Tag Archives: CCSU women’s basketball

Semifinal Loss Doesn’t Destroy Women’s Success

By Chris McLaughlin

Despite suffering a defeat in the semifinals of the NEC tournament, the CCSU women’s basketball team enjoyed its most successful season in 20 years.

Winning 19 games, the Blue Devils were just two wins shy of the record set back in the 1989-90 season. In only her fourth season as head coach, Beryl Piper not only led the team to its second 19-win season in Divison 1 history, she revamped the entire program.

“We had 19 wins and there wasn’t a lot of hype,” said Piper. “After this season, the expectations for this program have risen. It was two years ago that we had the biggest turnaround in wins for that year, and this year we had 19 wins and its sort of expected. When we took over the program, we wanted to change the perception of it, and I think we’ve done that.”

While it was a very successful year, the 2010-11 season was full of ups and downs for the Blue Devils. Getting off to a 5-0 start, CCSU had its best start since joining Division 1. The team enjoyed thrilling victories over big name teams such as Hartford and Holy Cross and avenged some of last season’s bitter defeats against Brown and Maine.

“Starting off 5-0 was great for the program itself and our confidence,” said Piper. “The win over Hartford was something the kids really wanted and got us off to a great start.”

Although the Blue Devils were riding high after the 5-0 start, the team fell back to earth over the next several games.

During a 10-game stretch, CCSU ended up losing seven, including its first three conference games. All the loses were tough, but a close one against Fairleigh Dickinson is a game Piper would love to have back.

The final game of the stretch may have been the most demoralizing however with Quinnipiac’s Felicia Barron hitting a game winning, half court buzzer beater. But it seemed to light a fire under the Blue Devils.

“The loss at FDU early in the year right before Christmas was tough because we really didn’t play well but still could have won,” said Piper. “The loss to Quinnipiac was a traumatic one. We had the game won before their kid hit a half court three-pointer. Those are two we should have won and if we did we would have won 21 games and tied the record.”

Even during the midseason lull, the Blue Devils still had its moments. On Dec. 31, senior forward Leanne Crockett set the CCSU single game record with 25 rebounds in a win over St. Peters.

“Leanne’s 25 rebound game was definitely a high for us even though it came in rough stretch,” said Piper

After the loss to Quinnipiac, the Blue Devils would right the ship by winning the next five games. All five were conference games and helped get CCSU in the tournament picture.

Back on the right track, the Blue Devils made a huge statement when they defeated Monmouth, who finished the season in second place. The win not only proved to the rest of the league that CCSU was a threat, but proved it to the Blue Devils as well.

“The win over Monmouth was great, we went down there and played poor, but when we had them in our gym we got them back,” said Piper. “To me that was a tone setter, when we beat them it really said a lot about who we were.”

The Blue Devils closed out the season going 5-3, which was enough to secure the 6th seed in a very competitive NEC. The final stretch included some impressive road wins over Bryant and Long Island. Winning at LIU was another revenge match for the Blue Devils after LIU beat them earlier in the season.

After suffering earlier defeats this season, Piper and the Blue Devils made it a point to not get beaten a second time. With the exception of NEC champions St. Francis PA, every team in the NEC was defeated at least once by CCSU.

“Going down and beating LIU at LIU at the end of the season was really big because at that point they were a top team and they had beaten us before. St. Francis PA was the only team we couldn’t get our revenge match,” said Piper.

Over the last eight games of the season senior Justina Udenze played exceptionally well averaging 19.25 points per game and CCSU began running its offense through her. She continued her stellar play into the NEC tournament, scoring 31 points and collecting 19 rebounds in two games. Udenze was named to the all-tournament team.

“We’re really excited to have Justina [Udenze] named to the all-tournament team,” said Piper. “She increased her effort so much and personally improved her play a lot. She also helped us improve as a team.”

For the second straight year, CCSU knocked off Sacred Heart in the first round of the tournament. Despite being a lower seed, CCSU led for the majority of the game. Though they went up against top ranked St. Francis PA in the semi-finals, the game was still close. The first time CCSU played SFPA, it lost by 17 points, but this time they only lost by six. The NEC title was in sight, but CCSU couldn’t overcome St. Francis.

“We’re still kind of in mourning,” said Piper. “We had a goal for the championship and we didn’t reach it. It really makes you hungry for next year.”

Though Piper and the rest of the team are eager for next year, the Blue Devils will be a different team. Udenze, Crockett, Alexzandria Dowdy and Kerrianne Dugan all won’t return next season. All four were veteran starters and played the bulk of minutes for the Blue Devils. Losing four of five starters will be tough, but Piper feels the returning players will be fine once they get more experience.

“When we get back from vacation we will get back at it,” said Piper. “It’s tough because our four seniors played so many minutes. It’s kind of like rebuilding, the young kids haven’t played a lot but they have the ability to get it done.”

CCSU Women Begin Tourney With In-state Road Win

By Chris McLaughlin

Using its trademark defense, the CCSU women’s basketball team opened up the NEC tournament by knocking off third-ranked Sacred Heart 54-49 on the road.

The Blue Devils (19-10) held Sacred Heart (18-12) to 36 percent shooting and stayed on top the majority of the game.

Justina Udenze led all scorers with 15 points and picked up eight rebounds to set the tone for CCSU’s offense. The defense was anchored by Leanne Crockett, who had three huge blocks in the second half, helping CCSU maintain its lead. Though CCSU had the lead throughout, Sacred Heart hung in until the end.

“To beat Sacred Heart at Sacred Heart is an awesome accomplishment,” said Head Coach Beryl Piper. “The kids executed the game plan to a T, in terms of what they had to do to defend. Sacred Heart had advantages and we were able to take them away with our defense and didn’t allow anyone in double figures.”

Led by Kerrianne Dugan in the first half, the Blue Devils built up a quick lead. Her 10 first-half points helped the Blue Devils jump out to a 10-point lead.

“We were looking to get out to a big lead in the first,” said Dugan. “We kept pushing and pushing, we were really pumped up.”

Though CCSU went up 10, Sacred Heart fought its way back. Going on a 13-0 run, Sacred Heart took its first lead of the game. During the run, CCSU fell flat on offense, going over seven minutes without a point. However, once Sacred Heart took the lead the Blue Devils located its offense and went on a 9-0 run of its own.

“You lose, you’re done, it’s over,” said Piper “ There’s no way they were going down without a fight. We went on a run, they went on a run, we went on a run, they went on a run. I had to tell the kids to just get on to the next play.”

The Blue Devils closed out the half up five and came back from half time focused. While Dugan led in the first half, Udenze took over in the second. CCSU made it a point to give her the ball and she rewarded them. Her 10 second-half points immediately drew the attention of Sacred Heart defenders. Double and sometimes triple-teaming Udenze, Sacred Heart opened up the court for the rest of the Blue Devils.

“Getting Justina [Udenze] going is always apart of our game,” said Piper. “We always try to work inside out and once we did we tried to get Leanne [Crockett] going. She hadn’t been getting many touches in the first half  but she had some big backdoor cuts at crucial times for us.”

Udenze and Crockett combined for 20 of CCSU’s 27 second-half points. While both were providing the bulk of offense, they also both played great defense, helping to shut down Sacred Heart’s Callan Taylor, a member of the All-NEC first time.

The Blue Devils once again built up a double-digit lead, but saw it vanish. Sacred Heart refused to quit and crept back into the game. The lead was brought down to three points in the final minute and Sacred Heart’s post season hopes were still alive. On three straight possessions, Sacred Heart gave CCSU great difficulty in-bounding the ball, forcing two time outs and one tipped pass out of bounds. On the fourth however, Crockett found Dugan wide open under the basket for an easy lay-up to put the game out of reach.

“We ran the same play every time,” said Piper “Then we ran it for Kerrianne, and Leanne and Kerrianne have been playing for so long together and Leanne made that pass right to her. I can’t believe it was that wide open.”

With the win, the Blue Devils move on to the semi-finals, where it will take on number-one ranked St. Francis (PA) tonight.

Veteran Quartet Proves to be the Key to Blue Devils’ Success

Kerrianne Dugan is one of CCSU's graduating seniors. Photo: Kenny Barto.

By Chris McLaughlin

The veteran leadership of Alexzandria Dowdy, Kerrianne Dugan, Leanne Crockett and Justina Udenze has been a major factor in leading the Blue Devils back to the NEC tournament.

Clutch shots have been made, huge defensive stands have been put up and large deficits have been erased as the four women playing out their last year of eligibility clearly have shown they understand what it takes to win close games.

“We all have a lot of experience,” said Dugan. “We all got to play in a lot of games our freshmen, sophomore and junior years so we do have the experience to bring to the table. We have played in a lot of close games; we’ve been there so we know what it takes.”

Dugan, Crockett and Udenze will graduate in May while Dowdy is only in her junior year at CCSU, but will be ineligible to play on the team next season.

More than just leadership, the four Blue Devils have developed a bond after playing together as long as they have. In a sport as fast paced as basketball, where decisions need to be made in an instant, chemistry between the players plays a large role.

“We know all of each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Crockett. “I can tell you Justina’s game, I can tell you Alex’s game, I can tell you Kerrianne’s game. I think that definitely helps out on the court.”

In the NEC, all of the top teams are comprised of mostly seniors and juniors. While the teams at the bottom, such as 2-25 St. Francis New York, are made up of sophomores and freshmen. Having upperclassmen on a team in the NEC will make a big impact. It wasn’t too long ago that CCSU was at the bottom of the conference with Coach Piper waiting on Dowdy, Dugan and Udenze to develop and Crockett to be eligible.

“I think its special how they’ve come together as a group and what they’ve done as seniors just for the entire team and the entire program, with how they’ve worked with the younger kids and making them feel a part of the program. This year we played old and young and next year we’re going to play very young.” said Piper.

All four of them are among the league leaders of the NEC. Udenze leads the team in scoring averaging 10.9 per game and is in the top 20 for the NEC. She is also top in rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage.

Dugan is among the leaders in points scored averaging over 10 a game and in the top ten for assists. Dowdy is fourth in steals and in the top 15 in assists. Crockett, who leads the team in rebounding with nine a game, is also in second place in the NEC. She is also fourth in blocked shots and sixth in three-pointers made.

“Alex has gone above and beyond this year and is playing really well. Kerriane has been consistent every night, she‘s been that way since her freshman year. Justina has grown so much and has been able to score and better understand the things she has to do and Leanne has made her rebounding an important part of her game and it is really hard to take her out of the game because of how many rebounds she can get,” said Piper.

They have not only had an impact on this season, but have left their mark on history as well. On Feb. 5, Crockett broke the CCSU career three-pointer record of 143; a record held for over a decade. Udenze is the all-time leader in blocks for CCSU with 112 and Dugan has played more minutes than any other player in Blue Devil history.

“It’s nice to know what you did make an impact and to know what we did will be remembered,” said Dugan.

Having four veterans on the floor every night provides comfort for Piper. In addition to knowing the value of novice experience, Piper has a confidence in her players that comes from years of watching them play.

Piper has seen them rise from unsure freshmen eager for the playing time to confident seniors leading the team to victory. After years of coaching and helping them develop into the players they are now, Piper knows what to expect from them every night, and often finds it difficult to take them out of the game.

“For myself , I’ve had the opportunity to know these players coming out of high school and had the opportunity to watch them grow and see how they improved from freshmen year to senior year.”

With the four veterans leaving, the Blue Devils will be a very youthful next season. Though they don’t have the experience yet, the four girls leaving see the potential the younger players have and are making sure that their replacements are ready come next season.

“I always tell Kirsten [Daamen] to be more assertive when she has the ball. She has the talent, so I tell her to have confidence in her abilities,” said Udenze.

“Jess [Babe] and I always go hard at each other in practice and I think that really helps us both out,” said Dowdy. “She is always frantic so I tell her to calm down and let the game come to her.”

As the season winds down, the quartet knows their games are running out, but they have no desire to think about life after basketball. After last year’s bump from the NEC tournament, the girls are hungry for another chance to prove themselves. Everything they do is aimed at success in the tournament, so life after isn’t one of their concerns.

“Were going to focus on our last games before we focus on real life,” said Dowdy.

CCSU Upsets LIU On the Road

By Christopher McLaughlin

Bloodied and battered, but not broken, the CCSU women’s basketball team upset Long Island University 68-61 on the road Saturday.

It was a very physical game, as both teams battled throughout. In the final minute, Leanne Crockett took an elbow off her nose and was forced to leave the game as blood came pouring out. Despite the elbow, Crockett left her mark on the game in another way.

Crockett finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds while Justina Udenze finished with 19 and 12 to give the Blue Devils (17-10) something it hasn’t gotten all season: two double-doubles in one game.

Though Crockett and Udenze were huge for the Blue Devils, the play of Alexzandria Dowdy allowed CCSU to pick up the tough road win. Her three second-half three-pointers all came at crucial moments and helped keep the lead despite LIU’s (19-9) surge in momentum.

“We had two keys to victory today: taking care of the ball and our transition defense,” said Head Coach Beryl Piper. “We did a great job, we only had 14 turnovers and 17 assists; so a positive ratio. Alex and Justina had 19 points and Leanne had 13 and we really needed that balance.”

Following a senior day loss, the Blue Devils came out with much more energy than they showed on the night they saluted the graduating seniors. Every player showed improvement right from the start and the Blue Devils led for much of the game.

Led by Udenze, who has been on a tear of late averaging 20 points per game over the last five games, the Blue Devils slowly built up its lead. Udenze finished the half atop all scorers with 12 points and helped open up the floor for the perimeter players.

“It’s always important for Justina to get going, said Piper.” “She’s kind of our go-to player. They do a lot of things inside on her and her only committing one turnover this game was a big factor for us.”

After getting killed by Udenze in the first, LIU tried to counter her dominance by sending extra defenders. The double teams did slow her down, but in doing so, LIU picked its poison. Though Piper has been utilizing the inside-out offense the past several games, this was the most effective it’s been. Udenze did a great job picking up the double team and kicked the ball back out to a wide open shooter. Both Crockett and Dowdy knocked down multiple threes during the half, making LIU pay for doubling Udenze.

“In the Sacred Heart game, Justina had a good game, but we weren’t getting anything from our perimeter kids, and that hurts us,” said Piper. “This time our perimeter kids made the shots, and that was huge for us. Having that floor balance makes a big difference.”

CCSU led by 10 in the second half, but LIU wasn’t going down quietly. Ashley Palmer and Kiara Evans did everything they could to will LIU back in the game. Palmer had 13 in the second half and Evans had seven to keep LIU alive.

The lead was trimmed to three before Dowdy hit a three-pointer to keep LIU at bay. However, after a lay-up by Crockett, consecutive three-pointers from Evans and Krystal Wells cut CCSU’s lead to one and swung the momentum in LIU‘s favor.

While the Blackbird faithful were excited and the players were pumped up, CCSU had seniors who have been there before. Unfazed by the turn of events, Crockett drained a three to silence the crowd. Slightly deflated, LIU followed up by missing a lay-up, which led to Dowdy knocking down another three, taking the life out of LIU.

“Usually when we start doing bad and they start coming back we get down on ourselves,” said Dowdy. “I knew we just had to calm down. We had the lead and I knew we could keep the lead.”

A road win against a top team is important this time of the year, especially since the Blue Devils won’t get any home games in the tournament, unless the team plays the eight seed in the finals.

“It’s always good to win but we know it’s one game at a time,” said Piper. “We can’t overlook that, we still have to go out and play a great game.”

Sacred Heart Puts a Damper on Senior Night

By Chris McLaughlin

Unable to put together any kind of run, the CCSU women’s basketball team fell to Sacred Heart 71-55 on senior night.

It was the final home game for the four Blue Devil seniors Kerrianne Dugan, Alexzandria Dowdy, Justina Udenze and Leanne Crockett, but only Udenze got anything done on the court.

Turnovers were costly in this one, as every time the Blue Devils (16-10) seemed poised to go on a run, it would give the ball right back to Sacred Heart (17-10). The team committed 27 in total and gave up 26 points in the process.

While Udenze had another monster game with 23 points and a career high 19 rebounds, she was a turnover shy from the kind triple-double you don’t want.

The Blue Devils led 6-4 at the 15:24 mark in the first half, but was the last time they would have the lead in a game where Sacred Heart controlled throughout.

“The hardest part was that we started the game with no intensity,” said Head Coach Beryl Piper. “Our defense has always been important, but they completely out-hustled us. Everything we work on everyday we didn’t do.”

CCSU struggled both offensively and defensively early on giving up 40 first-half points while not even cracking 30 themselves. If it wasn’t for the play of Udenze the game would have been over long before halftime. She had 12 in the first half, on a very efficient 6-9 shooting, and kept CCSU from being blown out.

“Justina did a nice job,” said Piper. “She scored a lot though I thought she could have scored more, but I can’t complain. She didn’t have a lot of help.”

Turnovers continued to haunt CCSU in the second half, preventing them from capitalizing on a better defensive performance.

Sacred Hearts field goal percentage dropped 20 while the Blue Devils put pressure on them. However, the Blue Devils didn’t fare much better shooting the ball. CCSU went 0-10 from beyond the arc and 8-26 from inside it. Even free throws had difficulty finding the bottom of the net, as only Jessica Babe shot above 50 percent.

Once again, Udenze was the source for the Blue Devils. Her 15 second-half rebounds gave the Blue Devils an opportunity, but the team couldn’t take advantage. She led the team with 11 second-half points, but only Babe did anything else offensively with six.

“We got stagnant and got caught watching a lot,” said Piper. “We played as bad as we could have played. 2-16 for three is just horrible, our 56 percent from the foul line is horrible, we’re not going to win games doing that.”

Sacred Heart lead by as many as 17, but the Blue Devils were able to trim it to single digits. The Blue Devils seemed to gain momentum once the lead was back to single digits, but every time it got a big stop, CCSU gave the ball right back. Fifteen second half turnovers prevented the miracle comeback.

At the two minute mark, the Blue Devils began intentionally fouling on every Sacred Heart possession to stop the clock. Had Sacred Heart missed the free throws, CCSU would have stood a chance. Sacred Heart did not miss the free throws and ended up padding the lead and its players stats.

“They seemed quicker than us getting steals and getting rebounds. Are they quicker than us or did we just not come ready to play? I think we didn’t come ready to play,” said Piper.

With the loss, the Blue Devils have sealed its fate in the NEC tournament. While not locked in seventh place, the Blue Devils will not have a home court game in the tournament unless the top four teams get knocked off early.

One game remains on the schedule for the Blue Devils when the women travel to Long Island on Saturday.

Women’s Basketball Sports Pink for Cancer Awareness

By Chris McLaughlin

After defeating them on the road last Saturday, the CCSU women’s basketball team completed its season sweep of Bryant, defeating the Bulldogs 61-53 at home.

While it was another big win for the Blue Devils, the game was special for another reason. For the third straight year, the Blue Devils participated in the Pink Zone event to raise awareness for breast cancer. Both teams wore pink warm up shirts, and the Blue Devil players went out and bought pink socks and shoe laces to help celebrate the event.

“Breast cancer affects so many people,” said Piper. “Everyone knows someone who was diagnosed with it, and to be able to something for the foundation is nice for the program. I think it means a lot to the girls because it was last year that PJ’s mom passed away from it so it hits close to home. Its special for all the teams to make an effort and make a donation.”

While the result of the two games was the same, what happened along the way was not. CCSU won the first game with its offense. The next game was won with defense. Alexzandria Dowdy tied the CCSU game record with nine steals, setting the tone for the rest of the team. In total, the Blue Devils combined for 22 steals in the rematch, and forced 31 turnovers, which helped keep Bryant down, despite a late comeback.

“It’s never easy to beat a team back to back,” said Head Coach Beryl Piper. “These two wins are really big. We’re in seventh place, and were trying not to go back to Pittsburgh, so right now its about digging deep, and being in control of our own destiny.”

During the last game, Bryant got killed by Justina Udenze down in the paint, a fact that neither team forgot. While Bryant adjusted its defense to prevent this, the Blue Devils forced them to prove it worked, and kept feeding her. Sending extra help, bodying her up more, and playing hack-a-Udenze, the Bulldogs did everything they could to keep her from lighting them up again. Udenze responded to the physical play with 13 first half points, leading both teams.

“They were much more aggressive and physical tonight,” said Udenze. “I guess they figured they couldn’t let me get to the rim like that, but I was trying to be aggressive, too. With the season winding down, I really want to leave with the NEC Championship, so I’m going to do what I have to do to win.”

The Blue Devils closed out the first half with a 34-28 lead, and started the second half as if the lead wasn’t enough. Ratcheting up the defensive intensity, CCSU attacked Bryant’s ball handlers unmercifully. In the first half, the Blue Devils had just five steals, and Dowdy only one, but in the second CCSU swiped the ball 17 times.

Kerrianne Dugan had four, and Leanne Crockett had three, but there was no matching Dowdy and her eight. Whether it was diving for loose balls, or just picking the Bulldogs’ pockets, Dowdy was an absolute terror on defense. During one stretch, Dowdy stole the ball on three straight possessions. If Bryant was haunted by Udenze before, it will be having nightmares about Dowdy now.

“Last game all of their guards were cutting to the right, so I learned from last game, and was able to prevent them from going right,” said Dowdy.

Though the Blue Devils led by as many as 14 in the second half, Bryant began to chip away at the lead. While CCSU was able to take the ball away, it didn’t always get points out of it. The Blue Devils caused 20 second half turnovers, which only resulted in 14 points.

Shooting 31 percent, and going 0-10 from beyond the arc allowed the Bulldogs to catch up even with the hefty number of turnovers. Despite the struggles, Bryant never cut the lead below four. Down five in the final minute, Bryant was forced to foul, but the Blue Devils made the shots and put the game out of reach.

“Shooting 1-13 for three and 55 percent from the free throw line are not good stats for us,” said Piper. “If you look at the other game we shot great in both of those areas and that makes a difference in the score, but on the other hand last game they shot great from the three line, and tonight they shot only 23 percent so we did a better job putting pressure on the ball.”

Now in the home stretch of the season, the Blue Devils only have two home games left. The first will be against Quinnipiac, who comes to campus on Saturday.