Sunday, March 10, 2013

Martinez-Ockenden Match Key to Women's Title Game

So, which wins ... the irresistible object, or the immovable force?

The top scorer among all women's players in the MAAC, or the conference's top defensive player?

Iona's 5-foot-7 sophomore guard Damika Martinez, the two-time league scoring champion, the only freshman to ever lead the MAAC  in scoring and this season's Player of the Year in the conference?

Or, the long-limbed 5-foot-10 junior guard Leanne Ockenden, widely acknowledged as the conference's best on-ball defender and this year's Defensive Player of the Year?

Fire, or ice?

Speeding train, or brick wall?

Of course the MAAC women's championship game Sunday at noon between Iona and Marist will come down to a lot more than that particular individual match-up.

But, it is an intriguing one. And, in many ways the players epitomize the philosophies of their respective teams.

Iona is the league's top offensive team and seeks to outscore opponents. Marist is the MAAC's top defensive team and strives to win games, in no small part, by ensuring opponents score fewer points.

The teams have already played two regular-season games with Marist winning by scores of 69-55 and 63-40.

Martinez scored 17 points, just a tick below her 18.2 ppg. average, in both games, and shooting 6-for-13 from the floor in each contest.

Yet most of those points came after both games were long decided. Martinez had 11 in the final 14 minutes in Iona's 69-55 loss, after Marist had a 17-point lead and the Gaels never got it under 15 again.

In the second meeting, Marist's 63-40 victory, Martinez scored eight in the final 14 minutes after the Red Foxes had a 20-point lead and Iona never got closer than 15 down the stretch.

Martinez had four turnovers in the first meeting and five in the second. Ockenden had five steals in the first game between the teams and three in the second.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself on defense," said Ockenden. "I'm out there to stop the other team's top scorer. Matching up with Martinez is a big challenge. I know she's gotten her average in our two earlier games, but she struggled a little that first game and she got a little frustrated in the second game. She got most of her points late both times."

Ockenden's CBA of Syracuse high school also stressed defense, so her experience playing for Marist coach Brian Giorgis, who doles out playing time more on how effective his players are at defending than scoring, isn't a foreign concept.

"The good thing is that I don't have to do it alone," added Ockenden. "It's a team concept. I get help from my teammates. Coach always emphasizes the importance of the defensive end."

Martinez admits that Marist held her in relative check in the first two meetings, particularly the most-recent one in which the Gaels managed just 40 points.

That was Iona's first loss and, since then, it has averaged 76.1 points per game in its last nine games.

"We changed our offense a little for a few games at that point, and it didn't work that well," said Martinez. "We're back, now, to doing what we do best."

Iona coach Tony Bozzella admits his team's best chance to knock off seven-time defending tournament winner Marist is by scoring.

"We have to get to at least 60 points to win ... I've never seen anyone beat them with 45 points," said the Iona coach. "Our game is scoring the ball. We have to get to 60, or 65. I don't know if we can do that, but we're going to try.

"We've got to get out in transition because if you let Marist set up in their half court defensive you're going to lose. At the end of the day we have to score the ball as often as we can."

And, that often means putting the ball in the hands of Martinez.

"I'm very confident in what I can do,' said Martinez. "As a team ... if we can get out and run no one can stop us."

"It's definitely going to be their offensive against our defense," said Giorgis. "And, we've won both times this year. We know they'll be loaded for bear this time and we'll have our hands full. But we won't back down."

Nor will Ockenden or Martinez, the classic individual confrontation of offense and defense, a rare match of the league's best at what they do: Maritnez looking to score in bunches, and Ockenden trying to stop her.


Nomar said...

All Ockenden in this one, such a pleasure to watch

Steve Amedio said...

Couldn't agree more, my friend.
She did get a little help, but I was really able to watch the match-up, and she is a terrific defender.