Saturday, March 12, 2016

Women's CAA Tournament - Day 3

The Dragons defeated the Northeastern Huskies on Friday, March 11th to advance to the CAA Finals on Saturday against the James Madison University Dukes.  As expected, the Huskies played Drexel tough, keeping the game within 6 at the half while making the Dragons uncomfortable and pushing them to the perimeter on offense.  

While most will look to the lopsided 16-8 4th quarter advantage for the Dragons to tell the story of the game, there were hints of what was to come midway through the third.  Once the Huskies had crept within a point of DU on a Jess Genco three pointer, the Dragons decided that they had had about enough of Northeastern's freshman point guard for the afternoon.  After trading empty possessions, Alexis Smith pulled down a defensive rebound, then came down to the other end and made a layup.  On the ensuing inbound, she tipped the pass, deflecting the ball off of a Northeastern player and out of bounds, bringing the ball back to the Dragons.  After a missed Drexel shot, it was Kelsi Lidge's turn to pick Claudia Ortiz's pocket during a frontcourt battle.  And once the turnovers started, they simply did not stop.

In the fourth quarter Denise Dillon through the kitchen sink at the young Northeastern team, showing 1-2-2 pressure at times, man to man, 1-3-1, and 2-3 zones.  In a period in which the Huskies only scored 6 points the Dragons had 9 points off of turnovers alone.  After having to absolutely battle Northeastern for every minute of two and three quarter games (and an overtime) Drexel had finally cracked the code and broken past the tired legs of Kelly Cole's Northeastern team.  

With that victory, Drexel turns to a much tougher test on Saturday.  Championship Saturday.  At 4pm, Drexel and JMU will face off with a chance to dance on the line.  RPI #32 James Madison will be in their home whites against the #79 Dragons in their road blues.  It was this same matchup that played out in the 2008-2009 sesaon's championship game when the Drexel players and coaches walked onto the court in Harrisonburg and walked out champions.  This time, in the slightly friendlier confines of the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, MD, the Dragons may be larger underdogs.  

The Dukes are led by Senior Jazmon Gwathmey, the CAA Player of the Year.  She didn't just lead the conference in points per game in conference play, she LED the conference.  Jazmon put up 22.4 points per game, in second place was Drexel's Sarah Curran with 15.4, leaving a significant gap.  Between Gwathmey and fellow senior Angela Mickens averging double digits scoring and Kayla Cooper-Williams 10.1 rebounds per game, the Dragons come in looking outgunned.  They can draw inspiration from the men's championship game where Hofstra walked in with three players on the CAA first or second all conference teams, but UNCW won behind coaching and having a team that was much better than the sum of its parts.  Yes, the Dragons junior stars Sarah Curran and Meghan Creighton will have pressure on their shoulders, they will need to hit their shots, but the story of this years tourney win hasn't been either one of them.  The story has begun and ended with diversity.  It's been names like Lidge, Pellechio, and Smith that have stepped up in the second halves of games to help their team gain the advantage.  It has been a variety of defensive looks thrown at their opponents.  It's been uptempo and down geared and it's been poking opponents until they find their holes, and then exploiting them.

On paper, this matchup may seem like Denise vs Goliath.  And that may be just what it is.  But in the third game in three days, depth matters.  Coaching matters (and with Kenny Brooks opposite Denise Dillon, it's a battle of the heavyweights in the coaches boxes).  Picking one another up matters.  These Dragons have a shot.  On the first day of practice, this was the game everyone was hoping for.  It's here.  This team earned this shot, now it's their chance to take it.  

Lets go Drexel.

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