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Jeannette grad Gregory gaining experience with UNC-Charlotte

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 6:15 p.m.
Ciara Gregory, a Jeannette graduate, continues to be a student of the game.
Sam Roberts/Freeze Frame
Ciara Gregory, a Jeannette graduate, continues to be a student of the game.

Ciara Gregory is getting a taste of just how tough college basketball battles can be.

As the season wears on, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte women's basketball team — featuring Gregory, a Jeannette High School graduate, as a reserve guard — is firmly in contention for the NCAA Division I Conference USA women's basketball title.

On Saturday, Charlotte downed Rice 58-53 in a defensive battle, as the 49ers held the Owls to a shooting percentage of just 32.4 percent (including just 27.3 percent in the second half) to take a narrow win.

Just three days earlier, Charlotte was on the other end of a narrow contest — this one, an offensive shootout — as they fell to conference foe Tulane 78-76 in overtime.

In that contest, neither team led by more than eight and Charlotte raged back from a six-point deficit in the final three minutes to force overtime. Gregory, a 5-foot-7 freshman, is playing sparingly. She played four minutes against Tulane and did not play against Rice. Overall, she has played in 15 of Charlotte's 19 games this season and is averaging 7.3 minutes and 2.9 points per game.

But the experience she's gaining — in games, practice and by simply being around such battles — will help her greatly in the future, said head coach Cara Consuegra.

“She's doing great, working hard and improving,” said the coach. “She's a big part of our future.”

Consuegra pointed to areas of Gregory's game where she is already a contributor, much of it due to her gaining that crucial experience.

“Obviously, she's a great scorer,” said the coach. “For her, it's a matter of balancing being a great scoring threat and finding the ‘right times' on offense. As a coach, the challenge is you don't want to take away what's great about her, that fearless mentality, taking great shots.

“At the same time, she's coming from high school where — like most of the players at this level — she was the first, second, third and fourth option. Here, we find shots though a team concept … the shots flow out of our offense. She's doing a good job of leaning that.”

While the scoring touch Gregory displayed in her days with the Jayhawks is still there, Consuegra added that defense is an area where the local product has the greatest opportunity to improve.

“The biggest thing she has to work on is, defensively, she's got to get better for us,” said Consuegra. “I will say she's working hard, really hard, at it and taking our coaching really well. We've seen a lot of improvement in where she is defensively. From October to now, she's a completely different player. And I expect, in a couple of months, she will be completely different from where she's at now.”

Charlotte entered the week 11-9 overall and 4-2 in Conference USA. The 49ers were scheduled to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Wednesday night, but the game ended too late for this edition. Next up is a road game at East Carolina at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The game will be broadcast at Charlotte49ers.com.

Coastal falls

Jeannette grad Kayla Cook and the Coastal Carolina University womens basketball team had their modest two-game winning streak snapped in a 90-61 loss at Winthrop on Saturday. Cook, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, played 29 minutes and had six points after connecting on two three-pointers in the loss.

Cook also had six points in the Chanticleers' 75-65 win over UNC-Asheville on Jan. 23. The local product is averaging 19.2 minutes and 7.1 points per game.

Coastal is now 10-10 overall and 6-5 in the Division I Big South Conferences. The team is scheduled to host Radford tonight at 7 and Longwood on Saturday at 2 p.m. Both games will be broadcast at BigSouthSports.com.

DePalma wins

Jeannette graduate Michael DePalma, a redshirt sophomore wrestler at Kent State, grabbed an impressive victory as his Golden Flashes fell to Central Michigan 21-12 on Sunday.

DePalma, the starter at the 149-pound weight class, accumulated five takedowns as he beat CMU's Scott Mattingly 11-6 for a minor decision victory.

With the victory, DePalma is now 19-11 overall and 3-0 in Mid-American Conference (MAC) dual meet action. He also has three pins and four major decisions.

Kent State is 8-8 overall and 2-2 in the Division I Mid-American Conference (MAC). The Golden Flashes hit the road for a MAC showdown with Eastern Michigan Friday at 7 p.m.

Williams at WCCC

Jeannette grad Brittany Williams, a freshman guard on the Westmoreland County Community College women's basketball team, scored eight points as WCCC fell to Montgomery College (Md.) on Saturday. Williams is averaging 5.6 points per game.

Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.

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