Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marist Women Face Tall Task vs. Iowa St.

Going to the NCAA tournament has become an annual affair for Marist and its ninth-year head coach Brian Giorgis, but that doesn't mean the thrill is lessened any.

It just means that Giorgis and his players have the experience to handle the experience and that he has an educated perspective.

His seniors have been to the so-called Big Dance every year they've played. His team is heading to its sixth straight NCAA tournament and its seventh in the past eight years. Past Marist teams have have won some games, including two in the 2007 event to become the only conference team for either men or women to advance to the NCAA's Sweet 16 round.

It has lost first-round games in the past two seasons, last season as a No. 13 seed (losing to Georgetown) and two years ago as a No. 12 losing to Virginia.

This year's No. 10 seeding is its highest since it was a No. 7 in 2008 when it won a first-round game before losing to No. 2 seed LSU.

It faces that same scenerio this season, only in the reverse role: A No. 10 seed having to go up against a No. 7 (Iowa State) with the winner likely to have to go up against a No. 2 (Duke) in the second round.

"I'm fine with the seeding position," said Giorgis. "We know if we get past the first game, we'll have to play a No. 2 (on Duke's home court, no less). We know wherever we're seeded we're going to have a good opponent.

"The best position to get to the Sweet 16 round is as a No. 12 or a No. 13 seed so you can avoid one of the top eight teams if you get to the second round."

Marist's Sweet 16 run in 2007 came from a No. 13 seeding position when it knocked off No. 4 Ohio State in the first round and No. 5 Middle Tennessee that year before losing to top-seeded Tennessee in the third round.

"The only other way is to get a No. 3 or a No. 4 seeding position, and we're not getting that coming out of the MAAC."

So, what Giorgis and Marist get this year is what appears to be a competitive first-round game and, then, a near-impossible task for the team that advances to the second round.

For now, though, the Marist coach is thinking only about his first-round game Saturday at 11:15 a.m. (ESPN2) against the Cyclones at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Duke's campus in Durham, N.C.

"Iowa State is a different type opponent than what we have had in past years," said Giorgis. "Mostly we've gone up against quick, athletic teams. This time we're seeing a bigger team. What they are is a bigger, better version of Fairfield."

The comparison is to Iowa State's inclination to walk the ball up court and rely on dozens (hundreds?) of offensive sets to either pound the ball inside or create openings for its 3-point shooters.

"We all think Joe Frager (Fairfield's coach) runs a lot of set plays, but he's not even close in that regard to the number of plays that Iowa State has," said Giorgis.

The precision offense has worked for the Cyclones, who not only have been to the NCAA tournament every year since a 2005-06 WNIT appearance but has won at least one national tournament game in each of those appearances. Iowa State made it to last season's Sweet 16 round and, two years ago, won three games to advance to the quarterfinal round.

"Our experience helps us ... our girls won't be awed by the situation," said Giorgis. "But it's not an advantage because Iowa State is in it every year, too."

But, this year hasn't matched the recent past as the Cyclones' 22-10 record to date is the program's worst since the 2005-06 season.

"But, they play big-time opponents every game ... it's not like their losses have come against weak opponents," added the Marist coach.

Iowa State is as big a team as Marist has seen in some time. The Cyclones front line includes 6-foot-7 sophomore Anna Prins, 6-3 freshman Hallie Christofferson and 6-2 sophomore Chelsea Poppens. Its backcourt, and best player, is 6-1 senior guard kelsey Bolte, who averages 16.8 points per game and has made 86-of-200 3-pointers (.430 percent).

Marist, the MAAC's tallest team, counters with 6-4 sophomore Kate Oliver and 6-2 junior Brandy Gang up front with 6-3 senior Maria Laterza an effective reserve.

"This is a different thing for us now," said Giorgis. "The target is off our back. We go in there as the underdog."

The match-up?

"They do have a strong inside game with the 6-7 kid (Prinso and the power forward (Poppens), the type height we haven't seen in our conference," added Giorgis. "And, we haven't seen the quick releases (on jump shots) that some of their players have. Bolte ... she's 6-1 and shoots 43 percent from the `three' with an extremely quick release.

"This definitely will be a tough one for us."

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