Sunday, March 10, 2013

Women's Title-Game Preview: Marist To Meet Iona

Here's a look at Monday's noon women's MAAC tournament championship game at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Mass.

WHAT MARIST HAS: History on its side, with seven straight conference tournament titles, and the current players are adamant that they won't be the ones to let that streak end. This is also clearly the best team in the league, as another perfect 18-0 league season (third in the past six years) would indicate. The Red Foxes finished five games better than second-place Iona. Teams don't have that kind of success without considerable talent, and Marist has it, even if it lacks a true post player. But, head coach Brian Giorgis has arguably done his best job to date, and that's saying some, after his squad lost its two legitimate inside players early in the season with injuries. The current product, as Giorgis says often, is a product greater than the sum of its parts. Still, there are very good parts with six players averaging between 6.8 and 12.0 points per game, and that doesn't include heady, under-control fifth-year senior point guard Kristine Best. The top does include the MAAC's Defensive Player of the Year in junior guard Leanne Ockenden, Sixth Player of the Year in Kristina Danella (9.4 points, 4.6 rebounds) and steady other starters in 6-2 forward Elizabeth Beynnon (12.0, 4.2), 6-0 forward Emma O'Connor (9.1, 4.6) and 5-10 junior guard Casey Dulin (10.3, 4.2). There's also considerable length among the Marist team, which serves it well on both ends.

WHAT IONA HAS: A nine-game winning streak that didn't happen by accident  The Gaels have scored an average of 76.1 points per game over that run of success. The Gaels also have some of the best individual talent in the league with a "Big Three"" of Player of the Year sophomore guard Damika Martine (18.2 ppg), Rookie of the Year freshman forward Joy Adams (13.2, 10.3) and sophomore guard Aleeshan Powell (9.7, 3.1 assists). It also has an inside presence in 6-3 junior center Sabrina Jeridore, whose 3.0 blocks per game rank her in the top 10 nationally, and a steady junior point guard in Haley D'Angelo (106 assists, 54 turnovers). When Iona gets it going its explosive offense can overcome any conference opponent, although it has yet to do so against Marist. Still, Iona coach Tony Bozzella said he tried some new wrinkles offensively in the last meeting with the Red Foxes that didn't work, and won't be bringing those out in this meeting.

WHAT MARIST DOESN'T HAVE: Overwhelming height, which causes it to get outrebounded by 3.4 per contest. But, Marist does it by committee with four different players averaging between 4.2 and 4.6 rebounds per outing. There's also no signature go-to player, although any of at least seven or eight are legitimate offensive contributors. Mostly, there isn't much Marist doesn't have, at least in relative terms at this level of the sport.

WHAT IONA DOESN'T HAVE: A defense anywhere as good as Marist's, allowing 60.4 points in conference play. Then again, the Gaels average 67.9 ppg. in league play, and they clearly win games mostly by outscoring opponents. Bozzella admits his team will have to get its point total into the mid-60's agaisnt Marist to have an opportunity to win. The Gaels also don't have any past success against Marist in more than a decade, but Bozzella contends his youthful team has no concept of past woes against the Red Foxes.

HOW MARIST CAN WIN: By doing what it has done all year: play some of the best defense ever seen in the MAAC (allowing just 46.6 points per game in league play) and running its effective motion offense that produces open looks nearly every time down court. And, by doing what it always seems to do against Iona (29-0 vs. the Gaels over the past 11 seasons), with two wins this regular season by scores of 69-55 and 63-40.

HOW IONA CAN WIN: By scoring, and 65 points might be enough to do it. The Gaels have averaged 76.1 in their last nine games ... but, only 47.5 in two meetings with Marist. Iona might also try to channel Marist's offense into the lane where it can have the 6-3 Jeridore waiting to make shots a little more difficult. Mostly, though, it will come down to whether Iona can be somewhat effective on offense against the Marist defense. Martinez, who has 36 and 25 points in her first two games of this year's tournament, will have to have another big game, and get some support from at least a couple of teammates. Iona could also benefit from extra shots on offensive possessions if its rebounders can get offensive boards.

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