Monday, February 20, 2012

Getting Back on Track (Recap of Loyola - Iona Women's Basketball Game)

When this season started, Coach Tony Bozzella and the Iona Gaels women's team played their usual strong non conference schedule. They started out winning three of their first four games with their only loss to Big East member Villanova in the championship game of the Iona Invitational.  Then they lost six of their next seven games out of conference, including a loss at nationally ranked Rutgers.

In that game against the Scarlet Knights, Iona's best player, Kristina Ford, went down with a knee injury.  Things looked bleak for the Gaels, as Ford was going to be out for a significant period of time.  They lost their next game, a close 62-58 game at Fairfield, who is currently second in the MAAC.  

But after that loss to the Stags, the Gaels found themselves.  Thanks to freshmen Aleesha Powell and Damika Martinez, who might just be one of the top freshmen players in the country, Iona would win six of their next seven games.   I was at the game against Manhattan at the Hynes Center, where the Gaels were down 22-11 early.  Using a full court press, they rallied and defeated the Jaspers 65-60.  It seemed like that Iona had banded together to makeup for the loss of Ford, a preseason All First Team MAAC player.

Ford actually came back in time for their wins over Saint Peter's and Canisius, another game that I was in attendance for at the Hynes Center.  In that game, the Gaels were up by twenty, 59-39, before the Golden Griffs started hitting long range threes to cut the lead to six before Iona eventually won 77-67.  After that game, the Gaels were in third in the MAAC with a 6-2 record in conference.  Things were looking up for them.

Then came the big weekend for Iona as they had home contests vs. Marist and Fairfield, the top two teams in the conference.   The Gaels came out strong and held their own early on against the Red Foxes.  The score was 13-12 Marist after eight minutes.  But the Red Foxes went on a 13-0 run over a four minute span and went up 26-12 on the Gaels.  Iona played Marist even the rest of the way but couldn't get closer than eight the rest of the way, losing 72-61.

It was the start of a seven game losing streak for the Gaels.  They played the Stags very close for twenty five minutes, as they were only down three, 45-42 with fifteen minutes left in the game.  But Fairfield went on to win 78-64.   The games that followed were for the most part close losses.  They had large second half leads at Loyola Maryland and at Rider, but both games slipped away from them.  

Heading into the game vs. Loyola, Iona was now 6-9 in conference and in danger of having to play the first day of the MAAC Tournament.   That's a death sentence for any team; the Gaels would have to play four games in four days to have a chance to win the MAAC championship.  Knowing my CAA Tournament history from the past ten years, it's basically a no-win scenario for Iona.

With that scenario in the backdrop, the Gaels needed to end their losing streak yesterday vs. the Greyhounds.  Loyola entered the game in third place in the MAAC with a 9-6 conference record.  They were looking to clinch a first round bye in the MAAC tournament with a win. 

I guess due to the magnitude of the game for both teams,  Iona and Loyola struggled offensively out of the gate.   After ten minutes, the score was tied at six.   Finally, the teams started hitting their shots.  The Greyhounds took a 15-12 lead on two consecutive baskets by Miriam McKenzie, who had nineteen points on the day.

But the Gaels would respond with a 15-4 run to end the half.   Ford and Powell would combine for eleven of the fifteen points.  Iona would go to the half with a 27-19 lead, their first lead at the half at home since their win over Canisius.

I had an unique honor at halftime.  When I got to the Hynes Center, I received a text from Nick Guerriero, the play by play announcer for the Iona women's team.  Nick asked me if I wanted to be the halftime interview.  I gladly said yes.  Nick asked some terrific questions about the 800 Games Project that I am a part of at MidMajority.Com, BracketBusters, the CAA, Iona, the NEC, women's basketball (I talked about seeing Elena Delle Donne vs. Hofstra Thursday night) and New York City Metro Area basketball.   It was my first ever radio interview on hoops and it was a lot of fun.  Thank you, Nick!

The second half started with Iona and Loyola trading baskets and the Gaels up 31-24.  Then Martinez buried a three to start a thirteen point Iona run.  She would score nine straight points for the Gaels.  The score was now 44-24 with a little less than fifteen minutes left.   

But basketball will always be a game of runs. So while I took my younger son Jonathan to the restroom,  the Greyhounds responded with a 17-7 run.   As I entered back into the gym,  Loyola was only down ten, 51-41 with a little less than nine minutes left.

Iona kept the lead in double digits for the most part and with about ninety seconds left, they were up 64-52.  But the Greyhounds forced a few turnovers and outscored the Gaels 8-2 to cut the lead to 66-60 with forty three seconds left.  But Iona hit their last eight free throws (including the two points in Loyola's mini run) to win the game 72-65. 

It was a balanced attack for Iona.  Martinez had seventeen points, nine of which came from the foul line.  Powell had sixteen points and Bacic had twelve points.  But Ford perhaps had the most impressive game for the Gaels with fourteen points and eleven rebounds.  She was very aggressive driving to the hole during the game, which I hadn't seen since prior to her knee injury.  Iona also had a terrific day at the charity stripe, hitting twenty of their twenty three free throw attempts.

As my older son Matthew finally got his wish to play on the Hynes Center court, the Gaels finally had broken their losing streak.  Now they can end the regular season on a high note.  Their next game won't be easy by any means, as they face Marist, the six time defending MAAC champion up in Poughkeepsie. I know how loud it can be at the McCann Center.  Then they finish the season at home hosting Saint Peter's.   Their season has been a stretch of streaks, both winning and losing streaks.  Perhaps there's one more winning streak to be started.

No comments:

Post a Comment