By Robert Janish
Senior Sports Writer
The Canisius women’s basketball team is currently in eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference standings, and after tough losses to the Siena Saints and Marist Red Foxes, the Griffs hosted the Manhattan Jaspers Thursday night. They will then host the Iona Gaels Saturday afternoon with aspirations to reach 7-7 and climb up the standings after this weekend.
After playing both teams on the road and splitting the matchups with a 62-57 victory over the Manhattan Jaspers and a 57-55 defeat against the Iona Gaels, they sit at a crucial point in the year , with a month until the MAAC tournament starts to begin piling up victories.
Head Coach Terry Zeh believes in order to be successful at Manhattan, the team could play with a similar strategy in order to sweep the Jaspers for the season. One of the keys for his team is to stop one of their key players, Kayla Grimme, citing her success on the court this year, earning 12.8 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game.
His team did just that, because along with earning the victory, Grimme, despite getting a double-double, shot only 5-15, and forced her to turn the ball over four times, so it was a nice defensive effort in the win.
Junior guard Margret Halfdanardottir says it’s important for the team to push their opposition into forcing shots and not give them anything, “and try to fix the mistakes we made in the earlier games, try and find our intensity and defense again.”
Junior forward Sarah Cooley said the focus in practice this week has been on the types of plays Manhattan runs, such as ball screen actions and “how we’re going to defend them and the past couple practices, we’ve put in a lot of good work against how we’re going to guard them and so I think by doing that, we’re going to be prepared for the game.”
Zeh went on to address their opponent on Saturday in the Iona Gaels and what it would to take to earn a victory and split the season series. He believes they have the best player in the conference in guard Marina Lizarazu, who’s averaging 14.2 points per game, second on her team, “so you have to figure out how to control her and keep her from making everybody else, which is what she does a lot of times.”
The losses to both Siena and Marist hurt their standings in the conference, according to Zeh. “Those are two teams that are sort of close to us in the MAAC standings, so you go on the road and lose those two games, that hurts you,” he said. Zeh also said he hopes the team learns from it because he believes those were the worst set of back-to-back games since the start of the new year.
Halfdanardottir, who averaged 8.5 points between their first contests against Manhattan and Iona this year believes a win over Manhattan is important. “You want to win every time, I think it’s important to get a win, mostly for your self-esteem, but it’s still very important,” she said.
“I think it’s going to make a difference getting us back on track with the intensity and defense especially,” Halfdanardottir said regarding their two matchups this week and the significance they hold. She added how the team lost it in their games last week and how crucial it is for them to turn it around in this upcoming set of games.
Unfortunately, the shooting struggles Halfdanardottir discussed continued Thursday night, as she only notched one point off a free throw shot, but still helped to play an integral role on the defensive side of the ball.
Cooley said she has improved as a team leader this year because, “I’ve been able to speak more to the team, be more vocal to the team with what is going on and what we need to do to improve and try to win some games.”
In order to be successful, Zeh says it’s important for the team to bring its compete level back up to the level when they had success, “because if you don’t compete, you’re not going to give yourself the opportunity.”
Mentioning how competitive and intense MAAC play can be, Cooley said “this far into MAAC play, you always want to win games, that’s always your objective, and right now we’re trying to put ourselves in a good spot going into the tournament.” She added that in order to play the teams they’d rather face in the tournament, “from here on out all the games are pretty important.”
Zeh says it always feels good to come back home and play in front of the home crowd, especially
because playing on the road is not as comfortable , and “the road travel wears on you after a while, where you’re in and out of hotels, in and out of buses, and it wears you down after a while.”
Halfdanardottir says that playing at home “makes you comfortable, I really like shooting on my court, I don’t even realize how important it is just to play home and have your fans cheering you on.”
“We believe we can be in the top four, and we believe we can win this conference,” Halfdanardottir said about her team’s chances. The defense is most important to perform in order to win because “if a defense is good, then the offense is just going to sort it out by itself.”
Zeh says the team’s upcoming two-week home stand will be beneficial, especially since the added stress of missing classes and trying to get assignments in on time is gone once you’re back home for a while.
“I think winning always improves confidence,” Cooley said. “The more confidence that you have going into the games, and whether you win or lose, it’s competing as hard as we can and I think going into these games, keep trying to build that winning each possession and putting more possessions together that we win will help us win games and that will help the momentum going forward.”
Halfdanardottir says it’s necessary that the team continue to play aggressive, and “we can’t lose our confidence even though we lost those two games.” Boxing out and grabbing defensive rebounds will also be a huge focal point as they look to regain their composure.
Cooley said that each game is different and “you have to go out there every single night with your most competitive mindset and so, I think, looking back at last time, we know that we can win these games, but we just have to show up and compete hard and hopefully get the job done.”
Halfdanardottir said it’s very important to get victories this week in an effort to build momentum, “just give us the confidence we need, because after those bad two games that we need to know that were capable of still doing this and change things and get back on track.”
After the Griffs knocked off Manhattan 58-48, they improved to 6-7 and look to Iona this Saturday with the hopes of making up for their last matchup and get a win this weekend and push their team up in the MAAC standings.