Patriot League Women's Basketball Weekend Preview - 12.9.11

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Alexa Williams and Lehigh put their three-game win streak on the line Saturday against Robert Morris.
Alexa Williams and Lehigh put their three-game win streak on the line Saturday against Robert Morris.

Dec. 9, 2011

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Three Patriot League teams enter this weekend’s action riding winning streaks.

Patriot League Women's Basketball Release - 12.9.11 Get Acrobat Reader

The hottest of the three remains reigning Patriot League champion Navy, which posted its fourth win in a row Wednesday with a 61-50 triumph over visiting Siena. The game kicked off a stretch of three games in five days for the Mids, who are back in action Friday night when they wrap up their five-game homestand against Princeton, a team that has garnered votes in both major national polls and currently sits No. 4 in the latest Women’s Mid-Major Top 25. Navy will return to the court Sunday with a 2 p.m. tip at Howard before breaking for nine days.

The same night Navy extended its win streak to four, Lehigh polished off NJIT 61-37 to win its third straight. After starting the year 2-6, the Mountain Hawks are one win away from hitting the .500 mark for the first time this season. Last season the Mountain Hawks heated up at just about the same time. After a 1-5 start, Lehigh rattled off nine straight wins and posted a perfect 7-0 record in December. This season, the Mountain Hawks are 3-0 in December and have won four of their last five.

While it’s a more modest win streak, Holy Cross won its second in a row after a tough battle with Northeastern. The Crusaders took a 70-68 win over the Huskies after freshman Emily Parker sank a jumper with 30 seconds to go to lift them to the victory. At this point, there are now four League teams above the .500 mark and five have at least five victories.

This weekend’s schedule features seven games, with Navy hosting Princeton Friday at 7 p.m. starting it all off. Lehigh hosts Robert Morris Saturday at 2 p.m., Colgate entertains Wagner later in the afternoon at 4 p.m. and Army visits Penn at 7 p.m.

Three teams are on the road Sunday. Lafayette heads to Bryant at 1 p.m., Navy visits Howard at 2 p.m. and American heads south for a matchup at Troy at 2 p.m.

Patriot League Notebook

Lafayette sophomore center Danielle Fiacco entered the week second in the nation with 40 total blocks and second averaging 5.0 per contest. She logged another five in Wednesday’s game against Saint Joseph’s. Entering the weekend, she is now the national leader in total blocks after Baylor’s Brittney Griner collected two in a 31-point victory over Milwaukee. Griner now stands at 43 rejections, while Fiacco has 45. A Patriot Leaguer has never led the NCAA in blocks for a season.

Lehigh and Navy appear to have found their rhythm now that the season is approaching the one-month mark. The reigning Patriot League champion Mids have won four straight and will look to make it five Friday night. It’ll be a tough task, as they are hosting Ivy League favorite Princeton, which is up to No. 4 in Tuesday’s Women’s Mid-Major Top 25. Lehigh, which captured the two previous Patriot League titles, has won three in a row and 16 straight in the month of December dating back to the 2009-10 season. Four League teams are coming off victories during the week, with Holy Cross extending its win streak to two while Bucknell snapped its eight-game slide with a triumph over Fordham.

After some narrow losses and bad luck, Bucknell ended its eight-game losing streak with a stalwart defensive effort in a 49-39 victory Wednesday night over Fordham. The Bison held the Rams to 26 percent from the floor and just 1 of 21 on 3-point attempts, while Lindsay Horbatuck led the Bucknell effort with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Horbatuck has moved up to third in the League in rebounding (8.3 rpg), while the Bison own the League’s third-best rebounding margin (+3.4).

Holy Cross boasts a League-best four student-athletes averaging in double figures in points. Alex Smith, who ranks in the League’s top five in assists and steals, is the Crusaders’ leading scorer with 13.1 points per game, which places her third in the League. Amy Lepley is next averaging 12.2 points per game, while Emily Parker (10.6 ppg) and Brisje Malone (10.1) round out the list of four. A fifth player, Meredith Ward, is just outside of double figuring with 9.2 points per game.

Two coaches have hit significant victory milestones this year, but there’s one player who hit one as well last week. Lehigh senior Alexa Williams reached her own remarkable plateau in Saturday’s 41-39 for the Mountain Hawks at Valparaiso. Williams became the 45th player in League history to collect her 600th career rebound and sixth from Lehigh during the League era. Williams is up to 625 career boards to tie for 40th in League history. If her average keeps up, she should become the 23rd in League annals to reach at least 700 career rebounds, while her current pace may very well put her into the League’s single-season top 10 by the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

Bill Gibbons became the second head coach in the Patriot League to reach a significant victory milestone this season when Holy Cross defeated New Hampshire 61-50 last Saturday afternoon. It was the 500th win of his career, which is now in its 27th season and has spent its entire duration on the Crusader sidelines. Gibbons joins Lafayette’s Dianne Nolan as the only two League coaches with at least 500 career wins. Earlier this season Army’s Dave Magarity collected his 400th coaching victory when Army defeated St. Francis (N.Y.). Gibbons moved to 501 career wins after Wednesday’s 70-68 decision against Northeastern.

With two victory plateaus having been reached, there’s now a third on the way that seems likely this season. Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper, who is in her fourth season in Annapolis, has 293 career victories after the Mids posted three triumph’s last week and added their fourth straight win Wednesday night in a 61-50 triumph against Siena.

The Patriot League features two of the nation’s top 15 scoring defenses, and it probably comes as no surprise that the two representatives are the service academies. Army ranks 12th in the country in scoring defense as of Monday, allowing a paltry 49.3 points per game. Army’s rival Navy is just three slots back at No. 15 averaging 50.6 points allowed so far. The Black Knights and Mids have boasted two of the stingiest scoring defenses in the League over the last several seasons. Navy held Siena to 50 points Wednesday night, just below the Mids’ season average.

Navy sophomore Jade Geif was named the Preseason Player of the Year and has garnered a lot of the attention in Annapolis, but classmate Kara Pollinger has begun making some of her own headlines. The point guard has set career highs in points twice in the Mids’ last five outings, with the most recent career-defining effort coming in Saturday’s 73-56 win over Maine. Pollinger scored 24 points with five rebounds and became the first Navy player since the 1989-90 campaign to shoot at least a perfect 5 of 5 on 3-pointers. The native of Fort Gay, W. Va., shot 68.2 percent from the floor for the week, including at a 9-of-10 clip in the victory over the Black Bears. Pollinger’s previous career high was 16 points tallied two weeks ago at Mount St. Mary’s.

It was bound to happen at some point, and Bucknell freshman Amy Zehner finally accomplished it nearly three weeks ago when she was named to both the Patriot League Anaconda Player and Rookie of the Week awards after averaging 22.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists per game last week for the Bison. Her 25-point outburst against Youngstown State was the largest point total by a Patriot Leaguer this season, and she became the eighth freshman in Bucknell history to record back-to-back games of at least 20 points when she scored 20 at Buffalo.

Jen Hazlett scored a career-high 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting to lead Army to its 59-43 win at St. Francis (N.Y.) Nov. 16, delivering head coach Dave Magarity the 400th victory of his career, which has spanned three decades and now approaches 100 wins at West Point. Army led by five at the half after shooting 57 percent from the floor, and pulled away in the second half as the team collected 21 bucks and 17 assists. Magarity is now the third coach in the League with at least 400 career victories, joining Lafayette’s Dianne Nolan and Bill Gibbons of Holy Cross.

With 94 points and 11 first-place votes, American topped the 2011-12 Patriot League Preseason Women’s Basketball Poll. The Eagles will aim to capture their first League crown in program history after reaching the title game in each of the last two seasons. American finished ahead of second-place Lehigh, which totaled 83 points and three first-place votes. Defending League champion Navy took third with 74 points and the last two remaining first-place ballots. Bucknell finished fourth in the poll, the same position in which the Bison ended the regular season a year ago. They collected 58 points, followed by Holy Cross in fifth with 52. Rounding out the poll were Lafayette (38 points), Army (26) and Colgate (23).

Navy’s Jade Geif got better and better as the 2010-11 season went on, and the hardware began adding up quickly. She was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year at the end of the regular season and added Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after helping lead the Midshipmen to their first League crown in program history. Geif was recognized again by the League’s eight head coaches and women’s basketball sports information directors with the Preseason Player of the Year honor and a spot on the Preseason All-League team. In nearly 30 minutes per game a season ago, Geif was second in the League averaging 7.9 rebounds per game and is Navy’s top returning scorer (9.6 ppg). Geif became the first player named Rookie of the Year and Tournament MVP in the same season since Bethany O’Dell of Holy Cross in 2007.

Ten of the 11 players named First- or Second-Team All-Patriot League a year ago graduated in the spring. The one who remains is American senior Lisa Strack, who was named to the Preseason All-League Team last month and is expected to contribute mightily to the Eagles this season. One of three seniors named to the Preseason All-League squad, Strack is the League’s second-highest returning scorer after averaging 11.6 points per game last season. She was also her team’s best distributor, averaging 3.4 assists per game, placing her fourth in the League.

Three of the six players to garner a place on the Preseason All-League team are sophomores. Bucknell’s Shelby Romine looks to build on a a remarkable freshman campaign in which she led all League rookies in scoring with 13.5 points per game. In addition to being the League’s top scorer back, she boasts the highest assist-per-game average (3.6) of any returning player. Holy Cross’ Alex Smith was also named to the Preseason All-League team after averaging 11.1 points and 3.4 assists per game for the Crusaders, who are trying to improve on their 10-20 mark and 6-8 showing in the League from a year ago.

Team Notebooks

AMERICAN The Eagles are in the midst of a week-long break and will return to the court Sunday for a 2 p.m. tip at Troy ... American defeated Troy 83-49 Dec. 22, 2010 in Washington, D.C., during a stretch in which the Eagles won 11 in a row ... Senior Lisa Strack leads the League averaging 2.2 steals per game, while her 6.9 rebounds per game are fifth and her 11.2 points per game are sixth ... She and Alexis Dobbs lead the Eagles in double figures ... Dobbs is scoring 10.0 points per game.

ARMY Trailing 48-39 with under five minutes to play, Army scored eight straight points to pull within 48-47 with 2:03 remaining but couldn’t complete the comeback in a 49-47 loss to Binghamton Tuesday night ... Molly Yardley led the Black Knights with 11 points and tied with a team-high seven rebounds, while Anna Simmers added nine points in 16 points off the bench ... Jen Hazlett scored seven points with seven boards ... Army led 26-24 at halftime but fell behind 41-33 with 9:13 on the clock ... The Black Knights visit Penn Saturday at 7 p.m., then have just two games the rest of 2011 ... Army heads to Arizona State Dec. 20 and hosts Quinnipiac Dec. 30.

BUCKNELL Lindsay Horbatuck logged a double-double with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds as Bucknell snapped its eight-game losing streak with a 49-39 victory over Fordham at Sojka Pavilion Tuesday night ... The Bison led 19-14 at halftime and built the advantage to 12 in the first 5:06 of the second half ... The Rams narrowed Bucknell’s lead to four at the halfway mark, but an Amy Zehner jumper and a three-point play from Christina Chukwuedo built the lead back to nine and the Bison were in front by at least seven the rest of the way ... The Bucknell defense held Fordham to just 16 of 61 from the field, including 1 of 21 on 3-pointers ... Bucknell is idle until Dec. 18 when it visits Cornell ... The Bison return home Dec. 21 to host Penn State.

COLGATE The Raiders were off this week and are looking to bounce back from Sunday’s 63-42 loss at Canisius ... Colgate hosts Wagner Saturday at 4 p.m. in one of three games on the day featuring Patriot League teams ... After Saturday, the Raiders are off for another eight days before heading to NJIT Dec. 18.

HOLY CROSS Emily Parker’s jumper with 30 seconds remaining was the difference as Holy Cross hung on for a 70-68 win over visiting Northeastern Wednesday night at the Hart Center in Worcester ... Parker finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds, while Alex Smith scored a game-high 20 points, dished five assists and sank five 3-pointers ... In a game that saw 14 lead changes and seven ties, the Huskies took a 65-62 lead with 3:56 to go ... A Meredith Ward bucket and a foul shot from Parker put the Crusaders up 67-66, but Northeastern regained the lead on its next possession ... That set up Parker’s jumper in the final minute, and the freshman added a free throw later on to complete the final score ... Holy Cross is off until it visits Boston College Dec. 18.

LAFAYETTE couldn’t generate momentum out of Saturday’s win at home against Manhattan, falling 65-57 at home to Saint Joseph’s ... Freshman Brya Freeland scored a career-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting and 4 of 6 on 3-pointers, while Danielle Fiacco pitched in 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks for her fourth double-double of the season ... The Hawks jumped out to a 25-12 lead with 6:45 left in the first half, but the Leopards whittled the deficit down to 32-25 by halftime ... Maddie Peabody’s bucket opened the second stanza and made it a 32-27 game, but Saint Joseph’s lead reached double figures by the 14:59 mark and the Leopards couldn’t get closer than six the rest of the way ... The Leopards open a stretch of five straight away from Easton when they visit Bryant Sunday at 1 p.m. ... Lafayette will be off again until Dec. 21 when it heads to St. Francis (N.Y.).

LEHIGH rattled off its third straight win and second in a row during its six-game homestand with a 61-37 triumph over NJIT in Bethlehem ... Alexa Williams led the Mountain Hawks with a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Emily Gratch had her best game since returning from injury with 12 points and 11 boards ... Trailing 11-7 with 11:39 left in the first half, Lehigh executed a 25-5 run and went into halftime leading 32-16 ... The Mountain Hawks continued with a 10-0 stretch out of the break to move ahead 42-16, and the Highlanders only got as close as 16 the rest of the way ... Kelly Peterson chipped in 11 points for Lehigh, which outrebounded NJIT 50-34 ... The Mountain Hawks continue their homestand Saturday with a 2 p.m. tip against Robert Morris, and are then idle until opening up the Christmas City Classic Dec. 29.

NAVY captured its fourth consecutive victory with four players reaching double figures in points in a 61-50 win over Siena in Annapolis on Wednesday ... Alix Membreno led all Navy scorers with 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Erin Edwards poured in 14 points off the bench and Audrey Bauer and Chey Arvin logged 10 apiece ... The Mids dominated the boards, 49-27, shot 44.4 percent from the field and hit 10 of 22 3-point attempts ... Edwards was a perfect 4 of 4 on treys, while Bauer, Membreno and Arvin sank two apiece. Kara Pollinger had six points, seven rebounds and four assists running the point ... Navy continues its stretch of three games in five days when it hosts Princeton Friday at 7 p.m. ... Navy then heads to Howard Sunday for a 2 p.m. start.