Saturday, March 9, 2013

Iona Women Hope They're The Ones To Stop Marist

Maybe this is the year. Maybe Iona is the team that will break through Marist's all-out domination of the MAAC tournament, a seven-year run of post-season championships that will become nine if the Red Foxes can win Monday's championship contest.

The Gaels were the league's second-best team in regular-season play (13-5), have 20 overall victories and Iona is the hottest of all conference teams besides Marist.

Iona has has won 10 of its last 11 games (the lone setback coming against Marist), and its last nine straight. The latest was a 68-58 victory over Siena in the tournament's semifinal round that wasn't anywhere near as close as the final score indicated.

Iona had a 21-point advantage with under five minutes remaining and coasted home afterwards, avoiding late game fouls on defense while the Saints scored 13 of the game's last 15 points.

Iona head coach Tony Bozzella wasn't ready yet to speculate on his team's chances in Monday's noon championship contest, at least not less than 30 minutes after his team's victory over Siena.

"I just want to enjoy this for a little while," said Bozzella. "I'm happy for the kids, yet I'm particularly happy for my staff which has worked so hard. The last two seasons (the Gaels were 8-10 in MAAC play last season and 7-11 the year before that) have been tough on us. It's nice to come back and have a season like this."

Iona, an original MAAC member, has never won a MAAC tournament championship, a shutout over the past 31 seasons. The Gaels have only advanced to two previous championship games, getting there in 2007 and 2008 and losing to Marist both times.

This time, though, Iona has the type of talent to play with anyone. Maybe even Marist.

The Gaels have the MAAC's Player of the Year and two-time scoring champion in guard Damika Martinez (18.4 points per game), the league's leading rebounder in forward Joy Adams (10.3 per game) and another guard in Aleesha Powell (9.7 points, 3.2 assists per game) who many believe should have at least been a third-team all-star selection.

But ... Iona might also be the youngest team in the league. Martinez and Powell are both sophomores. Adams is a freshman. There is no senior who makes significant contributions, and the Gaels got a total of one minute of playing time from a senior in Saturday's semifinal round game against Siena.

Is Iona experienced enough to knock off a battle-tested, tournament-tough Marist team?

"We might be a young team, but we've got a lot of talent and we believe in ourselves," said Martinez.

And, Iona has more than it's "Big Three" of Martinez, Powell and Adams. Junior 6-foot-3 center Sabrina Jeridore is in the top 10 nationally in blocked shots (3.0 per game) and displayed a nice jumper out to the 12-foot range in scoring six points (and getting 12 rebounds) against Siena. And, junior point guard Haley D'Angelo whose steady play (she leads the MAAC with a 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio) is often overlooked.

The best of Iona was certainly on display against Siena, which fiinishes its season with a 13-18 record, about the same as a 12-17 finish a year ago.

"We threw everything at them defensively, but it just came down to us not making some shots," said Siena's first-year coach Ali Jaques.

Siena got its usual virtuoso solo performance from its first-team all-MAAC selection and senior forward Lily Grenci, who finished with 28 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds. But, the rest of the team shot just 8-of-43 (18.6 percent).

"That's been our story all year," admitted Jaques. "On some nights, we've had different people step up. But finding a consistent second scorer has been a challenge all year for us."

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