Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quinnipiac Women Win Battle Of Strong Mid-Majors

Quinnipiac had one of the nation's best mid-major level women's basketball teams a year ago.

The Bobcats went through Northeast Conference play with a perfect 18-0 record, advanced to the NCAA tournament and finished with 30 overall victories.

Since then it moved to the MAAC.

As a welcoming gift, of sorts, it got to open league play ... its first-ever game in the conference ... with a game against preseason favorite and 10-time defending regular-season champion Marist.

And, it got to play that game with one day of prep time, the contest taking place on Dec. 6, just two days after Quinnipiac knocked off Hartford, 62-49.

Marist (also 18-0 in the MAAC last year) won that meeting of league unbeatens from a year ago, 69-63, but not before the Bobcats put a scare into the Red Foxes by getting to within a point late in that contest.

For sure, a better indication of just how good one of the MAAC's two newest women's teams can be came today (Sunday, Dec. 15) in another meeting of teams that went unbeaten in conference play

The Bobcats played at UAlbany, 16-0 in the America East Conference a year ago, at the Great Danes' SEFCU Arena home court.

Albany came into the game as one of two remaining unbeaten mid-majors (8-0 this season) and ranked fourth in the national poll for mid-major level programs.

Quinnipiac came in rated 24th in that poll, despite a 4-5 record. But that record came against some high-powered opposition, enough of them that the Bobcats' strength of schedule to date was rated the fourth most-difficult nationally of any Division I program.

And, Quinnipiac is sure to move up in the mid-major poll after upending the Great Danes in grand fashion, 74-53.

Albany played the game without its 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig (a minor medical issue), but it appeared doubtful that the Danes would have beaten Quinnipiac this day unless, say, Brittney Griner showed up as Craig's replacement.

Your Hoopscribe's first look at Quinnipiac as a MAAC member was an impressive one, a viewing of a team that works well together, that plays unselfishly (six players reached double figures), that moved the ball quickly and effectively (16 assists on 23 baskets) and that got good play off the bench (two of the double-figure scorers were reserves).

League coaches, in their preseason poll, predicted Quinnipiac to finish third in the conference this season, behind Marist and Iona.

But, if the Bobcats are only the third best team in the MAAC this season, then the league is extremely strong at the top, that's for sure.

Quinnipiac did lose a little from last season's 30-3 team, most notably leading scorer and guard Felicia Barron. But, it also lost a key reserve point guard, Lisa Lebak.

The presence of those two last season enabled the Bobcats to legitimately go 10 deep, a luxury veteran coach Tricia Fabbri used to great advantage.

"We used the term `Gold Rush' for what we did last season, which was basically to employ a five-for-five substitution pattern, kind of like they do in hockey," said Fabbri, after Sunday's victory at Albany. "Having that second point guard allowed us to do that effectively.

"We're a little different this year. We're still going Gold Rush when the opportunity is there, but not like last season."

What's like last season, still is strong depth, enough so that senior forward Camryn Warner and junior guard Nikoline Ostergaard came off the bench Sunday to combine for 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the floor.

Warner was particularly key, scoring seven straight Quinnipiac points midway through the second half as the Danes made a push to get its deficit down to six..

Her third basket in that run gave the winners a nine-point edge before teammate Samantha Guastella sank the dagger, a long three-pointer with 5:02 remainiing to give the winners a 12-point edge.

The Bobcats also have their share of starting talent, including selfless point guard Gillian Abshire, who entered the game ranked seventh nationally in assists; strong 5-11 post Brittany McQuain (4 points, 9 rebounds Sunday), 6-1 junior forward Damantha Guastella, who did much of her offensive work (10 points) on the perimeter, but also grabbed eight rebounds, and 5-8 explosive junior guard Jasmine Martin (16 points), who helped her team grab an early edge with back-to-back three pointers midway through the first half.

Fabbri said the victory provided a nice lift for her team, much more than anything that came out of a close loss in its first-ever MAAC contest earlier this month against Marist.

"This (the win vs. Albany) was one that we needed for our psyche," admitted Fabbri. "Losing is never good in any real sense. The MAAC is a new league for us and we didn't know what to expect.

"But when you get a big win like this today, teams around our league will take notice."

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