By Kevin Carroll -- SPORTS EDITOR The Hofstra women’s basketball team’s hopes for a trip to the NCAA Tournament were dashed last Thursday by Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals, but the Pride’s season didn’t come to an end in Upper Marlboro.
Instead, Hofstra’s excellent regular-season performance has been rewarded in the form of a bid to the WNIT for the second consecutive year, the first time the Pride has received back-to-back WNIT bids since 2006 and 2007.
The fourth-seeded Pride, coming off a 22-8 regular season record, will play its first WNIT game at home since 2006 tonight, playing host to the Harvard Crimson.
The Crimson, the lone representative of the Ivy League in this year’s tournament, come into Hempstead with a record of 14-13, having lost its final two conference games. Harvard received the Ivy League’s automatic qualifying bid after the top two teams in the conference, Princeton and Penn, were selected to the NCAA Tournament.
The Crimson is led by AnnMarie Healey on the offensive end. The first-team All-Ivy League selection was second in the conference in scoring, averaging just over 16 points per game. Two other members of the Crimson starting lineup, Shilpa Tummala and Kit Metoyer also average in double-digit scoring figures, with 12.2 and 11.5 points per game, respectively.
The Pride and the Crimson featured mutual opponents throughout the season in Fairfield, Stony Brook, and Massachusetts. The Pride beat Fairfield and Stony Brook, two teams that defeated Harvard. The Pride, however, did lose a close one to UMass earlier this season, a team that Harvard was able to beat.
The injury bug has been Hofstra’s worst enemy this season, and could provide one final, fatal blow to put Hofstra’s season in the books. In last Thursday’s quarterfinal loss to northeastern, Kelly Loftus was hampered by a recurring elbow injury, holding her to just three minute of gameplay. Asia Jackson hasn’t suited up for the Pride since leaving a game against Delaware on Feb. 21, missing the last four games.
These two players represent a large chunk of Hofstra’s outside shooting, and without them on the court, the Pride’s ability to shoot from outside suffers dramatically. Against Northeastern on Thursday, the Pride shot just 2-18 from downtown.
However, the Pride was never the hottest three-point shooting team, connecting on just 30 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. The biggest advantage for Hofstra will be on the block, with Ashunae Durant and Anjie White holding a size advantage over the small-ball lineup that the Crimson puts out on the floor.
Harvard’s typical starting lineup includes four guards, with Healey being the lone forward, at 6-foot-1-inch.
That should bode well for the 6-foot-2-inch White, as well as Durant, who has shown that she could handle just about anyone in the low post.
On the other end, a four-guard set could present some problems for the Hofstra defense, as stellar as it has been all season. Harvard shoots the three-ball well, connecting on more threes than anyone else in the Ivy League this season. The Crimson loves to sling it from downtown, and it will be a huge test for the Pride on defense to be able to limit the damage Harvard could do from deep.
It will be an interesting clash of styles at the Mack Sports Complex this evening, with Hofstra’s gritty, smash-mouth brand of basketball going up against the smaller, shiftier Crimson. At stake for the Pride is its first WNIT victory since 2010.
Only forty minutes of basketball separates one of these teams from the next round, a matchup against either Villanova or Liberty University. Only time will tell whether Hofstra could wash that bad taste out of its mouth left by Northeastern last Thursday, and notch a few more victories before the season comes to a close.