By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor
The Hofstra University women's basketball team advanced to the New York Life Holiday Invitational championship game with a 67-60 win over Central Connecticut State.
For the second consecutive game, Hofstra was dealt with a physical opponent as the Pride had to grind out a win despite some key members of the team not having their best games.
"We'll take it any way we can get it," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "We're getting wins in different ways."
Hofstra shot out to a 21-8 lead to start the game, but sloppy play on both ends of the court allowed Central Connecticut to stay in it on "What I Want To Be Day," as a crowd of over 1,000 elementary schoolers cheered the Pride on.
"We cooled off a little bit," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "Defensively, they [Central Connecticut] started penetrating on us and we just got a little sloppy and a little tentative on that end."
For the game, Hofstra shot 31.3 percent from the field and just 21.1 percent (4-19) from three-point land, forcing the Pride to adjust its game.
"These guys got smart when the three's weren't hitting," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "We weren't going to live and die by them."
So Hofstra changed up its game plan.
"We got to the cup and got to the free-throw line," said Kilburn-Steveskey.
Some aggressive drives from senior guard Candice Bellocchio and Hofstra's normal three-point shooting stars, sophomore guard Katelyn Loper and senior guard Nicole Capurso, began making aggressive drives to the hoop.
Bellocchio alone went to the line 14 times, hitting 11 on her way to 15 points. Hofstra made 19 more trips to the line than Central Connecticut with 35 in total.
"They surprised us coming out and playing man defense," said Bellocchio. "We were just attacking. We started taking three's and then realized we can get to the cup and they weren't able to defend our attack and that was just our go to tonight."
It remained close, with Central Connecticut getting as close as two with 9:29 left in the second half, but Hofstra had the lead from start to finish.
Junior forward Candace Bond almost single handedly kept the Blue Devils at bay with her defensive play, recording seven rebounds, five steals and four blocks.
"She did a phenomenal job," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "She always has big numbers defensively but tonight she was all over the place for us and that gave us a big boost."
Sophomore guard Katelyn Loper led the Pride with 18 points despite going 2-11 from beyond the arc. She also took advantage of the game plan to drive to the basket.
"I remember talking about it earlier this season," said Loper. "If they're not going in you need to change it up."
Hofstra improves to 8-2 on the season and will play the winner of the Marist vs. Auburn game tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. for the New York Life Holiday Invitational championship.