By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –The St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team has earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. The 22-9 Hawks are the #9 seed in the Lincoln region and they will open things up on Sunday when they take on Georgia in Storrs, Connecticut.
Last season, the Hawks earned an automatic berth as the Atlantic 10 champions, but this year they had to wait and see if they would get an at-large bid after losing in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament.
“We were anxiously anticipating all week,” St. Joe’s head coach Cindy Griffin tells KYW Newsradio. “It was actually a very agonizing week because we just were idle, trying to figure out scenarios and those type of things. So we were very happy that we were in the tournament, but we were notified, probably within the first three minutes (of the selection show) because of the seed that we were in.”
Last year’s 60-54 loss to Vanderbilt in the first round represented the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000. Griffin says having that under their belt will be big as they prepare for this match-up.
“I think the experience of being in the tournament and being at the press conferences and the fact that we’re at Connecticut again is another plus,” Griffin says. “Because we’re doing the same thing. I think that is really going to help. We have eight returning players from last year’s team and three starters. So I think we are ahead of where we were last year in terms of experience and what to expect.”
The Hawks are led by senior guard Erin Shields, an Archbishop Carroll product, and her 14.9 points a game and 40% shooting from three. Sophomore forward Sarah Fairbanks chips in 12.9 points and 6 rebounds a contest. Junior guard and Cardinal O’Hara graduate Natasha Cloud scores 11.5 points a game and leads the team in rebounding, pulling down 6.7 rebounds a contest.
Georgia brings a 20-11 record into the tournament. They went 7-9 in the SEC, losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to Dawn Staley’s South Carolina squad, 67-48.
“Georgia is very well coached,” Griffin says. “Andy Landers has been there for (35) years, he’s been to (five) Final Fours. They were the team that upset Stanford last year as a #1 seed. They lost some kids from that team. They are like us in the fact that their starting five, they have one senior, two juniors and two sophomores. They are very guard-oriented as well, they are their leading scorers. They are quick, they are athletic and they are going to try and turn you over.”
Griffin talks about the keys to March success.
“I think you have to have good guards this time of the year,” Griffin says. “I think you have to take care of the ball, make great decisions, have great floor games, and you have to shoot the ball well. You have to rebound the ball well and do all the little things that you’ve been harping on since October. You’re playing against the best competition in the country, so you need to bring your A game.”
The winner of this game plays the winner of UConn and Prairie View on Tuesday.
St. Joe’s and Georgia will tip-off at 5:30pm on Sunday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.