Feb. 9.

3. Tennessee milestones abound: On a day when she attempted fewer field goals in an entire game against Old Dominion than she often does by halftime, Middle Tennessee's Ebony Rowe still managed to set a scoring record. With 18 points in a win against Old Dominion, Rowe became Middle Tennessee's all-time leading scorer. It might be a mid-major program, but that's a major achievement when you're talking about a history that includes prolific scorers like current assistant coach Alysha Clark, Chrissy Givens and Kim Webb, whose record Rowe surpassed.

When Rowe was born on Nov. 21, 1991, Jim Foster was beginning his first season at Vanderbilt, a season that would end in the Elite Eight. Of course, Foster had also picked up more than 200 wins at Saint Joseph's before Rowe or any of his current Chattanooga players were even born. Saturday, he became just the ninth Division I coach to record 800 career victories (and the second this season after Montana's Robin Selvig), the final step taken in a 63-50 win against Samford that moved Chattanooga 9-0 in the Southern Conference.

Just for good measure, Bentley College coach Barbara Stevens became just the sixth coach at any level of NCAA women's basketball to reach 900 wins the same day that Foster won No. 800.

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