Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saint Peter's Whitfield Has Long-Range Record Night

The nice thing about sports is that on any given night you might see something you've never seen before.

So, there was Siena women's basketball coach Ali Jaques, with a number written large and in bright red on her left hand during her team's home game at the Alumni Recreation Center Friday night.

The number was "50," the uniform identification of Saint Peter's freshman swingperson Bridget Whitfield.

"I tried everything else," said Jaques. "I yelled her number during the whole first half, I wrote it in large numbers on our chalkboard at halftime ... I figured I needed to write it on my hand, too, to show my players every time they looked at me on the sidelines."

For sure, a coach with an opposing player's number written on her hand is something relatively unique.

But, that's only because Whitfield's performance in a 70-67 Siena victory that very nearly was the Peacocks' third victory of the season was unique in MAAC annals and very nearly for women's college basketball.

Whitefield, a 5-foot-7 freshman, was in the proverbial zone against Siena on this night, particularly from long range. She started making 3-pointers early, and her high-arcing attempts were so "pure" that they seemed to go throughh the hoop while barely even rippling the net.

After Siena grabbed an early 5-4 lead, Whitfield began her barrage this night with back-to-back treys. She followed that with four more in the first half as Saint Peter's ran out to a 38-24 advantage. As Siena began its comeback, another Whitfield three-pointer early in the second half kept her team ahead by nine, 50-41.

And, with a little over four minutes remaining, she hit one more to give the Peacocks a 65-60 advantage.

But, the Saints seemed finally to be heeding their coach's pleadings to guard Whitfield after that. The Peacocks made just one more basket in the final four minutes and Whitfield was guarded closely enough to keep her from getting another shot as Siena managed to rally for the win.

When it was over, though, Whitfield was a perfect 8-for-8 from three-point range.

In women's basketball history only one player has made more treys without a miss in a game. That was Keri Farley of Cornell, who went 9-for-9 in a Dec. 12, 1993 meeting with Georgetown.

It is a record for the most three's made without a miss in a MAAC game, and also ranks second for most treys even made in a conference women's game. trailing only the 10 made by Kim Kuhn for Niagara in a game late in the 1989-90 season against Holy Cross.

Whitfield, though, does have a chance at another conference record: most consecutive treys made. That mark currently stands at nine, set by Heather Donlon of Fairfield over two games in the 1989-90 season.

Whitfield, who missed the last bonus shot attempt she took in Saint Peter's game prior to her big night against Siena, could tie that mark if she makes her first trey when Saint Peter's hosts Rider on Sunday.

What also makes Whitfield's big night so rare is that she showed no indication to date that she was capable of that type of performance. Until Friday, she had scored a year-long total of 31 points, including just 8-of-23 from three point range. On Friday, she came very close to matching her totals of the entire season to date in a single game.

Amazingly, though, Whitfield's record doesn't approach a men's standard for consecutive three-pointers made at Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center, the site of Friday's contest.

That came in a men's game (your Hoopscribe was a first-hand witness) on Jan. 7, 1987, the first year in which the three-point shot was part of college basketball.

On that night, a slender 5-foot-9 guard from Niagara, Gary Bossert, made 11 consecutive three pointers in the contest (he shot 12-of-14 overall in the game) in a Purple Eagles' victory over Siena.

We recall then-Siena coach Mike Deane's displeasure about the new 3-point rule, bemoaning the fact that a player could almost single-handedly so affect the outcome of a game merely by shooting from long range, a strategy that counter to everything coaches stressed, i.e., getting good, in-close shots.

But, the 3-point shot is often a great equalizer for underdogs to remain competitive against higher-ranked opponents.

And, so it was on Friday night as the MAAC's last-place team nearly upset sixth-place Siena behind a long-range shooting display by Whitfield that created a place for the Peacocks' freshman in the record books.

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