Women's Basketball Heads To Lehigh For Patriot League Opener Saturday

Clare Sullivan

Click here for the full Lehigh game notes in PDF format

Game Day Quick Facts
The Teams:
Holy Cross (8-6, 0-0 PL) vs. Lehigh (7-7, 0-0 PL)
Date: January 7, 2012
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Place: Stabler Arena (5,600), Bethlehem, Pa.
Live Video Streaming: Patriot League All-Access
Holy Cross Radio: Jeremy Lechan, play-by-play; Click Here to Listen
Lehigh Radio: 1230 ESPN Matt Markus, play-by-play; Click here to Listen
Lehigh Television: SE2, Mike Zambelli, John Wills
Series Record: Holy Cross leads, 37-13
Last Meeting: Lehigh 83, Holy Cross 55, Bethlehem, Pa., Feb. 26, 2011

SERIES HISTORY AGAINST LEHIGH: Saturday's match-up will be the 51st meeting between Holy Cross and Lehigh with the Crusaders owning a 37-13 advantage over the Mountain Hawks. The teams first met in Holy Cross' inaugural season of Patriot League play (1990-1991), earning two back-to-back victories, a 75-55 home victory and then an 87-56 tally on the road. After compiling six consecutive wins against Lehigh from Feb. 1, 1992 until Jan. 15, 1994, the Crusaders were handed their first loss, falling 77-74 in Bethlehem, Pa. on Feb. 9, 1994. Holy Cross avenged the loss with 18 consecutive wins over the Mountain Hawks, including a 94-68 win in the Patriot League Tournament championship game held at the Hart Center on March 8, 2001. Holy Cross went 11-5 against Lehigh from 2002-2008 and is currently on a seven game slide, last beating Lehigh on March 9, 2008. Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons is responsible for the 37-13 record while the Mountain Hawks head coach, Sue Troyan, is 12-25 against the Crusaders. The Crusaders look to steal one from Lehigh at Stabler Arena, a place where Lehigh has taken the last four match-ups. Holy Cross owns the all-time series edge in Bethlehem, 14-7, and is 2-5 on the road this season. Lehigh is 5-2 through its first seven home games this season.

HOLY CROSS AGAINST CONFERENCE FOES: The 2011-2012 season marks the 23rd year of Patriot League competition for the Crusaders. Over the last 22 seasons, the Crusaders have competed in a total of 327 league match-ups, winning 249and dropping 78 games total for a 76.1 winning percentage. The team was seeded sixth in the tournament last season, its lowest ever, and lost in the quarterfinals against American. The squad has now recorded two consecutive losing seasons for the first time ever in program history, going 5-9 in 2009-2010 and 6-8 last season. Holy Cross possesses two unblemished Patriot League seasons, going 12-0 in 1990-1991, and doing it again in 1996-1997. Head coach Bill Gibbons has been along for the entire ride and is responsible for the 249-78 league record. In all, Holy Cross has made 21 appearances in the Patriot League Tournament, boasting 11 championships and a 38-10 all-time record. 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 26 of the 78 wins against the Crusaders. Lehigh has put up 13 wins against Holy Cross as well.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Sophomore guard Alex Smith (Delran, N.J.) and junior forward Amy Lepley (Norfolk, Mass.) are showing the Patriot League why Holy Cross boasts a winning record after 14 games of action. Smith leads the team with 13.3 points per game while Lepley follows close behind with 12.9 points per game. Smith ranks first in the league in scoring while Lepley ranks third, separated only by Army's Jen Hazlett, who averages 12.9 points per game in 15 games played. The two topped out with a team-high 19 points in the overtime victory against Morgan State and have combined to lead the team in scoring in 11 of the 14 contests.

TURNOVER TENACITY: Sophomores Alex Smith and Brisje Malone (Springfield, Mass.) are showing off their seasoned skills, leading the team not only with their scoring capabilities, but also their ability to create shots for their teammates. The two have combined for 127 of the squad's 244 assists (52 percent) and only account for 88 of the total 237 turnovers. Through the 14 games, Smith leads the Patriot League with a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio (77 assists, 50 turnovers) while Malone is second with a 1.3 ratio (50 assists, 38 turnovers). The two have also tallied 11 assists in one game, Smith doing so against Harvard and Malone against Morgan State. Their output ranks in a tie for fifth in Holy Cross single-game records. 

OFFENSE ON TOP: The Holy Cross women's basketball team continues to show off its offense headed into conference action. The Crusaders kept up their points pace with a 65 point production over Dartmouth the last time out. The team continues to lead the league by averaging 63.7 points per game, totaling 892 points in 14 contests. The second-highest scoring team in the Patriot League is Army, who averages 57.1 points per game, a difference of 6.6 points. The squad's outburst of 82 points against Bryant was a season and league-high. The Crusaders also hit a season-best 31 field goals against Bryant, the most field goals made by any Patriot League team this season. The team's field goal percentage, 40.3, is also a league best as they've combined to make 324 of their 804 shot attempts. Overall, the team is 6-1 when playing in games where they've scored over 60 points and 7-1 when shooting better than 40 percent. 

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 14 games this season, averaging 32.5 minutes, 7.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Her playing time has increased dramatically during her senior season as she averaged 21.3 minutes over her first three years and now ranks fifth amongst Patriot League players in minutes played. Her point and rebound averages have also improved, as she is scoring 3.4 points more and bringing down 3.4 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 37 dishes on the season, third highest on the team. Her free throw shooting remains strong as well, as she hits 82.8 percent (24 of 29) 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 467 points, recorded 226 rebounds and 201 assists.

SMOOTH SMITH: Sophomore guard Alex Smith 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 to the Miami Classic All-Tournament team, earning her second career All-Tournament honor. Her numbers are impressive, as she has led the team in scoring in five of the last seven games. Highlighting her scoring efforts was a 22-point outburst at Harvard, tying her career-high. She scored 10 points in the team's win over Dartmouth, extending her double-digit scoring streak to six games. Smith has notched 11 double-digit scoring affairs in all, including 10 points vs. Dartmouth, 19 points vs. Morgan State, 11 points at Miami, 11 points vs. Bryant, 17 points at Boston College, 20 points vs. 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 has 77 total assists on the season, leading the team and Patriot League with 5.5 assists per game. She is once again a three-point threat, hitting a season-high of five three-point shots made in a game three times so far (vs. Northeastern, Boston College and Morgan State). She has hit multiple three-pointers in 11 contests, including the last seven games, and averages 2.7 three-pointers per game, leading the league. She now has 33 career games where she's made at least two three-pointers. She also has a total of 38 three-pointers made this season. 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 507 points, 158 rebounds and 175 assists.

LEAPS FOR LEPLEY: Junior forward Amy Lepley 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 third in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 12.9 points per game. Lepley's numbers continue to impress as she has notched 10 double-figure outings this season, highlighted by a season-high 20-point outburst in the win over New Hampshire on Dec. 3. She has also recorded double-figures against Dartmouth (13) Morgan State (19), Bryant (18) Boston College (11), UMass (15), Harvard (15), Fordham (14), Quinnipiac (13) and Yale (12). She has led the team in scoring in six total games. She was named the Patriot League Player of the Week for the first time in her career on Dec. 27 for her strong performances. Lepley is the team's best shooter, making 50.3 percent of her field goal attempts (75 of 149), which also ranks second amongst Patriot League players. She is a true double-threat, as she leads the team and ranks ninth in the league in rebounding, averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. Her season-high number of rebounds is 10, which she recorded against Morgan State on Dec. 29. Against the Bears, Lepley secured her fourth career double-double, scoring 19 points and tallying the 10 rebounds. 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 676 points, recorded 370 rebounds and 138 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 also received Rookie of the Week honors on Dec. 27 after scoring 11 points and tallying six rebounds against Bryant on Dec. 21, becoming the first repeat rookie award winner this season. Parker scored a season-high 20-points against Quinnipiac, leading the team. She has three double-figure outings in the last six games, notching 10 points at UNH, 13 points against Northeastern and 11 points over Bryant. She has 102 points on the season, an average of 8.5 points per game. She ranks fourth on the team and 16th in the Patriot League in the scoring category. She also continues to be one of the team's top rebounders as she tied her season-high with 10 rebounds against Boston College on Dec. 18. She averages 4.9 boards per game, third highest on the team. She is also the team's top shot-blocker as she tied her season-high with three blocks against Bryant. She has posted a total of 12 blocks on the season and has registered three games with multiple blocks, the only Crusader to do so.

COMEBACK MALONE: Sophomore guard Brisje Malone, 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 14 games this season. Malone is producing some of the team's top offense as she has now tallied nine double-digit scoring affairs in the last 10 games. She hit a season-high 15 points against New Hampshire on Dec. 13 and scores 10.3 points per game overall. Her scoring average ranks third on the team and 12th amongst Patriot League players. She has also scored double-figures against Dartmouth (11), Morgan State (10), Bryant (14), Boston College (10), Northeastern (11), UMass (10), Harvard (13), Central Connecticut (11) and Yale (13). Malone hits her stride in the clutch scoring 83 of her 144 total points in the second half of games (56 percent). Malone notched two season-highs in the game against Morgan State, tallying eight rebounds and 11 assists. She became the second player on the team to notch a points, assist double-double against the Bears, as her 11 assists were a career-best. Her versatility stretches to the defensive side of the ball as well as she ranks second on the team with a 5.1 rebounding average. She is also second on the team with 3.6 assists per game. As a freshman, she averaged 26.1 minutes and 7.1 points per game. In her career she has scored 336 points, brought down 149 rebounds and dished out 107 assists.   

GAINS FOR GANSER: Sophomore Christine Ganser (Needham, Mass.), who has been a solid presence off the bench for Holy Cross this season broke out for a career-best 21-point, four steal performance in the team's win over Dartmouth. Ganser, whose previous high was 15 points, broke out for 11 free throws and five field goals made. Her point production was the most by any Crusader this season. Ganser is also a big addition for the Crusaders' defense as she posts 4.8 rebounds per game, fourth on the team and 19th amongst league foes. She makes 83.3 percent of her free throws (40 of 48) which tops all league players. Ganser played in all 30 games as a freshman, averging 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. 

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 244 assists on the season, an average of 17.4 assists per game. Navy ranks second in the league with 13.3 assists per game, a difference of 4.1 assists. Sophomore Alex Smith is once again the team's leader in the assists category, as she averages 5.5 assists per game, also leading the Patriot League. Holy Cross tallied 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 14 games, Crusader starters have posted 719 of the team's 892 points (80.6 percent). They have combined for 2,101 of the 2,825 minutes played (74.4 percent) and are shooting a combined 41.7 percent from the floor (263 of 630). They have also sported 324 rebounds, 209 assists and 80 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. Three of the five regular starters are averaging in double-figures (Amy Lepley, 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 eight of its 14 opponents thus far (Morgan State, Yale, Fordham, UMass, UNH, Northeastern, Boston College and Bryant). The team boasts a 5-3 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 two more rebounds than their opponents, collecting a 538-536 edge. The Crusaders have also stepped up their defense on another level, obtaining more blocks than opponents in four of the 14 games (4-1 versus Quinnipiac, 3-1 at Harvard, 3-2 at UNH, 4-1 versus Bryant). Emily Parker has collected 12 of the team's 22 blocks. Last season, the team was outrebounded by a margin of 1,186-1,023, a 123 rebound difference. 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 fifth round of the NCAA Division I rankings was released on Jan. 1. Currently, the Crusaders rank 20th in assists per game (17.3), 31st in assist/turnover ratio (1.0) and 150th in scoring offense (63.6). Alex Smith ranks within the top-50 in the nation with her 5.4 assists per game (27th). Her 11 assists versus Harvard rank 22nd in individual game-highs as does Brisje Malone's 11 dishes against Morgan State. Smith also ranks in the top-50 with her 2.8 three-pointers made per game, currently ranking 25th. Amy Lepley ranks 51st nationally with her 51.5 field goal percentage.

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. 

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 504-292 as head coach (63.3 winning percentage), including a 8-6 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 continues Patriot League competition next week, traveling to Navy on Jan. 11. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m. at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Md.

SCOUTING LEHIGH: Lehigh enters the game with an overall record of 7-7 on the season. The Mountain Hawks are 4-1 in their last five contests, losing to Richmond, 71-49, the last time out. Senior forward Emily Gratch leads the team offensively with an average of 10.7 points per game. Fellow senior forward Alexa Williams leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game and also adds 10.6 points. The squad averages 56.6 points and 41.8 rebounds per game as a whole. Lehigh is led by head coach Sue Troyan, who owns an overall record of 264-220 in 17 seasons with the Mountain Hawks.