March 11, 2012

Women's Basketball Playing for Third NEC Championship on Sunday

Full Game Notes

The Storyline... Both teams come into the championship with momentum after winning close semifinal games. Sacred Heart may have home court advantage, but Monmouth has risen to victory the last four times these teams have met. In February, the Hawks topped SHU 70-50 in the MAC, but plenty has changed in the last five weeks. Monmouth did not get a good look against NEC Rookie of the Year Gabrielle Washington due to her limited time on the court thanks to an illness. Being at home in the William H. Pitt Center bodes well for the Pioneers who have only lost one game there all season.

The Series... Sacred Heart leads the all-time series against Monmouth 16-11 after falling by 20 points in February. These teams have faced off four times in the Northeast Conference Tournament, alternating wins. Monmouth advanced in 2004 after defeating the Pioneers 64-60 in the semifinals, and in 2008 when the knocked SHU out first round 75-70. The Pioneers moved onto the chmpionship game in 2008 after topping the Hawks 50-46. And most recently, Sacred Heart topped the Hawks 64-54 during their championship run in 2009.

Scouting the Hawks... Monmouth has pushed past No. 6 LIU Brooklyn (68-56) and No. 2 Quinnipiac (69-66) to make it to the NEC Championship Game. They finished the regualar season 12-6 earning the 3 seed in the tournament. Named to the All-NEC Second Team, Alysha Womack leads the Hawks averaging 16.0 points per game. Right behind her is junior Abby Martin who is averaging 10.7 ppg.

SHU Tournament Quickfacts...
- This is Sacred Heart's 13th-straight year making it to the NEC Tournament.
- This is the third time that the Pioneers are the No. 1 seed.
- Both previous times Sacred Heart was No. 1, they went on to win the NEC Championship.
- Callan Taylor has appeared in every tournament game in her career.
- The only other time SHU faced Fairleigh Dickinson in the NEC Tournament, the Pioneers won 83-55.
- The Pioneers have been knocked out of the NEC Tournament in the first round the last two years by Central Connecticut State.

Home Court Advantage... Only once in NEC history has a team won the championship on their opponent's court. In 2010, Saint Francis (PA) defeated LIU Brooklyn 77-68 to win their tenth NEC Championship. The Pioneers are 9-3 in tournament play when at home. Their only losses came to LIU Brooklyn 51-48 in 2003, Robert Morris 68-62 in overtime in 2005 and last season when Central Conn. State knocked them out in the first round 54-49. Both times Sacred Heart has won the championship game, it has been played in the Pitt Center.

Off the Bench... Coach Swanson has not been afraid to go to his bench this year, and rightfully so. In 31 games, the Sacred Heart bench is averaging 19.06 points per game. Morgan Merriman and Blair Koniszewski have  been big assets this season, appearing in all 31 games. Merriman, skilled at driving the lane for the layup, is averaging 7.2 points this year and shooting 43.5% from the field. Koniszewski is a get-and-shoot player. Spending a lot of time outside the arc, the guard is averaging 7.8 points per game. Her high came this January at Robert Morris where she lit up the board with 18 points, mostly due to her five three-pointers. Rookie Katie Shepard has also appeared in every game this season. Averaging 2.1 points per game, Shepard has spent 396 minutes as a point guard this season.