Monday, March 24, 2014

Fairfield Women Advance in WBI, Glad Be Playing

It might not be the NCAA Tournament, or even the WNIT. But, the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) is still a national post-season tournament and the members of the Fairfield women's team are glad to still be playing.

They are the last MAAC women's team active in late March.

And, glad to still be playing?

How about maybe as enthusiastic and as productive a half of basketball the Stags have turned in all season, one that produced a 37-13 halftime lead in what became a with-ease 63-50 victory over Maine, a team that had won 17 games entering Sunday afternoon's quarterfinal round of the event.

Maine gave the hosts a better second-half test in the contest played at Fairfield's on-campus Alumni Hall before an enthusiastic crowd of 908, but the Black Bears never could get their deficit below 11 points after the intermission.

Senior forward and first-team all-MAAC honoree Katie Cizynski led the Stags with her 13th double-double of the season, a 26-point, 12-rebound, five-assist effort.

In all, 10 Fairfield players saw action and nine scored points.

Glad to still be playing?

If there was ever any doubt, it was surely dispelled in Fairfield's WBI opener at Bryant University that saw the Stags trailing by four points with 11 seconds remaining in regulation and getting two three-pointers by senior guard Alexys Vazquez in the final five seconds to force the first of two overtimes.

The contest eventually went into two extra sessions and four of the Stags' starting five played 44 or more of the game's 50 minutes.

And, now, Sunday's victory over Maine means that Fairfield can continue playing.

The Stags will play in the event's semifinal round on Thursday against the winner of tonight's (Monday) game between Eastern Michigan and University of Illinois-Chicago.

If Eastern Michigan wins that game, Fairfield will against be the host of its next contest. If UIC wins, the Stags will be traveling to play out there.

"The school is on spring break right now, but I know our girls are happier to still be playing than they would if they were on vacation," said Fairfield coach Joe Frager.

"This is an opportunity for our young kids to get some extra experience to build on going forward and a reward for our seniors for their four years of hard work in our program.

"We weren't happy with the way our season ended (in a MAAC tournament semifinal-round game against Rider), but we're embracing the second chance we have. It's a situation in which you have a short turnaround time to find out about and prepare for an opponent. It's a good opportunity for us. It's always a good experience to still be playing this late in March."

Playing this late is nothing new for Fairfield, which has been to national post-season play four times in the last five years. The Stags have previously been to the WBI in 2010 and 2013 and to the WNIT in 2012.

Fairfield's community seems to be embracing the team's success.

"Considering that our students are on spring break, we still had a pretty good crowd," said Frager. "The men's lacrosse team is still on campus, and a lot of them were nice enough to come to the game and it helped make for a very vocal crowd.

"We had a nice win on our Senior Night (over Manhattan), and we wanted to get the seniors another win. We wanted to make sure our seniors got a win in their last home game."

But, maybe, there's another home game to be played. If not, there's still another game to be played elsewhere.

"The girls have been fantastic through all of this," added Frager. "They're really happy to still be playing. For these kids ... especially with our end-of-season disappointment (in the MAAC tournaments) and, then, thinking we were, at worse, a bubble team for the WNIT ... not one of our players is disappointed to still be playing."

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