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.