Wednesday, February 27, 2013

STOP #8: Detrick Gymnasium, New Britain, CT
Saturday, March 2, 2013 – 2pm

Robert Morris Colonials (7-20, 6-10) at CCSU Blue Devils (14-13, 8-8)

Watch on NEC Front Row

CCSU Game Notes

RMU Game Notes

Live Stats

The hourglass on the 2013 NEC women’s basketball regular season is beginning to run empty. Just one weekend, two games, remain on the schedule. Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, St. Francis, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary’s, and St. Francis Brooklyn have already locked up the first six spots in the eight team field, leaving four teams still alive in battle for the final two spots. Saturday’s Central Connecticut State/Robert Morris game will go a long way in helping determine who will receive those final postseason slots.

The Blue Devils have a conference record of 8-8, two games better than Fairleigh Dickinson, Bryant, and Robert Morris. A Central win would officially lock up a playoff spot for Coach Beryl Piper and her team, while in the process it would put Robert Morris’ hopes on serious life support. Robert Morris’ playoff future is a little bit more uncertain. The Colonials lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against FDU, and even though they beat Bryant earlier in the year, they will still see the Bulldogs one more time in the regular season finale. The NEC Tournament doesn’t officially begin for another eight days, but it’s safe to say that Saturday’s showdown in New Britain contains all of the makings of an actual playoff game. Robert Morris and Central are two teams fighting just to make the party. Saturday’s winner will take one step closer to the ultimate goal, while chances are Saturday’s loser will be forced to watch the rest of March Madness from the outside looking in.

The Colonials have dominated the recent history between these two schools, winning 14 out of the last 16 meetings to take a 16-11 lead in the all-time series. RMU has won the last five straight encounters, including a 65-48 win in the 2013 conference opener back on January 5th in Moon Township. Lou Mataly led Robert Morris with a game high 19 points on the afternoon, while junior Kaley Watras paced CCSU with 15 points of her own. Central is looking for their first win over RMU since a 76-63 home victory at Detrick Gym back on February 7, 2009.
The two schools have only been matched up against each other once in postseason play, back in the 2005 NEC Tournament quarterfinals, with the Colonials coming away with a 72-39 victory. The win marked the Colonials first playoff win eight years. It was the start of a journey that would lead them to the 2005 finals, and eventually the tournament championship in the two ensuing seasons. 2005 NEC Player of the Year Sugiery Monsac would lead the Colonials with 26 points in the win. Robert Morris held the Blue Devils to just 39 points, the fewest points allowed in a NEC Tournament game at the time. 


Scoring Offense: CCSU (5th – 60.2), RMU (10th – 55.8)
Scoring Defense: CCSU (4th – 59.8), RMU (8th – 62.8)
Field Goal %: CCSU (4th - .385), RMU (10th - .355)
Field Goal % Defense: CCSU (1st - .357), RMU (10th - .395)
3 point Field Goal %: CCSU (10th - .271), RMU (5th - .312)


After a run of three straight seasons in the NEC Tournament semi-finals from 2009-2011, the Blue Devils just missed out on the eight team playoff party by a single game in 2012. Looking to make a return to the postseason for an eighth time in program’s Division I history, the Blue Devils can clinch a tournament spot with a victory on Saturday against Robert Morris. The Blue Devils 2013 regular season has been a year of runs so far. The team was swept in their conference opening PA road trip, only to return home to sweep all five games of a five game homestand. That was followed up by a five game losing streak, which led directly into a three game winning streak. Due to the winter storm, Central’s schedule underwent a massive reconstruction to fit the makeups in. The team recently was forced to complete a stretch of six games in 13 days. The Blue Devils are led by the Babe sisters, Jaclyn and Jessica. CCSU senior Jaclyn Babe leads the team, and is 5th in the NEC in scoring with 15.4 points, and had also contributed 7.0 rebounds per game, good for 6th in the league. Her sister Jessica averages 8.7 points and 3.9 assists per night. On the inside, Kirsten Daamen has put together a solid senior season, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds, while standing second in the NEC (behind RMU’s Anna Gailite) in blocked shots.

Last Monday, the Blue Devils saw their three game winning streak come to an abrupt end at the hands of their interstate rivals, the Sacred Heart Pioneers. CCSU was able to hang with the Pioneers for the much of the first half, leading 18-14 with eight minutes remaining until the break. However, SHU managed to close out the period on a 21-2 run, taking a 35-20 lead into the half. In the second half, CCSU was not able to cut the deficit back under double figures, and eventually would go down in defeat, 61-39. Leading scorer Jaclyn Babe was held to just four points on 2 for 13 shooting. The stifling Sacred Heart defense forced 34 Blue Devils turnovers, which led to 30 points. CCSU was limited to a season low 39 points on the evening.


The Colonials run of eight straight NEC Tournament appearances appears to be in jeopardy, as Robert Morris enters the final weekend looking to fight off two other teams for the eighth and final NEC playoff spot. RMU started the season 0-10, their longest winless drought to start a campaign under longtime head coach Sal Buscaglia. After returning only one starter from 2011-12, the Colonials suffered several key injuries to some of their few key returnees early in the season. Most recently, freshman guard Lou Mataly injured her knee in late January and hasn’t played since. RMU had a stretch in early February where they won three out of four games to even their conference record at 6-6, but their lack of depth has caught up to them. The Colonials rely on just a seven to eight player rotation, with their starters playing a huge bulk of the minutes, and thus gassed toward the crucial closing minutes of games. Freshman guard Randi Jackson, who was inserted into the lineup seven games into the season when Jasmine Tate went down for the year, played all 85 minutes of action last weekend, and has been on the floor for all but four minutes of the team’s last six games. Another freshman, Italian born Ashley Ravelli, has done her part as well. Ravelli was recently named the NEC Choice Hotels Rookie of the Week after averaging 16.5 points last weekend against the NEC’s two New Jersey institutions. Ravelli leads all freshmen in scoring, averaging 10.4 points per game, and has made 56 threes, third best in the conference.

On Monday night, the Colonials dropped their fourth straight game, a 60-48 loss to the Monmouth Hawks, in their home finale. RMU would come out strong, leading by as many as nine points in the first half, but MU managed to shoot themselves back into the game. In particular, Gaby Singer, who connected on six of seven shots from the floor in the first half. Singer would net 18 first half points and eventually finish with 21 on the night. Singer would also connect on seven three point baskets for MU. Two minutes into the second half, the Colonials managed to cut the deficit to as little as five points, but went the next eight minutes without a field goal, allowing the Hawks to improve their advantage on the scoreboard well into double figures and put the game out of reach. Artemis Spanou recorded 25 points and 18 rebounds, her nation's leading 24th double-double of the season, and her 22nd in a row. Ravelli was the only other RMU player in double figures, with 12 points. The trio of point guard Randi Jackson, Ravelli, and Spanou played a combined 117 minutes out of a possible combined 120.


This year’s CCSU team is tied with the 2001 club for the fifth most single season victories in program Division I history with 14. Under coach Beryl Piper, CCSU has recorded three of the program’s top six single season win totals…Over the last 10 seasons, every team that has won at least 8 NEC wins has qualified for the NEC Tournament. In the 13 seasons of an 18 game conference schedule, only one team, the 8-10 St. Francis Red Flash in 2001, has won 8 NEC games and failed to make the playoffs...Senior Jaclyn Babe transferred to CCSU following two seasons at Duquesne. Babe has scored 846 career points in a Blue Devil uniform and 1,037 overall in her entire collegiate basketball career...CCSU has played five overtime games in 2012-13, going 4-1 in those contests...Central is 11-1 when leading at halftime, and only 3-12 when trailing at intermission...The Blue Devils are 9-3 at home this year at Detrick Gym, including 6-1 against NEC opponents.

With two blocks against Monmouth on Monday night, senior Anna Gailite set the RMU single season block record with 55. Gailite also has recorded 164 career blocks, one shy of matching Kim Mong for the Colonials all-time career blocks record. Gailite will be matched up against Central’s Kirsten Daamen, who became her school’s all-time career blocks record holder last season as a junior...RMU junior Artemis Spanou became the first Colonial to record 400 rebounds in a single season. Spanou, the national leader in rebounding with a 15.4 average, earlier this season became just the second Colonial in school history to record 1,000 career points and rebounds. She stands third on the RMU career points list and second in career rebounds...Out of the ten players on the RMU roster, six hail from outside of the United States, including three out of the team's five starters.


With most of the NEC women’s basketball playoff seeds already sewn up, now the teams will spend the final weekend of the regular season jockeying for position in the NEC standings. Obviously, the top four is the place to be, as a top four seed ensures home court in the first round of tournament play. In the last two seasons where the NEC has featured the current “higher seed hosts” format, the home team has won 87.5% of the time in the quarterfinal round and 85.7% of the time including all three rounds. 

Saturday afternoon features two matchups pitting teams trying to secure home games against teams that are still trying to get into the field. First, the Bryant Bulldogs will host the St. Francis Red Flash in Smithfield, RI. St. Francis, coming off an incredible 100 point outing on Monday night against FDU, will be able to clinch a first round home game with a win. The 100-89 victory marked the first time since 2008 that a team reached the century mark in conference play. Senior guard Kelly Doogan had never scored more than 14 points in a single game, but with many of her teammates under the weather, Doogan lifted the team with a career high 35 points and equaled the team record with eight threes in the game. The Bulldogs, who are eligible for the NEC Tournament for the first time since completing their four year transition period from Division II, can move one step closer to locking up a playoff spot with a win of their own. The Bulldogs have managed to knock off the Red Flash in the only two prior NEC meetings at the Chace Athletic Center, in 2010 and 2012. 

The second key game will be Fairleigh Dickinson hosting Mount St. Mary’s. The Knights have been to the NEC Tournament four out of the last five years, but currently find themselves in a fight for the final playoff spot with Bryant and Robert Morris. Mount St. Mary’s hasn’t hosted a tournament game since the entire 2002 tournament quarterfinals and semifinal rounds were held at the Knott Arena. The Mount controls their own destiny as far as a first round home game this year is concerned. They can clinch a top four seed by sweeping FDU and Monmouth over the weekend in the Garden State.

Elsewhere, in a possible first round tournament preview, the Sacred Heart Pioneers visit the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. It was at Sacred Heart in early January, the first game of the conference season, where the Terriers began their resurgent season with a 56-47 upset victory over the reigning champions. St. Francis will once again try to earn their ninth conference victory of the season, which would tie the program record for most NEC wins in a single season, and clinch their first non-losing conference season since finishing 9-7 in 1987.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats will bring their perfect 16-0 conference record into Brooklyn this weekend with history directly in their sights. QU, who has already clinched the regular season title for the second time in program history, stands just two wins shy of becoming the sixth NEC women’s basketball team to run the table and record a perfect NEC regular season. To do that, they will have to get through LIU Brooklyn on Saturday and then the SFC Terriers on Monday night.

Finally, in West Long Branch, the Monmouth Hawks will honor their six seniors with ‘Senior Day’ festivities prior to their game against the Wagner Seahawks. The Hawks, in the hunt for a top four seed, will look to handle the upset-minded Seahawks, who come in following a victory over the Terriers last Monday night.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

STOP #7: QU 67, SHU 62

STOP #7: William H. Pitt Center, Fairfield, CT
Saturday, February 23, 2013 – 1pm

QUINNIPIAC BOBCATS 67 (24-2, 15-0), SHU PIONEERS 62 (18-8, 10-4)


It was legendary sportscaster Bob Costas who once claimed that “sports broadcasters don’t root for teams, they root for only two things - the travel arrangements that are the most convenient to them and great stories to tell.” While in the case of Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac the travel arrangements don’t necessarily apply, as the two schools are separated by only 23 miles of Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, there was certainly a great story being played out when these two teams collided on Saturday afternoon.

Ever since falling short in last year’s NEC Tournament semi-finals, the Quinnipiac Bobcats have been a team on a mission. The goal has been March 17th, not just St. Patrick’s Day, but more importantly, the date of the 2013 NEC Championship Game. The Bobcats have had their sights set on that day and that game since last season’s heartbreaking conclusion. The first step in reaching that goal, clinching a playoff spot, was already taken care of. The next step in that journey, clinching the regular season championship for just the second time in school history, was within reach - just one win away. In addition to the regular season crown, the Bobcats, unbeaten against conference foes for the last 351 days, could improve to a perfect 15-0 against the NEC. Only five other teams in NEC history had completed a season undefeated in conference play, and a win over their rivals from Fairfield would put QU within three games of joining that elite company.

On the other side was a Sacred Heart team who, despite their worst four game start since joining the NEC (1-3, including a 29 point loss at Quinnipiac in mid-January), was looking to serve a reminder that they are indeed the reigning league champions. The Pioneers had battled back from the early season hole and had come in winners of their last nine straight contests, jumping right back into the regular season title race themselves. With a chance to make a statement, hand their rivals their first NEC loss, and improve their own playoff situation, the opportunity was as sweet as it could get for Sacred Heart.

So as both teams took to the Pitt Center court on Saturday afternoon, the storylines were certainly there, and both teams came out with an intensity that matched the level of drama. Among the things that stood out from when these two teams met back in January was that QU forced the Pioneers into too many turnovers, and SHU shot the ball not particularly well. In fact, the Bobcats held Sacred Heart to their lowest scoring output of the season to that point, and held their leading scorer, Gabby Washington, to just two points on 1 for 14 shooting. On this day, the tide would be turned, as it was Quinnipiac who uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times in the game’s first 100 seconds.

The Pioneers would throw everything they had at the unbeaten Bobcats in the game’s first 20 minutes. In comparing the first half from this game to the game back in January, on this day the Pioneers were shooting 6% better from the floor, had nine less turnovers, and most importantly were winning by two, 33-31, whereas in January SHU trailed by 14 at intermission. In the first half from January, SHU also had a long six minute stretch without a field goal to close out the first half. On this day, SHU outscored QU 14-8 over the final seven minutes of the stanza to hold the lead. The Pioneers had done an exceptional job with their ball control and were holding their own on the defense end.
During their nine game win streak, Sacred Heart forced an average of 22.2 turnovers per game, and they had either won outright or tied the turnover battle in all nine games. However, it still stood as a surprise that SHU was winning the turnover battle at the break on this day, 11-6, because their opponents only sported the second best turnover margin in the entire nation at +7.96.

For the second half, I was eager to see how the Bobcats would respond. Yes, they have overcome second half deficits before and had gone on to cruise to victory by double figures, but now the stakes were much greater. For a team who has made their season goals crystal clear, the Bobcats had an obstacle in their way of accomplishing one of those goals, and the question was really ‘how bad do they want it?’ Well, we got the answer. QU came out of their locker room very determined, yet calm, making the proper adjustments. They cleaned up their possessions, got to their spots on defense, forced turnovers which led to a very effective transition game, maintained fresh legs due to their rotation, and made all the key plays in the end when it counted. 

The game featured nine ties and an amazing 15 lead changes, living up to the hype of a conference-championship deciding game. The key sequence was a 46 second span in the middle of the second half when the two teams traded the lead back and forth four times. After Gabby Washington made a layup to put the Pioneers in front, 50-49, Jasmine Martin answered with a jumper at the other end, just mere seconds later, to give the lead back to the Bobcats, 51-50. QU would not trail again. While the Bobcats would stretch their lead to as many as eight points, at 59-51, the Pioneers would not go away. Down eight with four minutes to go, SHU came up with a steal, leading to a Blair Koniszewski three that cut the deficit down to five.  

Sacred Heart would get to within three, 63-60, with just 37 seconds to spare, however Quinnipiac easily broke the pressure defense and found Brittany McQuain open under the basket for the dagger, an easy layup that would put the game out of reach. Quinnipiac had not played a conference game all year decided by fewer than three possessions until this one. Despite the tremendous challenge given by the reigning champions, the Bobcats managed to overcome SHU and hold on for a 67-62 win. As the final buzzer sounded, the on court championship clinching celebration for the Bobcats consisted of nothing more than smiles, high fives, and the traditional handshake line with their opponents. The business-like celebration perhaps showcased that Tricia Fabbri’s team is well aware that there are much bigger celebrations that can be achieved down the road.

Bobcat sophomore Jasmine Martin had an amazing shooting day. She made three three’s in the first half, en route to scoring 15 of her team high 22 points in the first 20 minutes. Brittany McQuain fell a rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds, while point guard Boo Abshire filled up the stat sheet with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. The Bobcats “Gold Rush” bench, who had actually outscored the starters in the prior game against Monmouth, only tallied 10 points, but still outscored the SHU bench 10-8. For Sacred Heart, Gabby Washington, who was held to 2 points against Quinnipiac back in January, finished with 22 to lead her team. Enjoli Bland, matched up against Camryn Warner and McQuain inside for much of the afternoon, held her own on the boards, bringing down 11 rebounds to go with nine points.

With the win, the Quinnipiac Bobcats improve to 24-2 and 15-0 in NEC play, wrapping up their second regular season title in program history (with the first coming back in 2008). Their 16 game overall win streak now stands as one of the top five longest active win streaks in the entire nation. Next up for QU is the opportunity to become just the sixth team to navigate their way through the NEC WBB regular season undefeated, should they win their final three games against Bryant, at LIU Brooklyn, and at St. Francis Brooklyn.

For Sacred Heart, despite the loss, they officially clinched a playoff spot following FDU’s overtime win against Robert Morris later in the afternoon. While the top spot is now out of reach, the Pioneers will look to regroup by clinching the two seed with a win on Monday night against Central Connecticut State. Finishing second ensures that SHU would be able to host at least a quarterfinal, and (should they advance) a semifinal at the Pitt Center.

As mentioned in my game preview, Quinnipiac is in the playoffs for a 13th straight season, and now Sacred Heart is in for a 14th straight year. With QU leaving the NEC for the MAAC at the end of the year, it is possible that these two teams have just played their last game against each other for quite a while.  However, it is also possible that these two teams are destined to match up once again in the NEC Tournament this year. It's tough to say for sure, as strange things tend to happen in March. While the Bobcats and Pioneers have established themselves as the top tier of the league, they will no doubt have a host of hungry challengers to get through, who will be ready and waiting to try and knock them off of that perch once the NEC Tournament commences. 



1. Jasmine Martin, QU – 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 3-5 3pt, 29 minutes

2. Gabrielle Washington, SHU – 22 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 38 minutes

3. Brittany McQuain, QU – 16 points, 9 rebounds, 31 minutes


With this being the final regular season home weekend for the Sacred Heart women’s basketball team, several celebrations took place at the William H. Pitt Center on Saturday afternoon. First, the Pioneers conducted their annual “Senior Day” festivities, honoring senior players Morgan Merriman and Kiley Evans. Evans is a 1,000 point scorer and Merriman is currently in the midst of the best season in her career, averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds. In addition, it was also “Alumni Day,” as former students returned to campus to take in the SHU basketball doubleheader (the men played later that afternoon against CCSU). Finally, Sacred Heart hosted an important “Newtown Community Day” which included a pregame clinic and an autograph session with SHU players for members of the Newtown, CT community. A portion of the proceeds for the games went to the Newtown Scholarship Association’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial Scholarship Fund. Prior to the game, both the Pioneers and the Bobcats wore special warm up shirts honoring Sandy Hook Elementary.  

One of the largest home crowds of the season, an announced total of 1,183, was on hand to witness the Pioneer/Bobcat showdown. The commissioner of the Northeast Conference Noreen Morris was also on hand, sitting courtside with NEC Hall of Famer and retiring SHU athletic director, Don Cook. Despite the defeat, the Pioneers have still won 26 out of their last 29 contests at the Pitt Center and are closing in on securing home court advantage for at least the first two rounds, if they can lock up the two seed. The SHU ladies finish up their regular season home schedule on Monday night against Central Connecticut State.


CCSU 76, BRYANT 66 – The Blue Devils improved to 8-7 in conference play following a key victory over the Bryant Bulldogs. It was perhaps the best offensive outing of the season for CCSU, as they shot a season high 50.8% from the field and recorded an assist on 18 of their 30 field goals. CCSU scored 43 points in the first half, and would go on to lead by as many as 18 points in the second half. Blue Devil sophomore guard Kaley Watras led the team with a career high 26 points.

ST. FRANCIS 69, MONMOUTH 56 – On ‘Senior Day’ in Loretto, the Red Flash ended a three game skid with a 13 point victory over the Monmouth Hawks. Both teams are now even at 9-6, good for third place in the NEC standings. St. Francis also clinched the tiebreaker edge by virtue of sweeping the Hawks this season. Alli Williams recorded her 20th double-double of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The SFU defense forced a season high 30 turnovers.

FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 64, ROBERT MORRIS 62 (OT) – With FDU down by two in the final minute of regulation, Erika Livermore connected on an equalizing basket in the paint with 56 seconds to go, eventually sending the game into overtime, knotted up at 61. In the bonus session, points were at a premium. FDU scored on a free throw from Brianna Thomas and then converted two more from the charity stripe by Amanda Andrades to lead 64-61 with 1:36 left. In the final sequence, RMU would make one of two free throws cutting the deficit to two, before sending Andrades back to the line. After missing the front end of a one and one, RMU would have one last chance. FDU Sophomore Tiffany Grant would block the potential game tying shot by Randi Jackson as time expired to seal the win for the Knights. Livermore came off the bench to lead the Knights with a double-double, 23 points and 11 rebounds. Fairleigh Dickinson won at the Sewell Center for the first time since the 2002-03 season. FDU and RMU are now tied for ninth place, with the Knights holding the season series tiebreaker.

LIU BROOKLYN 61, WAGNER 41 – The LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds avenged an earlier loss this season to the Seahawks with a 20 point victory on Saturday in Staten Island. LIU was led by senior Tamika Guz, who put together a career high 21 point outing, while junior Cleandra Roberts added 18 points in the win.

MOUNT 49, ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN 48 – In a game that featured 16 lead changes, Mount St. Mary’s survived a frantic finish to record a 49-48 win. With Mount clinging to a one point lead, with the basketball, and 36 seconds left, SFC forced a turnover on the inbounds pass. Jessica Kaufman missed a contested jumper with 14 seconds remaining that would have put the Terriers back in front. After a Mount missed layup, the Terriers would have one last chance, but simply ran out of time. Kaufman brought down the rebound, but in the scramble to get the ball up the floor, the Terriers would only manage to get off a half court heave at the buzzer that fell well short of the target. The Mount’s Jacqueline Brewer had quite the evening. Brewer started things off by singing the national anthem, and then followed up by hitting five three pointers, for a team high 15 points.


March Madness gets into gear next weekend, as the 2013 Northeast Conference women’s basketball regular season schedule wraps up with playoff spots and playoff seeding still hanging in the balance. For our final week coverage, the NEC WBB Road Trip Blog will be making not just one, but two stops. First, on Saturday afternoon, we will be at a game site still TBD for our usual coverage. Then on Monday night, we will finish up the regular season in West Long Branch for the Monmouth/Mount game. All of the league tiebreaker information that you will need to know going into the finale will be posted here on the blog next Sunday afternoon in a handy-dandy, color coded chart. Plus we will have the first look, previewing the four NEC Tournament quarterfinal matchups, once they are set and announced next Monday night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

STOP #7: William H. Pitt Center, Fairfield, CT
Saturday, February 23, 2013 – 1pm

 Quinnipiac Bobcats (23-2, 14-0) at Sacred Heart Pioneers (18-7, 10-3)

Watch on NEC Front Row  
QU Game Notes 

SHU Game Notes

In a showdown between the top two teams from last year’s NEC standings, and the two teams currently topping this year’s standings, the Sacred Heart Pioneers host the Quinnipiac Bobcats on Saturday afternoon at the Pitt Center. SHU and QU are the two hottest teams going right now in the Northeast Conference, with the Pioneers riding a nine game win streak, and the Bobcats winning each of their last 15. The game will also have a little extra added sizzle to it by the fact that Quinnipiac can clinch the program’s second ever regular season championship with a victory. To do that, they’ll have to get past last year’s regular season champion, the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who can spoil their rival’s perfect conference regular season record with a win, and move a step closer to clinching a playoff spot of their own.

We already know that the 2013 NEC regular season championship can only be won by one of these two schools, and Saturday’s game will be a major factor in deciding it. How important is it to be the #1 seed come tournament time? In NEC women’s basketball history, top seeds have advanced to the championship game 22 out of 26 times (or 84.6%), and top seeds have walked away with the championship trophy in 15 of the previous 26 tournaments (57.7%). While #1 doesn’t guarantee anything, history shows that being the top seed certainly increases your chances to be ‘dancing’ come March. We will see on Saturday if Quinnipiac can make good on their first opportunity to wrap things up, or if Sacred Heart can pull off the upset and extend the race for the top spot down to the wire.


In what may be the last ever Northeast Conference meeting between these two Nutmeg State rivals, separated by just about 23 miles of Merritt Parkway, Saturday marks the 61st all-time encounter. Sacred Heart leads the all-time series 34-26. The history between these two programs goes back to 1976, in their Division II days, and has continued on since each school joined the NEC in the late 90’s, one year apart. The Pioneers are 11-1 all-time against Quinnipiac at home, with the Bobcats lone victory coming just last January. This season, they met up in Hamden back on January 12th, with the Bobcats earning a convincing 74-45 victory. Brittney McQuain recorded a double-double on that afternoon with 21 points and 10 rebounds. (Check out my blog recap of that game here). This time the Pioneers will need to shoot much better and avoid costly turnovers, they committed a season high 28 the first time around against QU.

Ironically, while Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac are two of the most frequent participants in the NEC Women’s Basketball Championships, their paths have very rarely crossed. Quinnipiac has already clinched a spot in the 2013 NEC postseason, ensuring appearances in 13 straight NEC Tournaments and 14 overall. Since joining D1, the Bobcats have appeared in the NEC playoffs all but one season (2000). Sacred Heart has appeared in the NEC Tournament 13 straight times, reaching at least the semis in eight of their previous 13 trips, and has not ever finished lower than third. During their respective playoff appearance streaks, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart’s paths have only crossed twice, in a 2002 quarterfinal game won by Sacred Heart, and, perhaps their most memorable matchup, the 2006 NEC Championship Game. On that day, Amanda Pape led the Pioneers with a game high 25 points, and completed a double-double with 14 rebounds, to earn Tournament MVP honors. The Pioneers took home their first ever tournament title with a 69-65 victory.


Scoring Offense: SHU (3rd – 63.2), QU (1st – 72.1)
Scoring Defense: SHU (1st – 55.9), QU (2nd – 58.2)
Field Goal %: SHU (4th - .385), QU (1st - .400)
Field Goal % Defense: SHU (3rd - .370), QU (2nd - .359)
3 point Field Goal %: SHU (7th - .302), QU (1st - .356)


The Sacred Heart Pioneers kept rolling along last weekend, earning a sweep of the NEC’s Keystone State clubs at home. After a 1-3 start, their worst since joining the Northeast Conference, the reigning NEC champs have won each of the last nine games to take over sole possession of second place in the conference standings. Over the last 50 days, since a 29 point loss to the Bobcats and an overtime loss to in-state rival CCSU on the weekend of January 12th, the Pioneers haven’t tasted defeat. The current win streak is Sacred Heart’s longest since they won 21 straight games to go 18-0 in the NEC and win the conference championship in 2009. SHU can clinch a playoff spot on Saturday with a win and some outside help.

The nine game win streak started back on January 19th with a road win on NEC-TV against the St. Francis Red Flash. On Monday night, the Pioneers once again handled SFU, with an 81-56 victory. Last year’s NEC Tournament MVP Ericka Norman recorded her first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 assists. The Pioneers fielded two 20 point scorers for the first time since December 2011, with senior Kiley Evans leading the way with 23 points and sophomore Gabrielle Washington adding 22. The Pioneers shot an incredible 51.7% from the floor on the evening. The 81 points SHU put up on the scoreboard marked a season high.  

All season long the mission and the focus for the Quinnipiac Bobcats has been March 17th, the date of the 2013 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship Game. The Bobcats, who have only appeared in one championship game in program history, can take another step toward making that mission a reality by clinching the regular season title with a win on Saturday. QU has only won the NEC regular season title once, in 2008, when they finished a league best 25-6 and 16-2 in conference play, but lost in the semi-final round of the conference tournament to LIU Brooklyn. It should be noted though that in 2008, the first two rounds were held at LIU, so despite being the higher seed, there was no real advantage for the Bobcats. This season, should QU clinch the league’s top spot, they will be assured of home NEC playoff games at the TD Bank Sports Center for as long as they are still alive.

At 14-0 in conference play, the Bobcats are just four wins shy of becoming the sixth NEC team to record a perfect regular season, and the first since the 2009 Sacred Heart Pioneers. Four previous times in NEC history a team has run the table in the regular season and won the NEC championship (see chart below). For QU, it has been 354 days since they last tasted defeat against a NEC opponent, in last year’s conference tournament semi-finals, against the Monmouth Hawks.

On Wednesday night, the Bobcats gained a small measure of revenge by defeating the Hawks 72-45. QU extended the nation’s fifth longest win streak to 15 games, as they put together a dominant defensive effort. Monmouth turned the ball over 27 times, leading to 33 Bobcat points. Monmouth was also held to just 32.7% shooting from the floor. Quinnipiac’s “Gold Rush” also stole the show, contributing 39 points. In fact, the QU bench outscored their starting five, 39-33. The Bobcats also welcomed back sophomore forward Samantha Guastella, who had missed the previous 11 games due to injury. Guastella, who was a starter until she went down with the injury, only adds another weapon to what may already be the deepest team in NEC history. 


Sacred Heart is an amazing 11-1 at the Pitt Center in 2012-13, and 26-2 at home since the start of last season…There will be several celebrations taking place at the Pitt Center on Saturday afternoon. First, SHU will be conducting special “Senior Day” ceremonies, honoring seniors Morgan Merriman and Kiley Evans prior to the game. It will also be “Alumni Day” as the Pioneers will welcome back former students. Finally, Sacred Heart will also be hosting “Newtown Community Day” which includes a clinic and autograph session with SHU men and women student athletes and members of the Newtown, CT community. A portion of the proceeds for the game will benefit the Newtown Scholarship Association’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Memorial Scholarship Fund…Both head coaches are not just the best in their respective program’s history, they are also the top two winningest head coaches NEC history. Ed Swanson is in his 23rd season leading the Pioneers and has amassed over 400 career wins. Tricia Fabbri is in her 18th year with Quinnipiac and is the school’s all-time winningest head coach...One of the key reasons for SHU’s nine game winning streak has been the solid play of their defense. Over the last nine games, the Pioneers are only allowing an average of 50.6 points and are forcing an average of 22.2 turnovers per game. SHU has either won or tied the turnover battle in each game during their current streak.

The Bobcats aren’t just beating all NEC challengers this year, they are doing it rather convincingly. Quinnipiac’s margin of victory in conference games is 17.4 points. Only three of their NEC games have been decided by single digits, and no games have been decided by two possessions or less…With four regular season games and postseason play still to come, QU stands two wins shy of matching their 2008 team Division 1 wins record of 25 in a single season. The NEC record for wins in a single season was set by the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who won 26 games in 2006, and again last year…Quinnipiac and the Big East’s UConn Huskies are the only two loss teams in all of New England…The Bobcats are tied with the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles for the fifth longest active win streak in the nation at 15 games…In this week’s College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 Poll, the Bobcats ranked ninth, their highest showing since joining Division I…QU stands second in the country in turnover margin with a + 7.96, just behind national leader Kentucky. The Bobcats have forced 578 turnovers on the season, compared to giving the ball away only 366 times. The team also ranks 13th in the nation in steals per game, and senior Felicia Barron ranks seventh in the nation individually in steals per game.


With just two weeks remaining in the Northeast Conference’s regular season, there are 10 teams still mathematically alive, fighting for eight exclusive reservations into the NEC playoff party. Of course, one ticket, the Quinnipiac Bobcats, has already been punched, leaving seven spots still unclaimed. Five of the six games on the Saturday schedule will have a major impact on the playoff picture and could result in some more teams cementing their spot into the NEC’s ‘March Madness.’  

While the NEC’s top two teams meet in Hamden, the teams currently placed at third and fourth in the standings will collide in Loretto, PA. The Monmouth Hawks hold a slim one game lead over the St. Francis Red Flash for third place. A Monmouth win and some outside help could wrap up a playoff spot for the Hawks before the day is done. However, a Red Flash win ties them with the Hawks and would also give them the 2013 series sweep, and thus the head to head tiebreaker advantage. Monmouth, the two-time reigning NEC runners up, had won four straight before their defeat at the hands of the Bobcats on Wednesday night. St. Francis is looking to shake off a three game slide, and are hoping that home cooking will do the trick. The Flash have played five of their six February games, so far, on the road. Saturday’s game at DeGol Arena will be the first home game in two weeks and just the second in the last four weeks.

The teams currently sitting at fourth through seventh place are separated by just one game in the loss column, meaning that one good or one bad weekend by a team could result in a significant change in the standings. That extreme makeover could very well take place this weekend as all of those teams, jammed right next each other in the standings, meet in head to head action on Saturday. 

First, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers travel down to Maryland to meet Mount St. Mary’s. The Terriers are tied for fourth, while the Mount is just one game back, in a tie for sixth. The Mount came away with a 49-45 victory in Brooklyn back in mid-January. The game was tied in the final minute before Tara Lonergan delivered the game winning layup with 35 seconds to spare. After a SFC miss, Selina Mann tacked on the game-clinching free throws. A Mount win on Saturday would tie them with St. Francis, give them the head to head tiebreaker, and could put them back in the discussion to possibly finish in the top four and host a first round tournament game. A Terrier win would give them 9 conference wins, clinching their first winning NEC regular season since going 9-7 in 1987, the first year of NEC women’s basketball. A SFC victory would also inch them closer to clinching their first playoff spot since 2008. The highest the Terriers have ever been seeded was a five seed, in 1987 and 1998.

Then in Moon Township, two teams currently on the outside looking in of the top eight, will look to boost their playoff hopes as the Robert Morris Colonials host the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. A Knights loss would put their postseason aspirations on extreme life support, while the Colonials current run of eight straight years in the playoffs, would be in danger should they go down in defeat. FDU beat Robert Morris mid-January in the Garden State, so a Knights win would clinch them the head to head tiebreaker, giving RMU another hurdle to overcome.

In Rhode Island, the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils and the Bryant Bulldogs will meet for the second time this year, with just a half game separating the two, and separating sixth place from eighth. Finally, the NEC’s bottom two teams will meet in Staten Island as Wagner hosts LIU-Brooklyn. The Seahawks lone conference win this year came back on January 14th, 74-70, at the hands of the Blackbirds.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

STOP #6: SHU 59, RMU 52

STOP #6: William H. Pitt Center, Fairfield, CT
Saturday, February 17, 2013 - 1pm

SACRED HEART PIONEERS 59 (17-7, 9-3), RMU COLONIALS 52 (7-17, 6-7)


After a week in which winter storm Nemo wracked havoc on the Northeast Conference women’s basketball schedule, things returned to normal on Saturday with a full slate of action. The schedule was highlighted by a matchup in Fairfield, CT, featuring two of the perennially strong programs in the league, the Sacred Heart Pioneers and the Robert Morris Colonials. Finding a place in their respective trophy cases for championship hardware has been not been a problem for the Pioneers and Colonials, who have combined to win five out of the last seven NEC Tournament titles. Both teams have high aspirations of returning to the top again this year, but didn’t exactly get off to the best of head starts. SHU began the year 1-3 in conference play before rolling off a seven game win streak to rise up to second place in the standings. RMU had to endure early injuries and a brutal non-conference schedule before rallying to get back even in conference play at 6-6, and right back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Once the ball was tipped, Robert Morris appeared to be out of sync in the early going, committing turnovers on their first three possessions. In fact, in the game’s first four minutes the Colonials already had turned the ball over six times. With the game tied at six, the Pioneers went off on a 10-2 run, led by back to back threes, from Blair Koniszewski and Katie Shepard, to take a 16-8 advantage.

RMU would then respond with a 9-2 run of their own, taking the lead for the first time, 19-18, on an Anna Gailite jumper with 4:22 left to play in the half. The Colonials would go on to lead at the break, 25-23, forcing the Pioneers to have to do something they had only done once all season, and that was come back to win a game after trailing at halftime. SHU was 1-4 when trailing at the break, ironically, that one victory came back on January 21st, at Robert Morris. The Colonials led by ten at halftime on that afternoon, but the Pioneers would storm back for the win, one of the signature wins that sparked their current winning streak.

The Pioneers, who are not one of the better shooting teams in the NEC (only ranking seventh in field goal percentage), shot 30% from the floor in the first half, but did manage to take advantage of the Colonial miscues. Sacred Heart would go on to pour in 14 points off of 17 first half Robert Morris turnovers.

In the second half, the Pioneers would prove to just have too much firepower for RMU to handle. Sacred Heart, the number one scoring defense in the NEC and the team that fields the conference’s top theft artist on its roster, played a stellar defensive game. On two particular instances in the second half, SHU was able to force some incredible turnovers. First, three minutes into the second half with RMU holding a one point lead, Artemis Spanou pulled down a routine rebound. The nation’s leading rebounder bear hugged the ball and looked up to see who to throw the outlet pass to, up the court. However, never giving up on the play, Gabby Washington came unnoticed from behind, pickpocketed the ball, then drove to the basket, drawing a foul. Washington would make both free throws to give SHU back the lead.

Later on, at the midway point of the second half, Spanou was on offense, aggressively backing her way to the basket from the left side. Ericka Norman came from behind and reached her arm in, trying to take the ball away as both Norman and Spanou hit the floor. On the way down, Norman must have gotten hit in the eye, however she stayed with the play, with her arm on the ball, and forced a tie-up the resulted in a Sacred Heart possession via the possession arrow. It was a combination of those kinds of defensive plays, making the big shots when they needed to at the end, and converting from the free throw line that would lead the Pioneers toward the finish line on the afternoon. Sacred Heart shot 45.8% from the floor in the second half, forced 12 turnovers while only committing four, and converted 14 of 16 attempts from the charity stripe. The Colonials, who played with a short bench and only saw seven players take the court, had no answer. With SHU up five in the final 38 seconds, Washington delivered the dagger. On a one on one transition opportunity against Gailite, Washington drove to the basket, absorbed a foul, and converted the layup. Although she would miss the ensuing free throw, the final blow was delivered, as the Pioneers extended their winning streak to eight, 59-52.

Gabby Washington, who ranks fourth in the conference in points per game, led the Pioneers with 19 points and an incredible six steals. Also impressive, was the play of point guard Ericka Norman. The junior from Chino Hills, CA controlled the game beautifully, adding 8 points and 7 assists. Both players were a major part of the defensive effort that forced 29 RMU turnovers, leading to 25 points off turnovers.

Artemis Spanou, the nation’s leading rebounder and the NEC’s leading scorer, recorded her 19th straight double-double and 21st double-double of the season, with a game high 20 points and 13 rebounds. However, RMU was hampered by her nine turnovers. As mentioned, she had the ball taken from behind on a couple of crucial second half possessions, and committed several traveling violations, an Achilles heel to her game that has been present since she was a freshman.  Spanou will go into her next game on Monday afternoon against Quinnipiac just nine rebounds shy of joining Elise James as the only two players in Colonial history with 1,000 career points and rebounds.

Sacred Heart won their sixth straight game against the Colonials, and their eighth straight game overall this season. They will look to keep things rolling on Monday night against the St. Francis Red Flash. SHU leads Monmouth by one game for second place in the conference standings, plus the Pioneers hold the head to head tiebreaker edge. They are also two games ahead of the Flash, having handed SFU their first conference loss of the season back in Loretto on January 19th. Robert Morris will look to rebound when they visit the unbeaten Bobcats on a President’s Day matinee on Monday afternoon. At the moment, the Colonials stand alone, in sole possession of seventh place. If RMU is going to qualify for the NEC postseason for a ninth straight March, it is certainly going to be a fight to the finish with every game down the stretch a “must win” and holding the utmost importance.
Box Score
1. Gabby Washington, SHU – 19 points, 5 rebounds, 6 steals, 9-10 FT, 36 minutes
2. Ericka Norman, SHU – 8 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 30 minutes
3. Morgan Merriman, SHU – 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, block, 38 minutes
The Pioneers celebrated “Think Pink Day” at the William H. Pitt Center, raising awareness for breast cancer research. Both teams wore pink warm-up shirts and pink shoe laces, and even the referees got into the fun, sporting pink whistles. Also, Sacred Heart celebrated their back to back NEC Championship baseball team, as Nick Giaquinto’s squad received their championship rings during a halftime ceremony. SHU was selected fourth in the preseason coaches’ poll and will begin their 2013 campaign on March 1st at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Saturday’s game was the second of a five game homestand for the Pioneers. SHU has fared very well on their home court over the last two seasons, winning 25 out of their last 27 outings, the best home record in Northeast Conference women’s basketball during that span. Sacred Heart will host St. Francis on Monday, and Quinnipiac and Central next weekend to round out their regular season home slate. The team finishes the regular year with three straight road games. SHU will then hope to earn a playoff seed high enough to ensure returning to the friendly confines of the Pitt Center for some postseason contests.
QUINNIPIAC 61, ST. FRANCIS 50 – The Bobcats clinched their 13th straight NEC playoff berth and improved to a perfect 12-0 in conference play, with a come from behind victory over SFU. The Flash led by as many as 10 points, and held a 41-35 lead with just under 11 minutes to go. But the Bobcats would execute a 15-0 run over the course of the next five minutes to pull away for the win. Felicia Barron led all scorers with 18 points, Jasmine Martin added 17, and Brittany McQuain recorded a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds. QU swept the Red Flash for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
MONMOUTH 51, ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN 47 – On “Play 4 Kay Day” at the MAC, the Hawks raised money for breast cancer awareness and celebrated a crucial win over the Terriers. The game would be a tight battle all the way through, featuring five ties and nine lead changes. Chevy Paalvast led the Hawks with 14 points and Jessica Kaufman would lead all scorers with 18 points for the Terriers. 
MOUNT 50, CCSU 48 – The Mount managed to survive a late Blue Devil charge and hold on for a 50-48 victory on Saturday afternoon. Mount seemingly controlled the game, up 50-32 with 7:26 remaining in regulation. However, CCSU would go on a 15-0 run, getting to within 50-48 on a Jessica Babe basket with 31 seconds left. After Selina Mann missed a free throw, Central would have a chance to tie, but Jaclyn Babe’s jumper at the buzzer missed the mark. During the game, the Mountaineers honored 2013 NEC Hall of Fame inductee, Vanessa Blair.
BRYANT 71, WAGNER 53 – After starting the 2013 conference season 0-5, the Bulldogs continued to dig themselves out of that early hole and make a push toward the postseason with a 71-53 victory over Wagner. Bryant has won five out of their last seven games. Naana Ankoma-Mensa picked up her 14th double-double of the season, recording 12 points and 15 rebounds. Ankoma-Mensa was joined in double figures scoring by four other teammates, Katie Whittington with 12, Danielle Douglas with 11, and Courtney Schissler and Breanna Rucker who netted 10 points apiece.
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 64, LIU BROOKLYN 63 – In a thrilling finish, the FDU Knights ended a three game slide with a 64-63 win in Brooklyn over the Blackbirds. With LIU up by two, they were forced into a shot clock violation turnover with 29.8 seconds remaining. FDU then put the ball in the hands of Ericka Livermore, who drove to the basket and scored the tying layup in the process of getting fouled. Livermore would convert the three point play from the free throw line to give the Knights a one point edge with seven seconds to spare. With just one second showing on the clock, Amanda Andrades was called for a foul, but LIU’s Kelly Robinson would miss the front end of a one-and-one to allow Fairleigh Dickinson to come away with the win. Livermore led all scorers with 29 points.
Next Saturday the NEC Women’s Basketball Road Trip returns to the Pitt Center for a crucial, late season showdown between the top two teams in the NEC, the Quinnipiac Bobcats and Sacred Heart Pioneers. Earlier this season we were at the TD Bank Center in Hamden, CT for a Road Trip Blog visit when the Bobcats came away with a 74-45 victory over their rivals from down the Merritt. Since then, QU has maintained their unblemished conference record, continuing their march towards history and solidifying their status amongst some of the greatest NEC women’s basketball teams of all time. Not to be overlooked, the Pioneers have found a bunch of momentum as well, perhaps regaining some of their championship spark from a year ago. SHU has won eight straight, and have taken over sole possession of second place in the conference standings. The eight game winning streak is their longest since they became the last team to finish with a perfect 18-0 NEC regular season record back in 2009. If both teams continue their streaks into Saturday afternoon, the Bobcats would be playing to clinch their second regular season title in program history.
In addition to the top two teams meeting head to head next Saturday, the third and fourth best teams in the NEC standings will face off as well. The Monmouth Hawks will travel out to Loretto, PA to visit the St. Francis Red Flash, in a rematch of a game from January 14th that the Flash won 63-49. The Hawks, a veteran team who have fallen in the NEC Championship Game each of the last two seasons, are starting to play exceptionally well at exactly the right time, winning four out of their last five games and their last three straight. The Red Flash will be looking forward to finally getting a chance to take their home court again, as SFU has only played one home game in the month of February so far. The Flash are 2-3 this month overall, with just a 1-3 record away from home.
Spots five through 10 in the NEC standings include six teams separated by just two games. As the NEC schedule would have it, the six teams occupying those spots will be paired up against each other next week. Next Saturday afternoon it will be the Bryant Bulldogs hosting the CCSU Blue Devils, Robert Morris will take on Fairleigh Dickinson, and Mount St. Mary’s will welcome in St. Francis Brooklyn. Every one of the remaining games over the last two weeks of the season will be crucial as only the top eight make the conference tournament.