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Conor’s Column: Women’s basketball progressing into something bigger
The Quinnipiac women’s basketball team made yet another step forward for the program in the NCAA Tournament
The team also felt the same sentiment following its loss to the UConn Huskies in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I really think this past year was the best season we’ve ever had in our program’s history and was just really proud of our effort,” Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri said.
There are many reasons why this season could be considered the best in team history.
You could start off by looking at the Bobcats non-conference schedule to start the year off, where they went 3-4 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season. Or you could look at what they did in conference play, where they went undefeated, beating opponents by 22.1 points per game and finished the regular season on a 19-game winning streak to give them their fourth straight MAAC regular season title.
But we all know that the success of a Bobcats season now has been determined by how they perform in the postseason. And Quinnipiac hit its first big postseason mark when it won the MAAC Tournament with wins over Monmouth and Rider before beating Marist, who was considered the class of the MAAC before Quinnipiac’s arrival in 2013, in the title game.
The next couple of weeks were what separated this Quinnipiac season from any other. On March 12, the Bobcats were selected as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The ninth seed gave them their highest seed in program history, which was three seeds higher than the No. 12 they received in 2015 and 2017.
This showed that the NCAA selection committee respected the Bobcats work by giving them their highest seed ever and the third highest seed for a mid-major in the tournament.
Quinnipiac also had a de facto home game in the first round against No. 8 seed Miami in Storrs, Connecticut. The Bobcats defeated the Hurricanes in a 2017 second round rematch game (which Quinnipiac also won), 86-72.
The win proved that the 2017 tournament run wasn’t a fluke, making the program feel validated as a Twitter user with a blue checkmark.
“This is about taking steps in a program and about winning two games last year as a 12 seed. Now it’s about getting the nine seed and winning that game and that’s what we did,” Fabbri said. “Again, it’s validation of the program that we weren’t just a flashing pan of good matchups. This has been built, you have seen the steps and we were no underdog (against Miami). The game was an eight vs. nine matchup on a neutral court and we took care of business.”
Not only did the Bobcats win, they had six players score at least 10 points, showing that its style works in tournament play.
“Six players in double figures today in the NCAA tournament,” Quinnipiac associate head coach Mountain MacGillivray tweeted after the game. “Players who choose Quinnipiac choose to come to a place where Everyone Eats! We don’t have a star we have Stars. And they don’t care which one gets the shine. I love our team.”
The win set the Bobcats up with a date against the No. 1 overall-seeded UConn Huskies, who had not lost all season and were coming off a 140-52 victory in the first round. In their first round game, the Huskies broke tournament records for the most points scored in the first quarter (55), the most points scored in a half (94) and the most points scored in a game (140). The Huskies had also been averaging 89.3 points per game and defeated their points by an average margin of 37.3 points.
But on that Monday night, something somewhat unexpected happened. The Bobcats only allowed 19 points in the first quarter and 33 points in the half, which was the Huskies second-lowest first half total all year by one point.
While the Bobcats held their ground defensively, they had a tough night scoring, as they only scored 18 points in the first half and shot 8.3 percent from 3-point range, way down from their 34.5 percent during the season.
The Huskies eventually pulled away from the Bobcats late in the third quarter, but the fact that Quinnipiac was a couple of made 3-pointers away from making it a game at the half shows where this program is today, which is that the can compete with some of the nation’s best.
“Obviously we’re not thrilled with the result, but our execution and our effort was fantastic,” Fabbri said. “All game long, just loved this team how they implemented a different strategy, right from the beginning, in a day and a half…Heck of an effort. Heck of a team. So proud.”
In the Sweet 16 last year, the Bobcats lost to eventual champion South Carolina, 100-58, after trailing 16-0 in the opening minutes. So the fact that they hung around for two quarters longer this year against the nation’s best shows how the program has continued to progress.
And it looks like it will progress next season, too.
Quinnipiac only loses one player from the active roster against UConn, senior guard Carly Fabbri. It also loses senior forward Sarah Shewan, who went down with a knee injury in December that ended her collegiate career.
While Carly Fabbri is a good player, leading the MAAC in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, the Bobcats bring back their two leading scorers for one last go round in forwards Jen Fay and Aryn McClure, who both made the All-MAAC First Team as juniors. The team’s defensive anchor, forward Paula Strautmane, also returns for her senior season and junior guard Edel Thornton emerged in the team’s final games of the season as the likely starting point guard for next season.
“That’s the goal, to get back to the sweet 16 and go even further,” Fay said following the loss to UConn. “I think we proved our self as a national powerhouse, pretty much, we’re playing against the best and that’s what we want.”
So, even though this season didn’t technically end as well as last season did, the Bobcats are in a better situation now than they were a year ago to make themselves one of the nation’s best, making it only a matter of time that more Quinnipiac fans take a left when they enter the TD Bank Sports Center.