While junior Rachele Fitz and the Marist College women's basketball team continue to roll at 8-1, they're facing harsh realizations on the court—they aren't the same Sweet 16 team from two years ago, and they aren't the 32-3 team from last season.
It doesn't mean they can't be as good, they just have to find a different route to find the similar success.
If anyone can lead a team there, it's head coach Brian Giorgis.
Led by Fitz and senior Julianne Viani, the Red Foxes turned away Boston University last night in Poughkeepsie, 73-62.
It was a tight game throughout, with Fitz only scoring four points in the first half, heading to the bench with over six minutes left before the break.
Viani stepped up, as expected, but so did sophomore Erica Allenspach (2008 MAAC Rookie of the Year) and junior Lynzee Johnson (2008 MAAC Sixth Player of the Year).
Fitz took over in the second half, scoring 24 points (28 total), but the Foxes' play without her was the story for those who follow the team. The "clean-up crew" hasn't been able to do its job so far this season. The win over BU was a glimmer of hope.
This was the first step necessary for Marist, which only has two primary scorers—Fitz (24.0 ppg) and Viani (16.3 ppg).
A third, or even fourth option is needed for the Foxes, who often run into double- and triple-teams on Fitz, and quick and athletic guards who can run with Viani. Then there's the national stage, where teams match up all the way around.
Allenspach, who is usually used to distribute the ball around to Fitz and Viani, scored nine points, including a 3-pointer when Marist was struggling from the field.
Johnson scored 10. She is getting more confidence inside, with post moves you wouldn't expect to see from a 5'10" guard/forward.
With the good usually comes the bad. Marist was sloppy last night, and though there were special circumstances surrounding why they looked the way they did, it's still a cause for concern.
Sophomore defensive specialist Élise Caron didn't start because she has been battling illness all week. She got some minutes, but looked flat for the most part. She still had steady feet, taking one charge, but wasn't up to her usual defensive intensity.
In her place was freshman Kristine Best, who had four turnovers and no assists. It was her first career start, and she hasn't found her groove yet. This whole paragraph sounds cliché, but looking at her tendencies, you can tell she'll be great at running the point for Marist someday, yesterday just wasn't that day.
Brandy Gang, also a freshman, started inside for Marist, because Maria Laterza missed a few practices during the week for personal reasons. Gang is a legitimate threat under the hoop, and one of the main reasons Giorgis' freshman are a top-50 recruiting class.
Gang had three rebounds, two blocks, and an assist, with no turnovers. She wasn't used much on offense, but she's tough on the inside on both sides of the court. When Fitz graduates in 2010, Laterza and Gang will dominate the conference in the paint.
Until then, they'll watch and learn from the best. Fitz overcame her scoring troubles by forcing the issue. She dared the pesky BU defense to block her. She went to the charity stripe 14 times by the end of the game, earning herself 12 free points.
When the Red Foxes finally expanded their lead to double-digits in the waning minutes of the game, Fitz's play generated a "YOU CAN'T GUARD HER!" chant.
...Okay, it was me screaming that. Not from press row, though. I won't be covering the women until they're nationally ranked. Another problem.
The loss to Oklahoma wasn't impressive, as Marist was trailing by 20 almost the entire game. The Red Foxes dropped from No. 26 in the Associated Press poll to No. 33. Even with two wins the ensuing week, Marist continued to lose votes.
If they keep winning, they'll eventually get there. It's just going to take awhile, as it did last year. A December loss to Hartford dropped Marist to about the same spot, and it took two months without a loss to get the Red Foxes into the national rankings.
Two months from now? Oh, well that's right about the time the Red Foxes head to Hartford for a rematch of last year's mid-major slugfest. Hartford beat Duke this year, in case you don't know, so this is going to be a hell of a game.
Feb. 15, ESPN2, Marist @ Hartford.
I'll be the guy painted in red and white, screaming uncontrollably as Hartford fans beat me to a pulp.
Side note: Anybody see the Oklahoma-California women's game last night? Down 52-26, Oklahoma outscored Cal 60-23 in the second half! The Sooners won by 11! Insane. Courtney Paris, by the way, notched her 103rd straight double-double.
I'll understand when Maya Moore earns National Player of the Year over Paris, seeing as how UConn won the head-to-head 106-78 (Moore 27 and 12, Paris 14 and 14), but I won't necessarily agree.