Cal U's path to Elite 8 blocked by Gannon
As the NCAA basketball tournament continues tonight for the Cal U women, the pressure will be on.
But as the Vulcans visit Gannon in a Sweet 16 matchup, pressure will be the key word — as in half-court ball pressure.
Cal U coach Jess Strom said defensive pressure and rebounding will be keys when the Vulcans and Gannon renew their season rivalry. A spot in the Elite Eight March 26-28 in San Antonio, will be on the line.
“A lot of our offense comes from our defense,” Strom said. “When you see our shooting percentage above 50 percent, it means we're scoring a lot off defense and turnovers.”
Strom said the Vulcans will have to be patient in their half-court offense, but opportunistic off the chances their defense provides.
“It's easier for us to force turnovers and score layups than to run our half-court offense,” Strom said.
Cal U advanced to the regional final match with Gannon after edging Glenville State 81-79 Saturday. Senior Stephanie Michael hit the game-winning basket with 4.3 seconds left in a second-round game at the Hammermill Center.
Cal U enters this evening's contest with a 22-8 record.
Gannon, top seeded in the region, posted a 64-46 victory over IUP Saturday.
Cal U will be making its sixth all-time appearance in the regional championship, and first since 2009.
Cal U will be facing Gannon for the fourth time this season and the third time at the Hammermill Center.
The Vulcans' lone win against Gannon came at home on a Feb. 9 alumni day contest, 81-73.
But Gannon topped Cal U 65-53 Jan. 19 and the hosts won 77-50 in a PSAC auarterfinal match March 5.
In their two wins, Gannon used strong defense — holding the Vulcans to under 40 percent from the field — and controlled the boards.
In the March 5 game, Gannon led from wire to wire. Poor shooting hampered Cal U, which finished the game 38.8 percent (19-of-49) from the floor after making just 16.7 percent (3-of-18) from beyond the arc. Gannon shot at a 56.9 clip (33-of-48) from the field and made 41.7 percent (5-of-12) from long range.
The Golden Knights held a 41-20 rebounding advantage as well.
Cal U was in the middle of a midseason swoon — losing three straight — when they were bested by Gannon Jan. 19.
The Vulcans finished that game shooting 32.8 percent (20-of-61) from the field despite making just 7.7 percent (2-of-26) from three-point territory. The Golden Knights made 40.9 percent (18-of-44) from the floor and 72.7 percent (26-of-36) from the free-throw line. Gannon posted a 41-32 rebounding advantage.
Strom said boxing out will be the key to winning the battle on the boards. The rebounding battle will be a familiar one for the Vulcans.
“We going to have to focus on it,” Strom said. “We're a lot smaller than them, but smaller than a lot of teams. We have to make a concious effort to block out every time the shot goes up.”
In their lone victory against the Golden Knights, the Vulcans used strong shooting and an opportunistic defense to beat the sixth-ranked visitors.
The Vulcans shot 27 of 50 from the field, including eight of 12 from beyond the arc. Cal U also forced 25 turnovers, scoring 31 points from the Golden Knights miscues.
What did Strom take out of that lone victory?
“I think not just in the win, but every time we played them, there were stretches where we played well and stretches where they went on runs,” Strom said. “It will come down to our defense. We have to think no possessions where we're off defensively.”
With defense key to tonight's contest, it's no surprise where Strom hopes the final score plays out.
“As a team defensively, it's better for us any time we can keep them in the 50s.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.