Women’s basketball closes out season with a win

Rematch against Navy will take place Saturday in first round of the Patriot League tournament

 Women’s basketball closes out season with a win
Maddie Doring (#21) at a game against Bucknell on Feb. 15.

The American University women’s basketball team defeated Navy (7-23, 2-17 PL) 57-42 in their final game of the regular season in Bender Arena on Wednesday. The Eagles and Midshipmen finished seventh and tenth in the Patriot League standings respectively, meaning that AU will host Navy again on Saturday at 2 p.m. for the first round of the Patriot League tournament.

“Really happy with the output,” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “But Saturday’s a different day, and you have no idea what’s going to happen. So we have to make sure we’re prepared.”

After a clean first frame, AU hit one of its sloppiest quarters of the season in the second. The Eagles’ struggled against Navy’s zone, committing twice as many turnovers (4) as the team had field goals (2). But the team was bailed out by a pair of 3-pointers late in the shot clock and a slew of Navy turnovers to keep it within one heading into halftime. 

Then, the tides began to turn in the Eagles direction. At 3:33 in the third quarter, sophomore guard Emily Fisher hit an and-one, flexing in front of the Bender Arena crowd as her teammates on the bench jumped up to celebrate. She seemed to be at the peak of her powers.

Then three minutes later, she hit another and-one. Nine more minutes later, same story, same flex to the crowd.

“Coach Nikki’s [been telling me], you’ve got to be more aggressive, look to drive, you’re fast, you’ve got to take it,” Fisher said. “I was lucky to get those calls my way and finish them off. It was really exhilarating.”

Thanks to the chippy two-way play of Fisher, the Eagles intensity picked up in the second half and went on a 29-6 run to end the game. 

"She’s finding the right people offensively, and she’s also finding a way to score,” Gebbia said. “When she injects that energy just into the team, good things happen for us.”

Fisher, whom AU typically relies upon for her defense, has made serious offensive progress over her past two games. Fisher has scored 24 points over her past two games after being held scoreless in AU’s three previous contests.

“I was having a slump, but I’ve been talking to my teammates, talking to my coaches,” Fisher said. “They got me out of my head.”

The Eagles were able to generate offense in the first half off of fast-break opportunities, many of which were started by sophomore forward Taylor Brown. Brown was everywhere on the defensive end of the floor, as she registered two blocks and two steals on top of playing impressive, switchable defense.

“Taylor is fun to play with, Taylor is always happy and jovial and having fun out there,” Gebbia said. “I think when things are going well, you can see that she kind of picks it up.”

AU has been up and down as of late but hopes to carry in momentum and strong shooting from their most recent victory. Senior guard Kaitlyn Marenyi hit four 3-pointers on Saturday, while Brown and sophomore guard Maddie Doring each added a pair.

Shooting has been a point of emphasis for head coach Megan Gebbia, as AU had been held to under 30 percent shooting from deep in four straight games before the contest against Navy. 

“You know how March is, March is crazy,” Gebbia said. “We have to shoot the ball better in the month of March, and I think we did that today. If we can build on that type of momentum, we’re a dangerous team.”

Preview for Saturday

Navy has lost ten straight games, including a loss to AU on Feb. 19 in which AU allowed a season-low 40 points. The Eagles’ two best defensive performances of the season have now come against the Midshipmen.

Navy is by far the lowest-scoring team in the Patriot League at just 53 points per game (ninth-worst in the nation) on just 35.7 percent shooting from the field. Navy is one of the few teams AU has a favorable size matchup with, though Navy handily outworked AU on the boards Wednesday 42-27.

“I think we had a few missed box-outs,” Fisher said. “But otherwise if we just keep our hustle up, keep our effort, I think we’ll be good.”

The Midshipmen are lead by a pair of guards in senior Mary Kate Ulasewicz and junior Sophie Gatzounas. Ulasewicz is shifty on the perimeter and is the Midshipmen’s one true threat from outside. She hit three 3-pointers on Wednesday and shot 35 percent from deep this season. 

“She’s a good player, she’s a senior, she’s playing like a senior, and she’s taking what we’re giving her, and the shots are going in,” Gebbia said of Ulasewicz. “She’s tough.”

Navy does manage to boast a league-average defense anchored by Gatzounas and senior guard Morgan Taylor. Navy keeps games close by consistently winning the turnover margin, as it is tied for the Patriot League lead in steals per game. AU will have to have better ball control on Saturday if it expects to come away with a clean victory.

AU is just one year removed from advancing to the Patriot League championship, but fell in the standings due to the graduation of three key starters, including 2019 Patriot League player of the year Cecily Carl.

The team will look to carry momentum from Wednesday’s win into Saturday’s 2 p.m. first-round contest inside Bender Arena.

snusbaum@theeagleonline.com 

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