As many of you know, I write many articles about the Iona Lady Gaels and I have been remiss on writing about them lately. Hopefully this makes up for that mistake.
When you have a young team with no seniors and only one junior starter, chances are your team is going to experience ups and downs. Such is the case with the Iona Lady Gaels. The Lady Gaels started the season winning eight of their first ten, including an impressive 54-44 road win over West Virginia, who had made the NCAA tournament the two previous seasons. Then a road loss at highly ranked Purdue started a streak where the Lady Gaels would lose seven of their last nine games including five of their last six games in conference.
The problem why the Gaels have been struggling has been relatively simple, lack of scoring. The shooting percentage for the Lady Gaels has been down from 41 percent last season to 38 percent this season. This maybe due in large part to the loss of one player they were counting on this season. Senior forward Anna McLean was out for the year prior to the season starting due to health reasons. McLean led the Lady Gaels last season in field goal percentage at 52.6 percent. Her presence often forced opposing teams to double up on her leaving other teammates open for easy baskets.
Last year, the Lady Gaels had four players in double figure scoring with McClean being the third leading scorer. This year, the Lady Gaels have only three players in double figures. Several players are down in field goal percentage. For example, Anda Ivkovic, the leading scorer for the Gaels, is shooting 41 percent as opposed to 48 percent last season. Thus the loss of an inside force such as McLean, results in other players, like Ivkovic to try to do more than they should.
However, it has opened up opportunities for freshmen such as Kristina Ford. Ford is third in scoring for the Gaels at about 11 points per game shooting 40 percent from the field. Ford had a career high 24 points on 9 of 16 shooting as the Lady Gaels ended their MAAC losing streak downing Loyola Maryland 79-55 last night in New Rochelle.
Down 19-15 early, the Lady Gaels went on a 16-3 run to go up 31-22 and the Lady Gaels never looked back. In fact, up 46-41 in the second half, the Lady Gaels went on a 31-6 run shooting 45 percent in the second half. Ford had help as Thazina Cook had 17 points, Naeemah Ricketts added 12 and Tomica Bacic chipped in 11. Iona shot 40 percent from the field which is the only the second time in their past ten games they have shot 40 percent or more (the other, a 68-64 win over San Francisco). The only bad note is that sophomore forward and leading scorerIvkovic had to be taken to the hospital during the game with dehydration. Her status for Sunday's game is uncertain.
I spoke briefly with coach Tony Bozzella a few days prior to their win over Loyola and asked him about his team's struggles. He said succinctly "We are going to battle through and will be better for it". After turning around a perennial losing program and leading it to two straight WNIT seasons, I have no reason to doubt him.
By the way, if you follow women's college basketball, you may have noticed that Marist lost to Fairfield in overtime yesterday on the Red Foxes' home court. Marist had their 35 MAAC conference game winning streak snapped by the Stags. Guess who gave the the Stags their only two losses so far this season in the MAAC. Yup, that's right, the Lady Gaels. The Gaels are fifth in the MAAC at 4-5 and can get back to .500 with a win over the Purple Eagles. I will be there to watch.