Crusaders Look To Hold Serve Against Lehigh On Saturday

Alexis Nicholas

Click here for the full Lehigh game notes in PDF format

Game Day Quick Facts
The Teams:
Holy Cross (13-9, 4-3 PL) vs. Lehigh (12-9, 5-2 PL)
Date: February 4, 2012
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Place: Hart Center (3,600), Worcester, Mass.
Live Video Streaming: Patriot League All-Access
Holy Cross Radio: Jeremy Lechan, play-by-play; Click Here to Listen
Unofficial Live Stats: Click Here
Series Record: Holy Cross leads, 37-14
Last Meeting: Lehigh 75, Holy Cross 60, Bethlehem, Pa., January 7, 2012

CRUSADERS HOLD THINK PINK DAY: On Saturday, the Holy Cross women's basketball program will host its annual "Think Pink Day" at the Hart Center against Lehigh. The team will be wearing special pink uniforms for the game as part of breast cancer awareness. The uniforms will then be auctioned off after the game with all proceeds going to Pink Revolution and the McInerney-Zona Children's Fund. HC for a Cure, a student group on the Holy Cross campus, will also be selling breast cancer awareness t-shirts throughout the contest, with all proceeds going to Pink Revolution.

REV. GEORGE L. O'BRIEN AWARD ON THE LINE AGAINST MOUNTAIN HAWKS: The Rev. George L. O'Brien Award will be presented to the most outstanding player in Holy Cross' Winter Homecoming game, held Saturday. The honor went to sophomore Alex Smith (Delran, N.J.) last year after she led the squad with 20 points scored in a 83-46 win over Lafayette. The award is named after Rev. George L. O'Brien, the former Director of Development at Holy Cross. O'Brien also served as the Athletic Department chaplain for many years.

SERIES HISTORY AGAINST LEHIGH: Saturday's match-up will be the 52nd meeting between Holy Cross and Lehigh with the Crusaders owning a 37-14 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 an eight game slide, last beating Lehigh on March 9, 2008. Holy Cross head coach Bill Gibbons is responsible for the 37-14 record while the Mountain Hawks head coach, Sue Troyan, is 13-25 against the Crusaders. The Crusaders look to hold serve against Lehigh at the Hart Center on Saturday, a place where the Mountain Hawks have taken the last four match-ups. Holy Cross owns the all-time series edge in Worcester, 23-7. 

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 335 league match-ups, winning 253 and dropping 82 games total for a 75.6 winning percentage, including a 4-3 record so far this season. After the Jan. 28 loss at Colgate, Holy Cross now stands in a three-way tie for third place in the league standings behind first-place American (7-0) and second-place Lehigh (5-2). The team was seeded sixth in the tournament last season, its lowest ever, and lost in the quarterfinals against American. The squad 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 253-81 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 43-4 all-time record against the Raiders, with a 10-game win-streak snapped last Saturday. The team also boasts a 46-8 record against Lafayette, winning the last four meetings. Army and American have given Holy Cross the most trouble, as the two have combined for 27 of the 81 wins against the Crusaders. Lehigh has put up 14 wins against Holy Cross as well, including eight in a row, while the squad just broke a four-game slide against Navy on Jan. 11.

HOME IS WHERE THE HART IS: Holy Cross, who is now 7-2 at the Hart Center this season, will play in four more home games. The squad has topped Army, Bucknell, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, UMass, Northeastern and Bryant and lost to Fordham and American. The Crusaders currently have a 77.2 home victory percentage (302 wins, 89 losses) 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 win over Dartmouth on Jan. 3 was the program's 300th win as a Division I squad. The program holds an all-time 341-114 advantage in Worcester and has posted 29 winning records 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 161 of 196 meetings (82 percent) against this year's home opponents.

ONE-TWO PUNCH: Sophomore guard Alex Smith and junior forward Amy Lepley (Norfolk, Mass.) are showing the Patriot League why Holy Cross boasts a winning record after 22 games of action. Lepley currently leads the team with 13.6 points per game while Smith follows close behind with 12.8 points per game. Lepley ranks third in the league in scoring while Smith sits in fifth place. Jhazmine Lynch of Colgate leads the league with 14.3 points per game while Army's Jen Hazlett separates Lepley and Smith, ranking fourth in the league with 13.1 points per game. Combined, the two have led the team in scoring in 17 of the team's 22 games, including six of the seven conference games. Lepley leads the team in scoring against Patriot League opponents, averaging 15 points. 

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 206 of the squad's 387assists (53 percent) and account for only 140 of the total 369 turnovers. Through the 22 games, Smith leads the Patriot League with a 1.6 assist/turnover ratio (124 assists, 77 turnovers) while Malone is second with a 1.3 ratio (82 assists, 63 turnovers). Both 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. Combined, the two have led the team in the assist category in 21 of the 22 total games thus far.

SPREAD THE WEALTH: One of the biggest reasons for Holy Cross' success this season is its ability to spread out the offense. Through the 22 total games, six of the 11 players on the roster have scored in double-figures. Alex Smith and Amy Lepley lead the pack with 16 double-figure outings apiece. All five of the team's regular starters have hit the double-figure mark at least once while sophomore Christine Ganser (Needham, Mass.) adds three double-figure outings. Six different players have led the team in scoring this season as well.

OFFENSE ON TOP: The Holy Cross women's basketball team continues to keep up the offensive tempo six games into conference action. When playing non-conference opponents, the Crusaders averaged 64.4 points per game and currently average 64.1 points per game against league foes, also ranking first. In all, the team leads the league by averaging 64.1 points per game, totaling 1,422 points in 22 contests. The second-highest scoring team in the Patriot League through all games is Lehigh, which averages 58.9 points per game, a difference of 5.2 points. The squad's outburst of 82 points against Bryant was a season-high while a season-best 32 field goals were made against Brown, the second most field goals made by a Patriot League team this season. The team's overall field goal percentage, 42.1, is a league best as they've combined to make 531 of their 1,261 shot attempts. Against league opponents, the Crusaders hit 43.1 percent of their field goals (175 of 403). Altogether, the team is 10-2 when playing in games where they've scored over 60 points and 11-2 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 22 games this season, averaging 31.5 minutes, 7.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. Her playing time has increased dramatically during her senior season as she averaged 21.3 minutes over her first three years. She currently ranks fifth amongst Patriot League players in average minutes played (31.3). Her point and rebound averages have also improved as she is scoring 3.1 more points and bringing down 2.8 more rebounds than her career averages (4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds). She currently ranks 23rd in scoring amongst Patriot League leaders. Ward has notched four 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. Against Brown, Ward led the squad with 16 points, knocking down a season-high seven field goals. She followed with a career-high eight assists against Lafayette, leading the team. Her other double-figure games include Quinnipiac (15 points) and Fordham (12). Her free throw shooting remains strong as well, as she hits 80 percent (24 of 30) 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 518 points, recorded 248 rebounds and 219 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 named to the Miami Classic All-Tournament team and the Patriot League Player of the Week on Dec. 12. Her numbers are impressive, as she has led the team in scoring in nine games on the season. Highlighting her scoring efforts was a 26-point outburst versus Army on Jan. 25. Smith reached new heights as she sank a career-best nine field goals, five coming from three-point range. She has scored in double-figures in 10 of the last 14 games and has 15 double-digit outings on the season. Her other double-figure games include 14 points vs. Bucknell, 15 points at Brown, 11 points at Lehigh, 10 points vs. Dartmouth, 19 points vs. Morgan State, 11 points at Miami, 11 points vs. Bryant, 17 points at Boston College, 22 points at Harvard, 20 points vs. Northeastern, 15 points at Central Connecticut, 14 points versus UMass, 14 points versus Quinnipiac and 11 points at Yale. Smith topped out in the assists category against Harvard, collecting 11 to notch a career-high and record her first-ever double-double. She has 124 total assists on the season, notching a career-high, and leads the team and Patriot League with 5.6 assists per game. She is once again a three-point threat, hitting a season-high of five three-point shots made in one game four times so far (vs. Northeastern, Boston College, Morgan State and Army). She has hit multiple three-pointers in 18 contests, including the last 14 of the last 15 games, and averages 2.7 three-pointers per game, leading the league. She has 40 career games where she's made at least two three-pointers. 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 603 points, 180 rebounds and 222 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 first on the team and third in the Patriot League in scoring average, putting up 13.6 points per game. Lepley's numbers continue to impress as she has notched 16 double-figure outings this season, highlighted by a season and career-high 22 point outburst against Lehigh on Jan. 7. She registered her third 20-point effort of the season against Lafayette on Jan. 18, scoring a team-high 21 points and tying her season and career-high with nine field goals made, which she also registered against the Mountain Hawks. Lepley has hit double figures in five of the last six games and has led the team in scoring nine times. She has also recorded double-figures against Colgate (19), Bucknell (12), Brown (14), Dartmouth (13) Morgan State (19), Bryant (18) Boston College (11), UMass (15), Harvard (15), Fordham (14), Quinnipiac (13) and Yale (12). Lepley is the team's best shooter, making 50.6 percent of her field goal attempts (122 of 239). She is a true double-threat, as she leads the team and ranks seventh in the league in rebounding, averaging 6.4 rebounds per game. She has led the team in rebounding in seven of the last 10 contests, including a career and team-best 14 rebounds at Colgate the last time out. Against the Raiders, Lepley secured her fifth career double-double, scoring 19 points and tallying the 14 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 795 points, recorded 433 rebounds and 164 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 picked up her third Patriot League Rookie of the Week honor on Jan. 30, as she averaged 17 points and five rebounds per game in last week's action. Parker tied the team-high with 19 points at Colgate on Jan. 28 and has recorded double-figure outings in six of the last seven games. She registered a season and team-high 20-points against Quinnipiac and has led the team in scoring four times this season. She has nine double-figure outings in the last 13 games, notching 19 points at Colgate, 15 points vs. Army, 10 points at Lafayette, 10 points at Brown, 15 points vs. American, 12 points at Navy, 10 points at UNH, 13 points against Northeastern and 11 points over Bryant. She averages a total of 9.8 points per game, ranking third on the team and 14th in the Patriot League in the scoring category. She continues to be one of the team's top rebounders as she earned her second double-double with 12 rebounds along with the 12 points at Navy, leading the team in rebounding. She averages 5.7 boards per game, second highest on the team, and has led the squad in rebounding in six games this season. She is the team's top shot-blocker as she notched a season-high four blocks against the Midshipmen on Jan. 11. She has posted a total of 27 blocks on the season, an average of 1.4 blocks per game, ranking sixth amongst Patriot League players. She has registered eight games with multiple blocks, the most by any other Crusader this season.

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 21 of the 22 games this season. Malone is aiding the team's top offense as she has tallied 12 double-digit scoring affairs. She has hit a season-high of 15 points twice, coming at Lafayette on Jan. 18 and at UNH. Against the Leopards, Malone went to the free throw line a career-best 10 times, sinking seven free throws. She averages 9.2 points per game, ranking fourth on the team and 16th amongst Patriot League players. She has also scored double-figures against Bucknell (10), American (12), 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 116 of her 202 total points in the second half of games (57 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 this season, as her 11 assists were a career-best. Her versatility stretches to the defensive side of the ball as she ranks fourth on the team with 4.4 rebounds per game after tying her season-high with eight rebounds at Colgate. She led the team in rebounding against New Hampshire and Miami. She is also second on the team with 3.7 assists per game. As a freshman, she averaged 26.1 minutes and 7.1 points per game. In her career she has scored 394 points, brought down 172 rebounds and dished out 139 assists.  

GAINS FOR GANSER: Sophomore Christine Ganser, 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, made 11 free throws and five field goals. Ganser is a big addition for the Crusaders' defense as she posts 5.1 rebounds per game, third on the team and 15th amongst league foes. Ganser is averaging 6.3 rebounds per game against Patriot League opponents, third highest on the team. She tied the team-high with six rebounds versus Army on Jan. 25 and has had at least two rebounds in the last 10 contests. She also makes 74.3 percent of her free throws (55 of 74), ranking second amongst league players. Her two free throws made against Army sealed the Crusaders' win. Ganser played in all 30 games as a freshman, averaging 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 387 assists on the season, an average of 17.6 assists per game. Navy and American tie for second in the league with 13 assists per game, a difference of 4.6 assists. Sophomore Alex Smith is once again the team's leader in the assists category, as she averages 5.6 assists per game, also leading the Patriot League. Holy Cross' 27 assists over Bryant tallied a league-high on the season. Sophomore Brisje Malone adds 3.7 assists per game, third in the league and second on the team.

STARTERS SHINE: The starting five for Holy Cross this season have earned their roles for a reason. Through the 22 games, Crusader starters have posted 1,135 of the team's 1,422 points (80 percent). They have combined for 3,241 of the 4,425 minutes played (73 percent) and are shooting a combined 43.6 percent from the floor (427 of 980). They have also sported 507 rebounds, 331 assists and 131 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. Fifty of the squad's 60 points were scored by starters in the Patriot League opener at Lehigh while 46 of the 55 points were posted by starters at Navy. 

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 13 of its 22 opponents thus far (Bucknell, Lafayette, Brown, American, Navy, Morgan State, Yale, Fordham, UMass, UNH, Northeastern, Boston College and Bryant) and boasts a 9-4 record when outrebounding its opponent. Highlighting the teams rebounding efforts was a 52-33 margin against Bryant, a difference of 19 boards, a +13 difference against Navy (46-33) and a 43-29 advantage against American (+14). The 52 rebounds against Bryant were a single-game high. In all, Holy Cross posts 20 more rebounds than its opponents, a 840-820 difference. The Crusaders have also stepped up their defense on another level, obtaining more blocks than opponents in nine of the 22 games (2-1 vs. Bucknell, 2-1 at Lafayette, 5-3 at Brown, 3-0 versus American, 4-2 at Navy, 4-1 versus Quinnipiac, 3-1 at Harvard, 3-2 at UNH, 4-1 versus Bryant). Emily Parker has collected 27 of the team's 47 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 13th round of the NCAA Division I rankings was released on Jan. 30. Currently, the Crusaders rank ninth in assists per game (17.6), 15th in assist/turnover ratio (1.05), 48th in field goal percentage (42.1) and 121st in scoring offense (64.6). Alex Smith ranks within the top-50 in the nation with her 5.6 assists per game (19th). Smith also ranks in the top-50 with her 2.7 three-pointers made per game, currently ranking 25th. She ranks within the top-100 in assist/turnover ratio, sitting in 60th (1.61). Amy Lepley ranks 52nd nationally with her 50.6 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 in Boston, Mass. 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.

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 509-295 as head coach (63.3 winning percentage), including a 13-9 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 finishes up a two-game homestand on Wednesday, Feb. 7 against Navy. The Midshipmen visit the Hart Center for a 7:00 p.m. game.

SCOUTING LEHIGH: Lehigh enters the game with an overall record of 12-9 on the season, recording five wins and two losses in Patriot League play. After the first round of conference action, Lehigh sits in second place in league standings. The Mountain Hawks are 4-1 in their last five contests, losing to Army, 66-64, the last time out. Senior forward Alexa Williams leads the team defensively and offensively with 9.3 rebounds and 11.5 points per game. Fellow senior Emily Gratch adds 10.6 points per game. Lehigh is led by head coach Sue Troyan, who owns an overall record of 269-222 in 17 seasons with the Mountain Hawks.