Women's Basketball Heads South For Miami Holiday Classic

Alexis Nicholas

Click here for the full Miami Holiday Classic Game Notes

GAME DAY QUICK FACTS:
What: Holy Cross at the Miami Holiday Classic
When: December 28-29, 2011
Where: BankUnited Center (7,000), Miami, Fla.
Tournament Host: Miami
Tournament Participants: Holy Cross, Miami, Morgan State, Virginia Commonwealth

Day One:  Morgan State vs. VCU, 5:00 p.m., Dec. 28
Holy Cross vs. Miami, 7:00 p.m., Dec. 28
Day Two: Consolation TBA, Dec. 29
Championship Game, TBA, Dec. 29
Unofficial Live Stats:  Click Here
Miami Radio: WVUM 90.5 FM
Miami Video: Watch Here

Series Record versus Miami: Miami leads, 1-0
Series Record versus Morgan State:  First Meeting
Series Record versus Virginia Commonwealth: First meeting

HOLY CROSS IN TOURNAMENT PLAY: Competing in regular season basketball tournaments has become an annual event for the Holy Cross women's basketball team as they have participated in 40 separate tournaments since the 1981-1982 season. The Worcester State Holiday Festival marked the team's first tournament back in 1981. The team played in its first Division I tournament on Dec. 4 and 5, 1982, participating in the Fairfield (Conn.) Warner Classic. Under head coach Bill Gibbons, the team has traveled as far as Anchorage, Alaska and San Diego, Calif. to play in invitationals. Under his guidance, the team has won 52 of 102 tournament games, including a 0-2 record from the Cavalier Classic last season. The last time Holy Cross hosted its own tournament was in the 1987-1988 season, where they topped Niagara and Villanova and was crowned the Crusader Invitational champion. Over the past 11 seasons, Holy Cross has been named the tournament champion two times, with the last time coming at the American Classic on Dec. 2 and 3, 2000. The Crusaders topped Delaware State and American to claim the title. This will be the second time Holy Cross has played in the Miami Classic, last competing in the tournament on Jan. 2, 1987. That year's tournament consisted of Miami, Florida International, Iona and Holy Cross with the Crusaders going 1-2.

SERIES HISTORY AGAINST TOURNAMENT OPPONENTS: All-time, Holy Cross has faced just one of the three other Miami Classic participants. Miami has been on the Crusaders' schedule once in program history while Morgan State and Virginia Commonwealth have never faced a Holy Cross team. The Hurricanes are 1-0 when playing Holy Cross, as the teams last met in 1987 as part of the Miami Classic. The Hurricanes won that game 83-76. Gibbons is responsible for the one loss against the Miami Classic opponents while no current coach has faced Holy Cross.

HOLY CROSS AGAINST THE ACC: In program history, Holy Cross has played against eight of the 12 teams that compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Crusaders have already faced ACC-foe Boston College this season and play ACC opponent Miami in the Miami Classic on Dec. 28. Combined, Holy Cross has registered an all-time 9-28 record against the Eagles and Hurricanes, including the 67-58 loss to Boston College this season. Against the other six conference teams, the Crusaders have notched three wins and eight losses throughout program history. The team boasts a winning record against North Carolina State (1-0), has an even record with Maryland (1-1) and North Carolina (1-1) and has posted losing records against Duke (0-4), Virginia (0-2) and Wake Forest (0-1). The squad has never played Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech. 

SCOUTING MIAMI
Record: 9-1 Affiliation: ACC
HEAD COACH: Katie Meier enters her seventh season as the head coach of the Hurricanes women's basketball program in 2011-2012. Meier was named the AP National Coach of the Year last season after leading the Hurricanes into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004 and winning in the first round of the tournament for the first time since 1993. Her career record stands at 176-134 in 10 years of head coaching.

2011-2012 SQUAD: The No. 7 Miami women's basketball team stands at 9-2 on the season. The squad won eight of its last nine games, last losing to Georgetown on Dec. 21. Senior guard Shenise Johnson leads the team's offense with 17.1 points per game. She also is the team's leading rebounder with 7.3 rebounds per contest. Senior guard Riquna Williams and junior forwardMorgan Stroman also average in double-figures, putting up 16.4 and 12.5 points apiece.

HOLY CROSS AGAINST THE MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE: In program history, Holy Cross has played against four out of the 12 teams that make up the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Crusaders have won two of the five total meetings against MEAC opponents. Holy Cross has faced Howard the most, competing against them twice all-time and splitting the series 1-1. The Crusaders have also played against Delaware State, Coppin State and most recently North Carolina A&T. Holy Cross beat Delaware State (74-55) in 2000 and lost to Coppin State (72-70) in 1991 and North Carolina A&T (75-62) at the Cavalier Classic last season. The squad has never faced Bethune-Cookman, Florida A&M, Hampton, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina-Central, Savannah State or South Carolina State.

SCOUTING MORGAN STATE
Record: 2-6 Affiliation: MEAC
HEAD COACH: Donald Beasley enters his seventh season as the head coach of the Bears women's basketball program in 2011-2012. He has put together a career record of 93-86 in his six years at the helm of the program. He led his squad to a 17-15 record last season, including a 10-6 record in conference play, good enough for a second place finish.

2011-2012 SQUAD: The Bears women's basketball team stands at 2-7 on the 2011-2012 season. The squad has wins against George Washington and Patriot League opponent Bucknell but has lost its last five straight, including a 65-48 loss against Stony Brook the last time out. Senior guard Dekeisha Matthis leads the team's offense with 13.2 points per game. Fellow senior guard Omara Parker leads all starters on defense, averaging 4.5 rebounds per game.

HOLY CROSS AGAINST THE COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: In program history, Holy Cross has played against six of the 12 teams that compete in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). In all, the Crusaders have won 24 of the 30 match-ups against CAA opponents (80 percent), including a win over Northeastern earlier this season. Holy Cross may have the chance to face its second CAA opponent this season, as they will compete in the Miami Holiday Classic along with Virginia Commonwealth. Northeastern and Hofstra have been the most frequent CAA teams on the Holy Cross schedule, competing against the Crusaders a combined 25 times. Against all CAA teams, Holy Cross has never lost to Drexel (1-0), North Carolina-Wilmington (1-0) and Towson (1-0). Holy Cross has won the most games against Northeastern (13) and only holds a losing record against Old Dominion (0-1). The squad has never faced Delaware, George Mason, Georgia State, James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth or William and Mary.

SCOUTING VCU
Record: 6-3 Affiliation: CAA
HEAD COACH: Virginia Commonwealth University's all-time winningest coach, Beth Cunningham enters her ninth season at the helm and her 11th year overall with the VCU women's basketball program this season. A former WNBA player and Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer, Cunningham spent two years as an assistant with the Rams before taking over the reins at the conclusion of the 2002-2003 campaign. She has compiled a career record of 148-100 in her eight season with the Rams.

2011-2012 SQUAD: The Rams women's basketball team stands at 7-3 on the season and has won its last four-straight, picking up wins over Northeastern, East Carolina, Coppin State and Nofolk State. High Point, Charlotte and Richmond have been the only three teams to hand the VCU squad losses. Senior forward Courtney Hurt leads the team offensively with a commanding 23.8 points per game. She also is the team's top rebounder, averaging 10.5 boards per game. Senior guard Andrea Barbour is the other Ram to average double-figures, scoring 17.7 points per game.

WARD LEADS SQUAD: The lone senior on the roster, Meredith Ward (Westerly, R.I.), was named captain for the 2011-2012 season. Ward was also named a tri-captain for the 2010-2011 season. She is the veteran leader in the backcourt and has started at guard in all 11 games this season, averaging 33.5 minutes, 8.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. She played in a career-high 38 minutes in the win over Bryant the last time out, missing just two minutes of action. Her playing time has increased dramatically during her senior season as she averaged 21.3 minutes over her first three years. Her point and rebound averages have also improved, as she is scoring 4.6 points more and bringing down 2.8 more rebounds than her career averages (4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds). Ward has notched three double-digit scoring outings thus far, highlighted by her first career double-double against UMass on Nov. 22. She scored 14 points and tallied a career-best 12 rebounds, almost doubling her previous high of seven rebounds. Her other double-figure games include Quinnipiac (15 points) and Fordham (12). Against Boston College, Ward tallied a season-high six assists and has a total of 30 dishes on the season, third highest on the team. Ward is also emerging as a big presence on the boards for the team, as she ranks third on the squad in that category. On the season, Ward has collected 16 offensive and 36 defensive rebounds. Her free throw shooting remains strong as well, as she hits 84 percent (27 of 32) from the line. As a junior, Ward registered a Holy Cross single-game record when she went 12-for-12 from the free throw line against Quinnipiac and finished the season as the team's top free throw performer, making 84 percent of her attempts. In her career, she has scored 457 points, recorded 217 rebounds and 194 assists.

SMOOTH SMITH: Sophomore guard Alex Smith (Delran, N.J.) was chosen to the preseason All-League Team after being named to the Patriot League All-Rookie Team last season. Her accolades continue to stack up as she was named the Patriot League Player of the Week for the first time in her career on Dec. 12. Her numbers keep on improving as she has led the team in scoring in four of the last six games, highlighted by a 22-point outburst at Harvard, tying her career-high. Her 11-point performance against Bryant on Dec. 21 extended her double-digit scoring streak to three games as she has notched eight double-digit scoring affairs in all. Her other double-figure outings include 17 points at Boston College, 20 points versus Northeastern, 15 points at Central Connecticut, 14 points versus UMass, 14 points versus Quinnipiac and 11 points at Yale. Smith also topped out in the assists category against Harvard, collecting 11 to notch a career-high and record her first-ever double-double. She is the only Patriot League player to record a points and assist double-double on the season. She is currently the team's top point performer and ranks second in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 13.3 points per game. She also adds a team-high 5.7 assists per game as she has led the team in that category in a total of nine contests. She has 63 on the season. She has also hit her season-high of five three-point shots made in a game twice, coming against Northeastern and Boston College. She has hit multiple three-pointers in eight contests, including the last four games, and averages 2.6 three-pointers per game, leading the league. She now has 30 career games where she's made at least two three-pointers. She also leads the team in minutes played per game (34.7). As a freshman, Smith ranked second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.1 point per game. She also ranked first on the team in minutes played per game (32.0) and assists (98). She finished the season with 82 three-pointers made, ranking second-highest in the Holy Cross single-season records. In her career, Smith has recorded 467 points, 150 rebounds and 161 assists.

LEAPS FOR LEPLEY: Junior forward Amy Lepley (Norfolk, Mass.) returns for her third-straight season as one of the team's starting forwards. She is at full strength as she currently ranks second on the team and fifth in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 12.6 points per game. Lepley's numbers continue to impress as she has notched seven double-figure outings in the last nine games, highlighted by a season-high 20-point outburst in the win over New Hampshire on Dec. 3. She has also notched double-figures against Bryant (18) Boston College (11), UMass (15), Harvard (15), Fordham (14), Quinnipiac (13) and Yale (12). She has led the team in scoring in five total games, including the 18 points put up against the Bryant Bulldogs. She went 8-of-11 from the field the last time out, tallying her best field goal percentage of the season (72.7 percent). Lepley is the team's best shooter, making 50.9 percent of her field goal attempts (57 of 112), which also ranks second amongst Patriot League players. She is a true double-threat, as she ranks second on the team and 18th in the league in rebounding, averaging 5.0 rebounds per game. Her season-high number of rebounds is seven, which she recorded twice (vs. UMass and Northeastern). She's led the team in rebounding in three contests thus far. Originally playing as a guard in high school, the converted forward led the team in rebounding (5.6 per game) and blocks (13) in 2010-2011. In her career she has scored 635 points, recorded 348 rebounds and 134 assists.

PICK-ME-UP PARKER: Freshman forward Emily Parker (Johnston, Iowa) got her Holy Cross career off to a great start, posting a double-double in her first game in a Crusaders uniform. Her 17-point, 10-rebound performance at Yale marked the first time in 15 years of Holy Cross basketball that a freshman posted such high numbers in her first-ever performance. The feat landed her Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors on Nov. 15. She followed a break in action with a 20-point, eight rebound performance in the 80-70 win over Quinnipiac, leading the team in points and tying the team-high in rebounds. She now has three double-figure outings in the last four games, notching 10 points at UNH, 13 points against Northeastern and 11 points over Bryant. She now has 92 points on the season, an average of 10.2 points per game. She ranks fourth on the team in the scoring category. She continues to be the team's top rebounder as she tied her season-high with 10 rebounds against Boston College on Dec. 18. She averaged eight rebounds per game over the last two contests, and totals 5.3 boards per game. Her 5.3 rebounds rank 13th amongst Patriot League players. She is also the team's top shot-blocker as she tied her season-high with three blocks against Bryant the last time out. She has posted a total of 10 blocks on the season and has registered three games with multiple blocks.

COMEBACK MALONE: Sophomore guard Brisje Malone (Springfield, Mass.), who did not start the two exhibition games for Holy Cross this fall, has come back to earn the third starting guard spot in all 11 games this season. Malone is producing some of the team's top offense as she has now tallied seven straight double-digit scoring affairs and has a total of eight double-digit scoring affairs on the season. She hit a season-high 15 points against New Hampshire on Dec. 13 and is averaging 12.3 points over the last six games. She also scored double-figures against Bryant (14), Boston College (10), Northeastern (11), UMass (10), Harvard (13), Central Connecticut (11) and Yale (13). She tied her season-high with five field goals made against Bryant, also sinking five shots against the Crimson. Malone hits her stride in the clutch, notching 50 second half points over the last seven games. Through all 11 games, Malone has scored 70 of her 115 total points in the second half of games (61 percent). Malone ranks third on the team in scoring, as she averages 10.5 points per game, ranking 12th amongst league players. She also provides 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Her assists rank seventh in the league while her steals are fourth, right behind Alex Smith. As a freshman, she averaged 26.1 minutes and 7.1 points per game. In her career she has scored 307 points, brought down 127 rebounds and dished out 91 assists.  

TOP SCORERS: The Holy Cross women's basketball squad currently leads the league with an average of 64.1 points per game. The offense is averaging 6.7 more points than the next highest conference opponent, Army, who averages 57.4 points per game. The squad's latest outburst of 82 points against Bryant was a season and league-high. The Crusaders also hit a season-best 53.7 percent from the floor against Quinnipiac on Nov. 16, logging another Patriot League team-high. The Crusaders hit another season-best with 31 field goals against Bryant, the most field goals made by any Patriot League team this season. Overall, the team is making 41.2 percent of its field goal attempts, leading the conference in that category. Navy is second, making 40.4 percent of its attempts.

HELPING HANDS: For the second season in a row, the Holy Cross women's basketball team is leading the Patriot League in assists. The squad has combined for 190 assists on the season, an average of 17.3 assists per game. Navy ranks second in the league with 13.0 assists per game, a difference of 4.3 assists. Sophomore Alex Smith is once again the team's leader in the assists category, as she averages 5.7 assists per game, also leading the Patriot League. Holy Cross notched another league-high, earning 27 assists over the Bryant Bulldogs on Dec. 21. There are a total of three Crusaders that rank within the top-10 conference assists leaders, the most of any other team in the conference. Sophomore Brisje Malone and senior Meredith Ward rank in the top-10 along with Smith.

STARTERS SHINE: The starting five for Holy Cross this season have earned their roles for a reason. Through the 11 games, Crusader starters have posted 589 of the team's 705 points (88.4 percent). They have combined for 1,670 of the 2,200 minutes played (78 percent) and are shooting a combined 43 percent from the floor (213 of 495). They have also sported 253 rebounds, 164 assists and 60 steals. Against Fordham, the team's starters scored 37 of the team's 43 points. In the game against Harvard, the starters boasted 71 of 73 points. Forty-five of the team's 53 points were scored by the starting five at CCSU and 59 of the team's 61 points versus UNH were put up by starters as well. Four of the five regular starters are averaging in double-figures (Amy Lepley, Emily Parker, Alex Smith and Brisje Malone), the most of any team in the Patriot League.

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Another goal of the 2011-2012 season is to step up on all aspects of the defense. One of the main ways the team will accomplish that goal is to win the rebounding battle. The team has outrebounded a seven of its 11 opponents thus far (Yale, Fordham, UMass, UNH, Northeastern, Boston College and Bryant). The team boasts a 4-3 record when outrebounding its opponent. Highlighting the teams rebounding efforts was a 52-33 margin against Bryant, a difference of 19 boards. The 52 rebounds were a single-game high and tied the most rebounds tallied by any Patriot League team so far this season. In all, the squad has notched 21 more rebounds than their opponents, collecting a 420-399 edge. The Crusaders have also stepped up their defense on another level, obtaining more blocks than opponents in four of the 11 games (4-1 versus Quinnipiac, 3-1 at Harvard, 3-2 at UNH, 4-1 versus Bryant). Emily Parker has collected 10 of the team's 16 blocks. Last season, the team was outrebounded by a margin of 1,186-1,023, a 123 rebound difference and finished last in the Patriot League in blocks. The last Holy Cross team to outrebound all of its opponents during a season was in 2002-2003. That season, the squad put up 1,216 rebounds compared to 1,124 rebounds by their opponents. The team finished with a 24-8 overall record and won the 2003 Patriot League Championship.

CRUSADERS PICKED FIFTH IN PRESEASON POLL: Holy Cross was picked to finish fifth for the second straight season in the 2011-2012 Patriot League preseason poll, receiving 52 votes. American was chosen to finish first, receiving 11 first-place votes as senior Lisa Strack was voted preseason All-Patriot League. The Eagles earned a league-high 94 points and was followed by Lehigh, who received three first place votes and 83 points. Reigning Patriot League champion Navy was picked third with 74 points and two first place votes, while Bucknell (58 points) and Holy Cross (52) were selected fourth and fifth respectively. Lafayette, Army and Colgate followed in order, earning 38, 26 and 23 points respectively.

HOLY CROSS AMONGST THE NATION'S BEST: Holy Cross has gained recognition with many of the nation's top teams and players after the fourth round of the NCAA Division I rankings was released on Dec. 18. Currently, the Crusaders rank 33rd in assists per game (16.3), 30th in assist/turnover ratio (0.99) and 172nd in scoring offense (62.8). Alex Smith ranks within the top-50 in the nation with her 5.5 assists per game (21st). Her 11 assists versus Harvard rank 15th in individual game-highs. Smith also ranks in the top-50 with her 2.6 three-pointers made per game, currently ranking 40th. Her assist/turnover ratio (1.6) ranks 90th.

HOME IS WHERE THE HART IS: Holy Cross, who is now 4-1 at the Hart Center this season, will play in eight more home games. The squad has topped Quinnipiac, UMass, Northeastern and Bryant and lost to Fordham. The Crusaders currently have a 77.1 home victory percentage since becoming a Division I program as the 2011-2012 season marks the 38th season of women's basketball competition at the Hart Center. The program holds an all-time 338-113 advantage at home and has posted 29 winning records at home and six losing seasons, including last year's 6-7 record. A total of 47 teams have never won at the Hart Center. Combined, the Crusaders have won 158 of 192 meetings against this year's home opponents.

WELCOME TO WORCESTER: There will be one new face handling front office duties for the 2011-2012 Crusader basketball squad, assistant coach Sahar Nusseibeh. Nusseibeh was a former player for American, a Patriot League opponent, and was part of two squads that won the conference's regular season championship. Nusseibeh joins the Crusaders' hoops staff after spending the last two years as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati. While there, she provided on-road recruiting, video coordinating, served as the team's post coach and was the academic liaison between the players, academics department and coaches.

BOWL FOR BONDS: Assistant coach Chante Bonds knows what it's like to be a champion. This past summer, Bonds was a major part of the Boston Militia, a team in the Women's Football Alliance. Her squad went 7-1 during the regular season and finished with a 3-0 record in the national conference playoffs, earning them a spot in the world championship. Facing the San Diego Surge, Bonds' Militia won the game 35-19 and was crowned the 2011 Women's Football Alliance National Champions. Bonds, who was in her third year in the women's league, earned second team All-America honors as a wide receiver. Playing as a cornerback in the championship game, Bonds stopped a San Diego drive with an interception and an 11-yard return. Bonds, born and raised in Brockton, Mass., played Division II basketball at Bentley. A combo guard, Bonds' favorite tasks on the basketball court were diving for loose balls and setting screens for post players. On the football field, she caught on to contact and tackling quickly.

SUMMER SHAPE-UP: The Crusaders went through a tough and rigorous summer off season, working with assistant coach Chante Bonds and strength and conditioning coach Brittany Keil. In addition to the normal training regimen of strength, power, core stability and knee injury prevention, Keil and Bonds implemented a conditioning sprint test. The sprint test simulated game-like conditions, and when they ran it together as a team, they competed to see who can stay on top of the 'speed ladder'; slowest person is last in line, fastest person is at the top, and they fight to move up or keep their position on every sprint rep. Both Bonds and Keil felt that this new training segment changed the squad's mentality of being on the team and kept them training with consistency and intensity throughout the summer.

PATRIOT LEAGUE DOMINANCE: Despite its preseason ranking, the Holy Cross women's basketball team has its eyes set back on the top spot amongst the Patriot League's eight teams. Since its inaugural season back in 1991, the team has posted 243 league victories and just 71 losses. It has made 20 appearances in the Patriot League Tournament, boasting 11 championships and a 38-10 all-time record. The team was seeded sixth in the tournament last season, a program low and lost to American in the quarterfinals. The Crusaders are most successful against Colgate as they have mounted a 43-3 all-time record against the Raiders. The team also boasts a 45-8 record against Lafayette. Army and American have given Holy Cross the most trouble, as the two have combined for 28 of the 71 wins against the Crusaders. Lehigh has put up 13 wins against Holy Cross as well.

RETURNING TO GLORY: The 2011-2012 season is the second instance under Gibbons' tutelage that no player on the roster has not participated in the NCAA Tournament. The last time a Holy Cross team made the NCAA Tournament was the 2006-2007 season. Holy Cross has played in the Big Dance 12 times, posting a 1-12 all-time record. It received a team-best seventh seeding in 1985 and played as the 16th seed in its last appearance, 2007. The Crusaders have also participated in the WNIT, playing in the 2002 season.

HEAD COACH BILL GIBBONS:27th Season: Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons began the season with 496 career wins and now boasts a career record of 502-291 as head coach (63.3 winning percentage), including a 6-5 record at the helm this season. He became the 24th active Division I coach to have 500 career wins on Dec. 3 at New Hampshire. He is in his 27th season at the helm of the Holy Cross women's basketball program and 31st as a member of the Holy Cross basketball family in 2011-2012. He has led the Crusaders to nine Patriot League Championships in the last 16 years. He has also made 12 postseason appearances (11 NCAA Tournaments and one WNIT) in his 26 years as head coach. He holds sixteen 20-win seasons under his belt and is the sixth coach of the women's program at Holy Cross, enjoying the longest tenure in the position. He has led the Holy Cross women's basketball program to more victories than any other coach, and is the winningest coach in Holy Cross basketball history. With his 358th victory, he surpassed George Blaney (357 wins as head coach of the Holy Cross men's basketball program), who had hired him to be his assistant coach in 1981. Now with 500 wins, Gibbons is the second-winningest coach in Holy Cross Athletics history, behind legendary baseball coach Jack Barry, who totaled 616 wins from 1921-1960.

NEXT UP FOR THE CRUSADERS: Holy Cross will return to action after the New Year, hosting Dartmouth on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The Big Green come to Worcester for a 7:00 p.m. game on the Hart Center hardwood.