Back from the brink

Back from the brink

Michael Hewitt

With seven-straight conference wins heading into Tuesday night’a game vs. Saint Peter’s, Quinnipiac women’s basketball has climbed the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings and revived what appeared to be a forgettable season.

[media-credit id=1989 align=”alignright” width=”456″]24051487743_606555b5bb_o[/media-credit]

While many factors contribute to each early loss, the most glaring flaw for the Bobcats was the goal of the game: putting the ball into the basket.

The Bobcats’ offensive unit shot 40 percent from the floor or better in just two of its first 12 games, in which the team went 5-7. Four of those 12 games featured shooting no higher than 27 percent from the field, all resulting in losses.

Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri knew the offensive performance needed to improve, so she replaced the scheme of last year’s team and implemented a simplified, more basic offense.

“Offensively, we weren’t fluid,” Fabbri said. “We were giving this new, young team our motion offense, but we were not passing the ball. The motion offense worked with last year’s veteran team because we had basic building blocks in place. It was time to go back to building blocks.”

Ineffective shooting was not the only problem for Quinnipiac. To complicate the continuity for a team with only three returning players from last year, injuries started to pile up.

Junior forward Morgan Manz was sidelined earlier in the year and Katie Carroll missed two weeks due to illness.

“We were dealing with so many outside factors and trying to keep it together, while still trying to get to know each other,” Fabbri said.

And on top of all of it, Quinnipiac was trying to define roles and integrate four inexperienced freshman.

“They’re freshman and they don’t want to feel like they’ve got to come in and take things over,” Fabbri said. “They don’t want to have that assuming personality. They know they can play, but they don’t want to step on anyone’s toes too. I think that’s a little bit of the transitioning.”

After Quinnipiac ended 2015 and opened 2016 with two heartbreaking losses to Florida Gulf Coast (71-70 OT) and Monmouth (63-60), confidence was never in question, but something had to give.

“We were a play or two away from winning those games,” Fabbri said. “They always responded from a really tough loss. This team has so much character that I never had to convince them to keep their heads up. There was always a belief that we were going to get this job done.”

On Jan. 6, already sitting with a winless 0-3 conference record, Quinnipiac took on Rider and things started to change.

“I just thought that we would be a team that would play its best basketball as the season went along because we would be gaining the experience,” Fabbri said. “When you have a team as hungry as this one, you could sense it.”

Quinnipiac collected a pair of wins against Rider and Canisius, setting up a critical three-game road trip, in which three young-guns, Brittany Martin, Aryn McClure and Paula Strautmane, thrived.

Martin contributed 12 points in the 61-54 defeat of Niagara. In the following three games, Quinnipiac’s McClure averaged 15 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 54.3 FG percentage and Strautmane averaged 12 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 52.2 FG percentage.

“When you tell them to act selfish with the ball and look to score every time they touch it, I think it took a little time to foster that,” Fabbri said. “It just takes a little time to be a little greedy on the court. It’s not what they’re about, but that’s what we needed.”

Not only were their performances impressive, but their ability to contribute offensively took some of the load off veteran players.

“It puts another threat out there on the floor,” senior guard Maria Napolitano said. “When teams initially scout us, not knowing our freshman, they probably just worry about the older players. But, now they’re recognizing how deadly our team is.”

The impact of the freshmen had a team-wide effect.

The entire offensive unit improved its performance. In three of their last four games, the Bobcats finished with 80 points or more, shooting no worse than 41 percent from the floor.

“Once you gets a taste of something that’s positive and once you receive positive feedback, it leads to confidence,” Fabbri said. “Everyone is playing well because everyone has had a positive play to build on. It’s nice that everyone’s saying we’re playing great ball, when we have so many areas still to get better.”

The Bobcats still have 10 more games to play before the MAAC tournament begins, and Napolitano wants to take it one game at a time, but she is looking forward to March 7.

What’s March 7?

The MAAC Championship game.

[twitter-follow username=”MHewitt_BBE” scheme=”dark”]