By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – For the first time since 2000, the St. Joe’s women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament.
After winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, the Hawks earned a nine-seed and they will match-up with Vanderbilt in the first round on Saturday morning. The game will be played on UConn’s home floor in Storrs, Connecticut.
“We’ve waited a long time for this,” St. Joe’s junior guard Erin Shields tells KYW Newsradio. “We worked hard all season and this was our goal, it was to get to the NCAA Tournament and we’re finally here. So we’re really excited.”
The 23-8 Hawks won three straight games to capture that A-10 crown, a run which included a 47-46 win over Fordham in the title game. St. Joe’s rallied from twelve points down to capture the conference’s automatic bid.
“I think we’re coming off of a good week of basketball,” St. Joe’s head coach Cindy Griffin tells KYW Newsradio. “A lot of confidence with our kids, we’re playing solid basketball, we’re getting a lot of scoring from different people. We’re very well balanced. This is a very solid group as far as chemistry is concerned and they want to play for each other and they don’t want the season to end. They want to see how far we can go in this tournament.”
Vanderbilt brings a 20-11 record into the tournament. They earned an at-large bid out of the SEC.
“They’re very well coached,” Griffin says. “Melanie Balcomb has done a great job. She was at Xavier a couple years back before coaching at Vanderbilt, so I’m very familiar with her style. I have coached at Vanderbilt in my earlier years, so I’m familiar with the kind of kids that they recruit. They run a very, very good, solid offense. They have a great post-player inside, (senior) Tiffany Clarke, who has done an unbelievable job for them. They’re pretty young across the board as well.”
Clarke leads Vanderbilt in scoring (16.7 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). St. Joe’s has a very talented post-player of their own, however, in 6’3″, senior Chatilla van Grinsven who leads the Hawks in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (10.5).
Shields is second on the team in scoring at 11.6 points a game and she is enjoying this ride.
“Taking it all in and looking around and realizing how many fans we have and how many people are preparing for this tournament that we’re going to be a part of,” Shields says. “On the other hand, you’re there to win. Survive and move on, one game at a time. That’s what we’re there to do. Coach told us today, ‘We’re there to win.’ We’re not there to just to be happy to be there, but we’re there to win. But also at the same time, looking around and realizing how blessed we are to be a part of it.”
St. Joe’s and Vanderbilt will tip-off at 11:05am on Saturday. The winner gets the winner of UConn and Idaho in the second round on Monday night.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.