By Joe Pantorno, Sports Editor
The Hofstra women's basketball team took a huge step towards clinching the number three spot in the CAA after defeating UNC-Wilmington, 66-55 on Sunday afternoon. Entering the game, both teams were tied for third place with two games remaining.
"We knew what was at stake," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "I don't coach nervous, these guys don't need to play nervous and there was nothing to be nervous about. If you're nervous that means you're not prepared."
Celebrating senior day, guards Candice Bellocchio, Nicole Capurso and forward Marie Malone played their last games at the Mack as a younger member of the Pride; junior forward Shante Evans had yet another big game, recording 24 points and 15 rebounds, ensuring that these seniors went out in style.
"I'm real sad, I grew up with that class," said Evans. "Marie [Malone] is my best friend off the court so it was sad but you know I can use this momentum to get the ring for them."
"It was a little sad at the beginning but I had to suck it up and focus," said Malone. "It really hit me after the game."
What some would consider a slow Hofstra start, the Pride (19-9, 11-6 CAA) managed to take an eight point lead in the first half despite Evans struggling from the floor. She started the game shooting 3-11 with six points.
"Basically I needed to slow down," said Evans. "I was throwing the ball up. I had coach and Marie in my head telling me I was rushing my shot so I just tried to focus on my shot."
UNC-W (17-11, 10-7 CAA) was able to take advantage of some lethargic Hofstra play at the end of the first half, cutting the Pride lead to three going into halftime, scoring six straight points in the final 1:30.
Of the seniors, it was Malone who had the biggest game, scoring 12 points and hauling in eight rebounds. Capurso had six points on 2-7 shooting and Bellocchio had four points and six assists.
"The stats don't necessarily show what Candice [Bellocchio] did on defense today," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "And even Nicole [Capurso]. We didn't waste a lot of shots, we didn't shoot a lot of contested shots and that was an important thing for me."
With its lead down to one with 12:42 left in the game, Hofstra went on a 12-1 run to put the game out of reach.
Both teams struggled from the field; Hofstra was bailed out by UNC-W's 1-14 effort from three-point range. The Pride shot 33 percent overall, its most efficient shooter turning out to be Evans, who shot 6-9 in the second half after her rough start.
Named to the Naismith Award's mid-season 32, Evans scored 18 points in the final 20 minutes as she seemed to take on the entire UNC-W squad under the basket.
"It was great to get this win for our seniors against a team in our league that we were with neck and neck," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "It was a big day today."