Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Women's Patriot League Semifinal: American
But for the Lady Hawks, the march for a three-peat continues tonight at home in a matchup that most might have pegged in the preseason for the finals, not the semifinals.
The red-hot Lady Hawks, winners of ten straight, look to advance to the Patriot League championship game for the third straight year. And also - just like last weekend's quarterfinal match vs. Lafayette - it allows the Lady Hawks to once again avenge one of their toughest - and lopsided - home losses in recent memory during the regular season. (more)
The theme for Lehigh's run through the Patriot League title so far seems to be one of "revenge". If both top seeds Lehigh and Navy win tonight, it's conceivable that the Lady Hawks will be able to avenge three of their toughest conference losses of the year.
The road to redemption started last Saturday night, when Lehigh didn't let up on the Lady Leopards in an 82-58 mauling of Lafayette in the first round.
At the site of their 57-54 regular-season loss - their last recorded loss on the year - Lehigh showed how different a team they had become in March. F/C Alexa Williams put up a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds), while F Courtney Dentler (16 points, 6 rebounds) and (unsurprisingly) G Erica Prosser (17 points, 5 assists) also played stellar games for the Mountain Hawks.
In Lehigh's regular-season loss, Lafayette chipped away at a similar deficit as Lehigh had one of bad half of shooting (8 for 28). This time, up 40-26 at halftime, the Lady Hawks didn't let up - and connected on 13 of 23 shots, good for 56 1/2 % from the field.
"Ever since the 1-4 start, I really think the seniors have stepped up and played a huge role in our success," said Lehigh coach Sue Troyan. "They have put a lot of self-imposed pressure on themselves."
With their win and American's 72-44 crushing of Holy Cross, it sets up another matchup with No. 3-seeded American this evening. And the last time that American came to Stabler, it ended badly for the Lady Hawks with a 64-51 drubbing.
The genesis of that regular-season loss was similar to the Lafayette defeat: after going into halftime tied at 32, Lehigh's had one of the all-time terrible shooting halves (6 for 28). The Lady Eagles' biggest star, F Liz Leer, carved the Mountain Hawks with 25 points, 7 boards, and 3 assists - and connecting on three 3-pointers, too. C Stephanie Anya's 13 boards and G Lisa Strack's 9 points and 6 boards also were large factors in Lehigh's defeat.
American's great performance this year was a bit surprising since star forward F Michelle Kirk was lost early in the year, but as this Washington Post article shows, the seniors came together in a big way.
"Our upperclassmen really stepped up and said: 'Hey, it's not going to be this way. We're getting it fixed. We're righting the ship,' " American Coach Matt Corkery said. "I think it just came down to the kids having a lot of pride in the program. The way we got that first win in Texas was just we played really hard. It was our third game in three days. The kids were fatigued. It was not easy, but we showed a lot of toughness, mentally and physically, and that was a starting place."
"We all came together [after a team meeting], 'We have nothing to lose this season, absolutely nothing to lose,' " said Strack, a second-team all-Patriot League selection.
Similarly, Prosser has mentioned coming together as a team after their 1-4 start in Patriot League play. "Early on we weren't really meshing how we should have been," she told the Express-Times. "We had a lot of new guards in the rotation. We picked up our defensive effort in the second half and realized we aren't just going to run over teams all year. Just because we're back-to-back champs, people aren't going to hand us games. They are going to bring their best against us."
Corkery mentioned his bench as being the difference between the top teams in the tournament, and this game tonight will be no exception. Nine Lady Eagles saw double-digit minutes in their game on Saturday, while Lehigh saw eight players with double-digit minutes. Dentler's double-digit points came off the bench as the "sixth man", while for American G Ashley Yencho was their sparkplug against Holy Cross with 13.
For her part, Troyan is playing down the angles of vengeance in this game.
"At this point in the process, you have to win this game to get to the next game," Lehigh coach Sue Troyan told the Express-Times. "It's less of a concern of avenging a loss; it's doing the things we've done to get to this point. It starts with defense and executing on offense, not getting wrapped up in a semifinal game or it's American or that we lost to them in the regular season."
It seems destined to be a a real good game, and a tight game too - and the team that will win tonight will probably play the better defense. A fierce home-court advantage would help.
Tickets are VERY reasonably priced, and still available at Stabler. It's also going to be carried on Service Electric 2 (with Mike Zambelli and Jim Wills on the call) and on 91.3 WLVR with Matt Markus making the call. For those of you with Patriot League All-Access, the game will also be streamed on the internet.
Lehigh's 66-64 defeat to the Sojka Psychos was a particularly tough one to endure - thanks to a couple of calls that didn't go Lehigh's way.
After getting blown out by double digits to the Bison during the regular season, it looked like a tall order to upend Bucknell in their place. Fortunately, senior G Prentice Small didn't get that memo.
In one of Lehigh's all-time great tournament performances, Small singlehandedly kept Lehigh in the game. Most of his 17 points came in the first half when Bucknell - who started the game an unconscious 6 for 8 from the field - to keep Lehigh within striking distance.
Head coach Brett Reed said in his post-game comments that "when Bucknell threw a punch, we were able to regroup and focus." He may as well have been talking about Small, whose calming presence was crucial to Lehigh's heroic effort.
His performance allowed G C.J. McCollum (19 points, 11 rebounds) and F Gabe Knutson (18 points, 6 boards) to chip away and tie the game. A pair of big 3's by senior G Michael Ojo also kept the heat on the Bison.
And yet, Lehigh was never able to get that one free-throw - that one open point-blank putback under the basket - to get a lead to drain the energy out of Sojka.
Two plays will live in infamy at the end of this game.
One was a flagrant foul called on Ojo. With 3:30 to play and Lehigh down by 2, it was adjudged by the officials to have thrown an elbow flagrantly at G Darryl Shazier. Since Lehigh had the ball, it was a potential six-point swing - one that replays would show was hardly worthy of a flagrant foul. While the Bison would knock down both technicals, they would turn over the ball on the next possession - but those two extra points would loom huge.
The other was a non-call on McCollum's final drive to the basket to try to tie the game, which you can see 1:55 into CBS College Sports' recap of the game. McCollum, clearly hacked in the act of shooting - matter of fact, he was thrown to the floor - did not get the call that would bring him to the line to give the Mountain Hawks a chance to tie the game.
Bucknell F Mike Muscala admitted that he fouled McCollum to Express-Times writer Michael LoRe. "I fouled him. Bad calls are made throughout games, calls are missed," Muscala admitted. "Referees are people like everyone else. It happens in games."
"I knew I'd have the ball in my hands at the end of the game," said McCollum. "I tried to get contact, finish it off and there was no call. There was definitely contact. The refs didn't call a foul and that was the game."
While the missed calls were unfortunate, there were plenty of missed opportunities for Lehigh to tie or win this game in regulation. So many times Lehigh had the ball with a chance to take the lead - at least one time with a point-blank opportunity right under the basket - and Lehigh couldn't take advantage.
"We had to use everything in the bank to beat Lehigh," Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen said after the game. "This was an intense, physical game."
They'll be hoping that they'll have enough to beat No. 6 seed Lafayette - who shocked No. 2-seeded American in double overtime in the first semifinal - this Friday on ESPN.
As for Lehigh, it's worth looking back on an incredible performance by G Prentice Small to close out his Lehigh career. In a senior season that was filled with ups and downs for him, his incredible performance was one to remember for a long, long time.