Tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Pratt Recreation Center, the Lady Pioneers will hope to continue their season as they host the Saint Thomas Aquinas Lady Spartans in the first round of the East Coast Conference Tournament. The Lady Pioneers (18-8, 11-7) enter as the fourth seed and therefore, will welcome in the fifth-seeded Lady Spartans (13-15, 9-9).
In their most recent game, the Lady Pioneers lost on the road to Molloy College by a final score of 64-57. However, before that, LIU Post had won four consecutive games including a victory over the NYIT Lady Bears who were ranked No. 17 in the country at the time.
The easiest way to describe the Lady Spartans is to say that they are a streaky team. Since the calendar flipped to 2013, the Lady Spartans started on a three game winning streak, followed by a four game losing streak, leading to a five game winning streak, and closing out the regular season on a four game losing streak. Not exactly the momentum a team is looking for heading into a tournament, but the Lady Spartans are looking for revenge.
In both meetings this season against the Lady Pioneers, STAC has been smacked around. In the first meeting on January 23, the Lady Pioneers went on the road and cruised their way to a 67-51 victory. Just a couple weeks ago on February 20, the Lady Pioneers once again dominated, this time on their home floor, resulting in a 65-41 win.
However, going back to last season, the two teams split the two games and each won on its home court. The last time the Lady Spartans beat the Lady Pioneers at the Pratt Center was two years ago on January 27, 2011 when the STAC edged out a 52-51 win.
For the Lady Pioneers to beat STAC and advance into the second round to face the top-ranked Dowling Golden Lions (23-3, 17-1), the key is to win the battle of the rebounds. This season, when out-rebounding their opponent, the Lady Pioneers have a record of 17-3. Of course, a major reason why teams win games, especially playoff games, is taking care of the basketball. When the Lady Pioneers have committed fewer turnovers than their opponent, they have a record of 7-4. Although limiting turnovers is vital, the better barometer to gauge the success of the Lady Pioneers is through seeing the difference in rebounding.
If LIU Post goes far in the tournament, it will need sophomore guard Chelsea Williams to step up like she’s been playing the final few games of the season. Williams did not play in the season finale against Molloy due to an injury, but in three of her last four games she has dropped at least 15 points. In her last game, she had arguably her most impressive and most clutch performance of the season with 19 points (6-9 from the floor, 3-4 from beyond the arc) and nine rebounds against NYIT.
For the season, senior forward Nicolette Marciniak is averaging 14 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, fifth and fourth best in the conference, respectively. When Marciniak grabs at least 10 rebounds, the Lady Pioneers have a record of 7-4.
Something else to watch out for is the play of junior guard Alexis Peters. She handles the basketball frequently and routinely sets up the offense. In games where she has more assists than turnovers, the Lady Pioneers have a record of 7-2.
The player to keep an eye on for the Lady Spartans is senior guard Shpresa Liharevic. She averages 13 points per night and ranks third in the ECC shooting 38 percent for the season from three-point range.
Tipoff for tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. There will be a 6:15 p.m. pregame on 88.1 FM and WCWP.org. If the Lady Pioneers win tonight, they will advance into the second round and go on the road to face Dowling College on Friday, March 8 with a 6:00 p.m. start time. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, March 10 at the gym of the highest remaining seed left in the tournament with a 1:00 p.m. tipoff.