The Quinnipiac women’s basketball team has been red hot. Let’s put it into context


Peyton McKenzie

Freshman Jackie Grisdale has registered 20 minutes in seven straight games as the first guard off the bench for the Bobcats.

Riley Millette, Sports Editor

The Quinnipiac women’s basketball team has won its last two games by a combined total of 50 points. Here’s a list of notes that also revolve around the half-century mark:

Quinnipiac’s top four scorers against Iona on Feb. 12, combined for 53 points.

Only two WNBA players in history, Liz Cambage and Riquna Williams, have scored 50 points in one game.

Quinnipiac scored only 50 points in its 18-point loss against Providence in December, its most lopsided loss of the season.

The Bobcats’ lowest point total of the season, 47 against Iona last month, falls shy of their margin of victory in their last two games.

Before you shout it from the rooftops, yes, Quinnipiac’s opponents in those two games were not the pick of the litter. Canisius, whom it played last Monday, is 2-13 in MAAC play and Iona is now 5-9 in conference play after this weekend’s loss.

Trap games predate all of us. They’ve been happening since the beginning of sports, and Quinnipiac has won all its expected games in the last month. Its only two defeats in the last month were a road loss against fourth-place Monmouth and a five-point road loss to Iona that senior guard Rose Caverly said motivated the team on Feb. 12.

The way the Bobcats play when they’re up big is a sign of a team built for the postseason. It starts with head coach Tricia Fabbri, who was still on her feet and playing field general with the game well in control.

It trickles down to the leaders of the team, especially Caverly. With six minutes left in the game, sitting on a comfy 30-point cushion, Caverly still commanded the offense, calling plays and running the point like she did in the first quarter, a quality even more important alongside younger players.

Even in runaway games where some teams tend to     stagnate, the Bobcats used the opportunity to remedy one of the weaker points of their game. I use the term “weaker” loosely, since there isn’t much fundamentally wrong with the Bobcats’ play lately, but Fabbri said transition defense has been a bigger focus as of late. Quinnipiac’s “tenacious half-court defense,” as Fabbri calls it, has been strong, led by standouts like junior guard Sajada Bonner. But the Canisius game showed that the team can slow down a high-caliber player.

Canisius sophomore guard Dani Haskell, a dangerous player in the open court, started the game with a nifty behind-the-back pass in transition that led to a bucket. But controlling the paint gets easier when you have a 6-foot-2-inch forward like junior Mikala Morris, who ran the backboard all night against an undersized Golden Griffins team.

Morris’ defensive skills, which won her the MAAC Defensive Player of the Year award last year, has continued to improve. Her footwork on defense has become more efficient, her ball awareness has grown keener and her instincts of when to follow a block and when to crash for a rebound are evident.

Infographic by Connor Lawless

“Now you just see (Morris) just really feeling confident, comfortable with that turn-around shot,” Fabbri said. “Just an extra lift, a real momentum. But we’ve been really good in the half court and now we’re extending that to the transition.”

Even against an Iona frontcourt with more size than Canisius, Morris controlled the glass. She brought down 10 rebounds, leading to her fourth straight double-double and fifth straight game with over 10 rebounds.

Now 15-8 overall and 10-4 in the MAAC, the Bobcats have hit their stride at the perfect time. Before last week’s blowout win over Canisius, Quinnipiac needed a breather. Senior guard Mackenzie DeWees had missed a game with an injury, junior forward Cur’Tiera Haywood missed six games with an injury and the schedule flung a bevy of road games at them all at once.

Five of seven games before the Canisius matchup were away games. This included the loathed bus ride to Buffalo, which can drudge on for more than six hours.

“This stretch has been grueling, just to travel,” Fabbri said. “We needed to come up for air, and we’re getting healthier. They have endured.”

Since her return, DeWees looks every bit of herself, scoring 19 and 18 points in the last two games. Haywood has returned to her role as a steady contributor off the bench, shooting a combined 5-of-7 in those two games. And of course, the usual suspects like Morris, Caverly and senior guard Amani Free have left their marks.

But another reason for the Bobcats’ recent boost in form is their newly utilized injection of freshmen. Forward Grace LaBarge and guard Jackie Grisdale have entered the rotation and registered meaningful minutes in recent weeks.

“Both Grace and Jackie have emerged,” Fabbri said. “(It’s) February now, (they’re) really comfortable in their roles. Getting the minutes, getting the confidence and continuing to expand, and they’re invaluable down the stretch.”

Grisdale has offered exactly what the Bobcats’ system entails. She’s an efficient shooter (45% from the field, 40% from 3-point range) and is quick on her cuts, which the Bobcats offense has been built on as of late.

LaBarge fits the Cur’Tiera Haywood model. She isn’t yet an explosive scorer like Haywood can be, but her presence in sub packages and her effort on defense point toward more usage in the future.

“(LaBarge is) so athletic, long, skilled and fast,” Fabbri said. “If you watch defensively, it’s like a cat out there. She can defend anyone from a center to a point guard. We can really have some defensive versatility.”

It seems irresponsible to dump all this heart-eyed admiration over the Bobcats’ last two games without reminding you that these two games were against two of the bottom-four teams in the MAAC. I also admit that I said something  similar last year before watching the team suffer a shocking first-round exit in the MAAC tournament against Rider.

But LaBarge and Grisdale have offered new depth. DeWees and Morris are playing at the top of their games — just as expected — but most importantly, the team is peaking at the right time. Not only is the tournament only a few weeks away, but there are still a couple more important games circled on the regular-season schedule against Manhattan and Fairfield.

Every game in February is an adjustment to the landscape of Atlantic City. Whose stock is going up and whose is going down before the games really matter?

Last season, Quinnipiac dropped two of its final three regular-season games. One loss was to Siena and one was to Niagara, who were ranked No. 9 and No. 8 in the tournament, respectively. That couldn’t have inspired overwhelming confidence on the bus ride to New Jersey. What would you rather do on a four-hour bus ride: relive the glory of stomping a team by 20 points or pick apart the details of a game that you know shouldn’t have gotten away from you?

We probably won’t see the Bobcats rip off landslide victories with regularity for much longer. But they did wonders to reaffirm this team’s place at the top of the conference.