Women’s basketball suffers setback in a tough loss to Lafayette
Eagles offense stalls against the size of Leopards
AU women’s basketball experienced a setback on Saturday in their chase for a home-court playoff game, overcome by Lafayette’s size advantage in a 67-52 loss inside Bender Arena. AU (8-12, 4-6 PL) dropped to seventh place in the Patriot League standings, while Lafayette (11-9, 7-3 PL) shot up to third place following their fifth consecutive victory.
“It was rough,” head coach Megan Gebbia said post-game. “We never got ourselves into a flow offensively. We’re inconsistent on both ends of the floor.”
AU did everything in their power to contain Lafayette’s size, but Lafayette’s tandem of bigs, led by 6-foot-3 junior forward Natalie Kucowski and 6-foot-2 senior forward Alexis Santarelli, spoiled the fruits of their labor. The pair set the tone early on the defensive end, holding AU to just six points in the paint before the Eagles’ 23-point fourth quarter.
“They got some high-low looks on us, which was frustrating since we didn’t have help-side [defense],” Gebbia said. “Help was not there all the time.”
Kucowski, who won last year’s Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors, stuffed the stat sheet on Saturday as she finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, six blocks, and five assists.
“She’s a fantastic player,” senior guard Kaitlyn Marenyi said. “We know that she’s a big presence inside, so [we were] just trying to find a way to get her in foul trouble, or to pull her out so we can get inside shots without her in there.”
While her efficiency wasn’t at its usual clip, Marenyi produced enough instant offense led the Eagles in scoring with 13 points. She has provided a degree of consistency for AU, registering double-digit points in her last eight games.
Offensive production was an issue for the rest of the Eagles, though. The team could not have asked for a colder start, as they hit just two of their 13 shots in the opening quarter.
“Every day, every game, you’ve got to come out with competitiveness and with some fire,” Marenyi said. “We’re trying to find the groove with each other.”
Scoring came much easier for Lafayette’s forwards. Santarelli, who spent the afternoon opening up driving lanes by setting hard screens for her teammates, also finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
Kucowski, meanwhile, dominated with a variety of spin moves and fadeaways in the post against hapless AU defenders. The Leopards finished with 26 points in the paint, which nearly doubled AU’s interior production (14 points).
The Leopards went up 32-17 at half after Kucowski’s last-second, ankle-breaker three silenced the Bender arena crowd. Lafayette nailed 47 percent of their three-point attempts on Saturday despite entering the game averaging just 31 percent on treys.
AU’s offense continued to stall out against Lafayette’s zone defense in the third quarter and entered the final frame down 52-29. The Eagles were ice-cold from three over the game’s first three quarters, as they connected on just 19 percent of the shots Lafayette had designed their defense to allow.
“We were trying to tell them where the shots were that were open, and it took us a while to get the confidence to take those shots,” Gebbia said. “We’ve got to be able to attack zone better than this.”
Just when the game seemed like it couldn’t get any more out of hand for the Eagles, a scoreboard malfunction in the fourth quarter incorrectly showed them trailing 147-29. After three long minutes, officials corrected the score, but the error clearly stung AU.
AU was finally able to get rolling in after the delay, thanks to a boost from sophomore guard Emily Fisher. Fisher’s defensive intensity was one of the few bright spots for the Eagles and propelled them to their only positive quarter in the game.
The Eagles will look to bounce next week as they travel to New York to face the last-place Army Black Knights (5-16, 1-9 PL) on Feb. 8 at 2 p.m.