Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tournament Women's Preview: Fairfield To Be Tested

Here's another in the series previewing the MAAC women's tournament.

No. 3 SEED FAIRFIELD, quarterfinal round game Friday at 9:30 p.m. vs. Thursday's winner of Rider-Saint Peter's.

SEASON RECORD: 15-5 in MAAC play, 20-9 overall.

WHAT FAIRFIELD HAS: Start with a relatively unique offense predicated on the league's thickest playbook of designed sets that makes it difficult to prepare for the Stags. The team prefers to work out of a half court, almost entirely eschewing fast-break opportunities. There's plenty of talent on hand, particularly with the starting five that includes 6-2 senior forward Katie Cizynski (16.5 points, 8.4 rebounds), a first-team all-MAAC choice, and junior point guard Felicia DaCruz, who was surprisingly overlooked for all-star recognition. She averaged 7.4 points, 5.4 assists (40th nationally) and her assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.32 is currently fifth-best nationally. For some reason league coaches overlook the contributions of effective point guards, and DaCruz is the latest to prove that assumption. The offense often results in open looks from three-point range, and Fairfield has two of the league's top snipers in guards Alexys Vazquez (82 treys on 41.6 percent shooting, 28th-best nationally) and Kristin Schatzlein, who makes 1.9 treys per game. The fifth starter is inside force Brittany Obi-Tabot (9.8, 6.4).

WHAT FAIRFIELD DOESN'T HAVE: Depth. Some early season injuries, particularly to 6-2 freshman forward Samantha Cooper, cut into the team's bench strength. All five starters average at least 30 minutes of playing time, the only team which requires so much of its top players. If opponents can push the tempo against the Stags and wear down the iron five, it works to Fairfield's disadvantage. Easier said than done, though, since the team is so disciplined in terms of getting back on defense and in running its precision offense.

COMMENTS: The strong likelihood is that Fairfield will see Rider in the quarterfinal round, and it had two close games with the Broncs, winning by scores of 52-50 and 67-61 in the regular-season. But, Fairfield at its best is capable of beating anyone in the league, and showed that with a 72-68 victory over Marist on Feb. 8, one of the Red Foxes' two regular-season setbacks. Marist would be Fairfield's semifinal-round for if both teams get that far. But a lengthy run in the tournament would test Fairfield's depth and conditioning.

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