Monday, March 25, 2013

Fordham in Sweet Sixteen

Rams Score First Post-Season Victory Since 1980
(Photo by Gary Quintal)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NY, March 25, 2013- The slogan “Tradition begins now” adopted by the women’s basketball program at Fordham University (26-8) at the start of this season has proven to be quite prophetic. The Rams, after 16 consecutive losing seasons, have compiled the second highest total of victories, 26, in the history of the program.
Its list of successes this year is unique since the university joined the Atlantic-10 conference in 1995. Veteran coach Stephanie Gaitley, in only her second year at the helm of the team, has created a culture of success under a leadership of decency that hopefully will set a tone that will be followed in the future.
Its season of achievement has led the Rams to be invited to a post-season tournament for the first time since 1995. One day after being denied an automatic entrance to the NCAA Women’s National Tournament by a one point loss, 47-46, to St. Joseph’s in the final of the Atlantic-10 Championship, the Rams were one of 64 invitees to the WNIT.
In the first round on March 20, the Rams hosted Army (22-7) at the Rose Hill Gym on Fordham’s Bronx campus. The Black Knights received an automatic berth as they were the regular season champions of the Patriot League.
Both teams started slowly and missed most early shots, perhaps because of nerves or effective defense. The two were highly ranked this season nationally for their scoring defense; Army ranked 7th in the nation and Fordham ranked 16th as the stingiest in surrendering points.
The Black Knights were the first to reach double digits as a three by Jen Hazlett gave them an 11-6 advantage at 13:09. A basket by sensational freshman Kelsey Minato raised Army’s lead to a game high six, 15-9. The Rams then awoke and scored 15 unanswered points to take their game high advantage, 24-15 with 2:34 left in the first half.
On a 9-2 scoring run, Army knotted the score at 26 with 15:40 remaining in the contest. After a third tie at 28, the Rams led through the remainder of the second half. The action was intense and physical as each team made a supreme effort to gain the victory. Fordham treated its fans to a joyous experience by earning a 55-46 victory.
The Fordham starters, with the exception of freshman Samantha Clarke who sat out much of the game, contributed mightily to the win. Abigail Corning achieved a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. Graduating players Marah Strickland (15) and Arielle Collins (14) netted double digits. Erin Rooney fell short of double figures but led the team with six assists and showed her defensive capabilities with four steals. Gaitley said of Rooney’s contribution, “With Erin, there was a lot of residue from Saturday’s game. It’s a testament to her.”
Minato, Patriot League Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, played outstandingly with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals. Her backcourt mate, Anna Simmers, played equally well, 15 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Gaitley explained the importance of the twosome, “We’re a really disciplined team. The key to the game was to make things tough for 5 [Minato] and 25 [Simmers].”
With its win, Fordham moved to round two of the tournament. The Rams played host to Boston University (24-6), the victor of Sacred Heart in round one on Saturday afternoon, March 23 in the Bronx.
Gaitley had high hopes for her team, “I think we’re going to be much better on Saturday. We needed to get this game out of our system.”
Her prognostication proved true as the Rams dominated the Boston University Terriers on Saturday afternoon. The visitors took an early 6-2 lead, but a 15-2 scoring run by Fordham that culminated in consecutive threes by Strickland and Rooney put Fordham ahead, 17-8, at 13:28. A three by Charlotte Stoddard at 5:03 gave Fordham its first double digit advantage of the contest.
Three straight baskets by the Terriers cut the deficit to five, 28-23, with 18:34 remaining in the contest. That Fordham lead was the lowest since the first five minutes of the game.
A critical moment came at 15:19 as Rooney, a hardnosed defensive specialist, was called for her fourth foul. The lead was cut in half, 41-35, with her on the bench for the next five minutes, which led Gaitley to return her to action. Gaitley explained her reasoning after the contest ended, “I felt they were going on a run. She’s [Rooney] a calming presence.” A layup by Rooney at 5:26 brought the lead back to double figures, 45-35, where it remained for the rest of the contest. Fordham qualified for its first “Sweet Sixteen” finish with a 58-44 win.
Starters Strickland (14), Rooney (12) and Collins (12) scored in double digits. Clark and Corning failed to net at least 10, but each grabbed six rebounds.
After the contest, Gaitley spoke to reporters of the reason for the Fordham win, “The key to the game was defense and rebounding.”
Fordham topped Boston University in rebounds, 41-33. The Rams held their opponent to fewer than 50 points for the 14th time this season.
Fordham will next travel to Virginia to face James Madison University in the Sweet Sixteen round of the WNIT at 7 pm on Wednesday, March 27.
The outcome of the above contest cannot erase the accomplishments of the Fordham women this year. Gaitley expressed her happiness of what they achieved, “I’m just so proud of the team. I’m so happy for them. This never happened at Fordham before. It will live on in their memories forever.”
Of the future, she proclaimed, “It sets a tone for the future. Women’s basketball has arrived at Fordham.”

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