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La Salle, St. Joe's WBB ready for Atlantic 10 tournament

03/01/2023, 12:45pm EST
By Owen McCue

By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

The La Salle and Saint Joseph's women’s basketball teams appeared poised to be two of the top dogs in the Atlantic 10 during different points of this season. Both mixed in some hot stretches with some cold streaks and instead finished bunched around the middle of the 15-team A-10.

At this time of the season neither team is too concerned with that, however. The Explorers and Hawks both enter the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball championship at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del. four wins away from a league title and NCAA Tournament berth.

“We’re excited to get an opportunity to compete for a championship,” La Salle coach Mountain MacGillivray said. “We came here with a higher seed last year and lost in the first round. I think a lot of kids have a little bit of a bitter taste from that, in their mouth. I know certainly I do. Want to see if we can shake up the world.”

“Certainly, we talk about going to Delaware and winning the whole thing and bringing a trophy back here, that’s why we’re going there. We’re not going in the tournament to make a good showing.”

La Salle forward Kayla Spruill was a third team All Atlantic 10 selection. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The Explorers were bounced in their opener as the 5th seed by 12th-seeded George Mason last season. The two teams meet again at 11 a.m. on Thursday as the eighth-seeded Explorers face the ninth-seeded Patriots this time. 

Senior guard Claire Jacobs (12.6 ppg) leads the Explorers in scoring while graduate forward Kayla Spruill (12.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg) was a third team all-league selection, and graduate guard Molly Masciantonio (4.5 apg) leads Division I in assist to turnover ratio (4.71) by a wide margin.

La Salle took down George Mason, 69-62, in the teams’ only regular-season meeting Jan. 11. Jacobs had 18 points to lead the way in that one. 

“Obviously, the game where you played each other is of paramount importance because the things that they did that worked against you defensively and offensively and vice versa, you can imagine you’re going to see out on the court,” MacGillivray said.The things that didn’t work are going to be replaced by something that’s been working recently for them, and vice versa. It’s a mixture of both.“

St. Joe’s began 4-0 in A-10 play. A 1-5 stretch from Jan. 14 to Feb. 1 included one-possession losses to league regular-season champ UMass and La Salle, an overtime loss to Richmond and a double overtime loss to A-10 regular-season runner-up Rhode Island.

“I think it’s a confidence booster for us that we know we can play with the top teams in the league,” St. Joe’s coach Cindy Griffin said. “We’re a possession or two away from beating them, but the fragility, it’s so fragile where we could lose to a team we’re not supposed to lose to as well because of the way that the game of basketball is. You have to be on on that given day because our conference is so competitive with some great players and some great coaches.”

St. Joe's forward Talya Brugler was a first team All Atlantic 10 selection. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

St. Joe’s was well-represented on the league’s postseason awards list. Sophomore forward Talya Brugler (16.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 apg), last season’s Rookie of the Year, earned first team All-Atlantic 10 honors for the first time. Sophomore guard Mackenzie Smith (13.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and freshman forward Laura Ziegler (11.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg) both earned third team all-league honors, Ziegler adding the Hawks’ second straight Rookie of the Year award.

“She committed to changing her, body, her fitness, getting stronger,” Griffin said of Brugler. 

“She has done that. For her to have the year that she’s having and to be recognized for that, I’m just so thrilled for her.”

The Hawks are the sixth seed in the tournament after winning a pair of games as the seventh seed to reach the tournament semifinals a year ago. St. Joe’s will face the winner of Wednesday's contest between No. 11 Davidson and No. 14 St. Bonaventure (5 p.m.) on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.. The Hawks took down the Wildcats, 72-56, on Feb. 15 and the Bonnies, 92-61 on Jan. 25. If they get by either of those teams, No. 3 Saint Louis awaits Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re excited about where we are and that we have the opportunity,” Griffin said. “This time of year, seeding does matter to a point, but the other thought is you just have to go out and be ready to compete for 40 minutes and just take one game at a time and do what we do best. We’re not gonna change a whole lot of things. We’re just gonna be who we are. It was enough to win us 19 games and we want to see how far it’s gonna take us in the tournament.”

The Explorers would get another crack at UMass at 11 a.m. on Friday if they can get past George Mason. La Salle shot 3-of-27 threes in the 66-42 Feb. 4 home loss.

“We played UMass at our place here and held them scoreless for like the first four minutes of the game, unfortunately we couldn’t throw the ball in the basket,” MacGillivray said. “I think that we can have some success against them and they’ve got a team full of really talented players that we’re going to have to play well to beat, but that’s everybody in the conference.”

La Salle hasn’t been to the tournament since 1989. The Hawks are looking to book their first NCAA trip since an at-large bid in 2014, last winning the A-10 tourney in 2013.

Anything is possible this time of the year.

“I’m really fired up to get down there, tournament time is really fun,” MacGillivray said. “The Atlantic 10 is a great women’s basketball league, there are a lot of teams that could end up cutting down the net at the end. Clearly there are two favorites, but they both have two losses in conference [play], right, so people have found a way to beat them, and all the other teams have beaten each other at some point. It could be a wild ride and I hope to be a part of it.”

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