By Marshall Haim
Assistant Sports Editor
The rivalry between Canisius and Niagara began its first installment of the winter season this past Wednesday evening between the Golden Griffins and the Purple Eagles. The women’s basketball team earned solid statistical numbers offensively and defensively, enabling the Griffs to defeat the Purple Eagles, 65-57, at the Gallagher Center on the campus of Niagara University.
Defense was the strong suit for the Griffs allowing the Purple Eagles’ star forward Victoria Rampado to only two first-half points, both coming off free throws. She shot 0-of-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes. Rampado, however, finished the game scoring a team-best 20 points, while adding seven rebounds (five offensive).
“They were really trying to get it to her in the low-post in the first half. We didn’t let her get it and it caused those numbers,” Canisius head coach Terry Zeh said on Friday. “In the second half, they pulled her out away from the basket and let her get the ball out there a little bit more. She got some baskets and a couple and-ones but we still did a good job. We just have to know that they’re going to try to take her off the bounce a little bit.”
In the first half, Canisius allowed the Purple Eagles (5-13, 2-7) to shoot a minuscule 17.2 percent for the field (5-for-29), including 1-of-11 from 3-point range. The Purple Eagles converted on all nine free throw attempts in the first half, which helped the Purple Eagles keep their halftime deficit to 29-20.
Against Marist on Jan. 5, Zeh stated that the team needed to improve their defense. Since then, in four games, the Griffs have limited the opposition to shoot at or under 37 percent in all of them (under 31 percent in three of the four games).
During the Griffs’ three-game road trip which concluded at Niagara on Wednesday, saw the Griffs go 2-1, defeating Saint Peter’s and Niagara, while losing to Monmouth by only two. Monmouth made the highest percentage of their shots during the Griffs’ road trip, shooting a 37.0 clip.
“I thought we did some really good things at Saint Peter’s and Monmouth on the road,” Zeh said. “I think we understand how hard you have to defend consistently if you want to be in basketball games. I think we did a really good job at Niagara, we took away what they wanted to do and took them out of their rhythm.”
“It’s just coming together slowly,” said junior guard Margret Halfdanardottir, about the team’s defense. “We are realizing what to do and we are doing it with such intensity right now.”
On the other side of the ball, Canisius earned offensive success from Halfdanardottir and sophomore forward Sara Hinriksdottir, both natives of Iceland. Hinriksdottir scored her fourth career game with at least 20 points (all coming this year), scoring a game-high 22 points. She added six rebounds, two assists and a block. Halfdanardottir scored 15 points, nine of which coming off three-pointers, while contributing three rebounds and three assists in the winning effort.
Hinriksdottir, game in and game out, has shown a knack for attacking the rim and earning gritty points down low. Zeh, in the post-game press conference noted that the 6-foot-1 sophomore has improved greatly on attacking the rim and using a tactic called “ball-away”, which is keeping the ball on the opposite side of the defender.
“I’m really confident,” Hinriksdottir said about driving to the basket. I’m more of a driver than a shooter. I’ve always been that kind of player, just go strong.”
“We knew last year that she was really, really good, that’s why we recruited her,” Zeh said about Hinriksdottir. “Her adjustment to America and basketball was tough. To her credit, she stuck with it, kept battling and now you’re starting to see athletically, with her size and skill set, the things she can do in our conference not everybody can do.”
Halfdanardottir, who actually sent in video to Zeh to be recruited by Canisius, scored her ninth game in double-figures on the season, the fifth such game in her last six. It was also Halfdanardottir’s 24th career game scoring at least 10 points.
Zeh had nothing but high praise for the junior from Hafnarfjörður.
“Margret is the model of efficiency. If you just look at her career, her numbers and percentages are just efficient. She’s so steady,” he stated. “She practices the way she plays, and as a coach, you love that. You know what you’re getting from Margret every day. She’s the factory worker that’s going to put in those hours and work as hard as they can the entire time. She’s effective for us and and she’s doing great things.”
Canisius also had 18 assists on 22 made field goals (81.8 assist-to-field goal percentage), their highest such ratio with a minimum of 20 made field goals this season. No player had more than three assists in the win. Sarah Cooley, Halfdanardottir, Tamara Miskovic and Maria Welch all had three assists for the Griffs. Along with Hinriksdottir and Halfdanardottir scoring in double-figures, Saliah Serrette and Welch scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, both coming off the bench registering at least 25 minutes.
Canisius (5-13, 4-5) will return home for their first game since Jan. 7, when the Griffs host the Fairfield Stags (8-9, 5-3) for a 2 p.m. tipoff at the Koessler Athletic Center.
Fairfield is led by a trio of scorers who currently average at least 12 points per game. Kelsey Carey leads the Stags in scoring (15.5 PPG). Casey Smith (12.8 PPG) and Samantha Cooper (12.5 PPG) round out the Stags scoring attack.
Not only can those three score, they also have a high ability to rebound. Cooper leads the team in rebounding (8.5 RPG), while Smith and Carey also average at least six rebounds per contest. All players are at least 6-feet tall, which may give the Griffs some issues.
“Fairfield is similar to Niagara in some ways. They’re scoring points from their two big kids and a fair amount of points with them,” Zeh said about Sunday’s opposition. “We’re really going to have to limit those touches in the post because they like to get it in there and set a million screens to get it there. They just run tons of plays.Literally, this time of year, they may have 30 different plays that they run.”
Following Sunday’s game with the Stags, Canisius will have to road games, traveling to play Siena and Marist. Canisius will then return home to play five of their next six games in front of the Koessler Athletic Center crowd.
“Our record’s not so good at home,” Zeh joked. “It’s good to be back. Being on the road a lot wares on you, it’s tiring. You feel a little more comfortable when you’re playing at home.”
Disclaimer: Fairfield’s record and statistics along with Niagara’s record are from before their meeting on Friday night