Saturday, March 5, 2011

Women: Allenspach Steps Up For Marist

So, now, we know why Marist's senior guard Erica Allenspach was named the conference's Player of the Year.

With her team holding a three-point lead in Saturday's semifinal-round game against Siena at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Ct., Allenspach made a pair of three-pointers to start the second half and followed with a driving conversion.

Those plays gave the Red Foxes an 11-point lead, and two more Allenspach three-pointers in the next five minutes (sense a trend?) ensured the Siena wouldn't get any closer to derailing the Marist quest for a sixth consecutive conference championship and trip to the NCAA tournament.

Marist advances to Monday's 1 p.m. championship game against Loyola, a 50-47 winner over Manhattan in a battle of No. 2 and 3 seeds to determine Marist's opponent.

That second-half binge by Allenspach against Siena wasn't her only contribution. With her team struggling in the early going, she took control of the offense in the first half, too, scoring 15 of her team's 25 points by halftime.

When she made her last three pointer of the contest to boost the Red Foxes' lead to 47-32, she was nearly outscoring Siena by herself. That trey gave her 29 points to Siena's 32.

Allsnspach finished with 34, matching her career high set previously in the championship game of the Duel in the Dessert against Houston.

The victory lifted Marist's overall record to 29-2 and was its national-best 25th in a row. Marist entered the contest ranked 18th nationally in the USA Today/ESPN Coach's Top 25 poll.

But it was Allenspach who nearly single-handedly ensured all of that remained in place for her team against a gritty opponent Saturday.

"What she did today is what she did against Houston," said Marist coach Brian Giorgis. "She showed today what she can do (statistically) if she played 40 minutes every game."

Marist, though, rarely needed Allenspach ... or, any starter, for that matter ... to play a full game while dominating the MAAC by an average victory margin of 22.4 points this season. Allenspach only averaged 30.2 minutes per contest.

Saturday, though, Siena hung around enough for Giorgis to give his standout less than a minute's respite late in the contest before putting her back on the court again for the final minute.

"When we need her like that, I didn't have to say anything to her," said Giorgis. "She just does it. As good as she was offensively, she was just as good on the defensive end (Siena's guards shot 2-of-17 in the game). She is just a perfectionist."

"A game like this means a lot to me," Allenspach said. "At this point you lay it all on the line. I wanted to lead us so we could move forward.

"My teammates helped create open shots, but the basket just felt huge to me today. It felt like everything was going to go in."

Just about everything did as the 5-foot-9 senior connected on 12-of-18 shots (6-of-7 on treys) from the field. It was just a continuation of her spectacular shooting that started in her team's victory over Saint Peter's in Friday's quarterfinal-round contest when she hit 6-of-7 from the floor and all four three-pointers she attempted.

"A game like that for her says everything about why she was our league's Player of the Year," said Siena coach Gina Castelli. "She only got a couple of wide-open looks against us today. I thought, other than that, we played well defensively against her and she still scored 34."

Marist advances to meet No. 2 seed Loyola, which finished 15-3 in regular-season conference games with two of those losses coming against the Red Foxes.

"It was our goal to get back to the championship game," said Allenspach. "This is my last go. We know it's going to be a tough game. We know they've got a good team and some great guards."

Loyola earned its berth in the title contest behind stellar play from its perimeter trio of junior Miriam McKenzie, senior Erica DiClemente and sophomore Katie Sheahin. Those three combined to score 42 of the Greyhounds' 50 points in their semifinal-round victory over manhattan.

The Jaspers, who are now 22-9, were led by Abby Wentworth's game-high 22 points.

Loyola is now 20-11 overall.

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