MAAC Tournament: Women’s basketball team advances to conference championship

Ariana Stover and Josh Silverman

Photo: Quinnipiac Athletics
Photo: Quinnipiac Athletics

ALBANY, N.Y. – The Quinnipiac women’s basketball team overcame a major injury to defeat Monmouth 66-59 for their 19th straight victory and a spot in the MAAC final.

Senior captain Maria Napolitano suffered an injury in the second quarter after falling awkwardly on her knee.

Napolitano returned to the game minutes later and attempted a three-point shot that missed.

On her way back down to play defense, she collapsed and needed assistance in getting off the court. Napolitano was ruled out almost immediately and was later seen on crutches.

Head coach Tricia Fabbri knew the win wasn’t going to come easy.

“I’ve always said the toughest wins to get are the first one and the semifinals,” Fabbri said.

The victory did not come easily, as the Bobcats didn’t have a substantial lead until there was just minutes remaining in the game.

Napolitano’s veteran leadership was missed as the team couldn’t stretch the court like they could before.

Although the team had Napolitano still leading from the sideline, it wasn’t the same.

“Maria was in the huddle constantly giving to the team and that’s who she’s been for this team for the past four years,” Fabbri said.

Quinnipiac had to rotate players in to help fill the void left on both offense and defense.

One of Quinnipiac’s strengths is their depth and their ability to score points from their bench.

This strength was needed today more than ever.

“I think we showed what we’ve been for a number of years regarding our depth,” Fabbri said. “We utilize our depth all the time and strategy-wise we were able to overcome that.”

The Bobcats didn’t shoot the ball like they have previously during their winning streak, going 20 for 64 from the field. The Bobcats defense remained strong, holding Monmouth to just 34 percent from the field.

Quinnipiac was locked in a tie with a team they were projected to defeat, something that isn’t easy to overcome.

But Fabbri thought the message was clear at halftime.

“We’ve got 20 minutes to go out and find a way to win this game,” Fabbri said. “We weren’t going to lose Maria and lose this game. It was inspiration and motivation all wrapped up into one.”

The difference in this game was the free throws.

The Bobcats shot almost 80 percent from the line, more than 10 percent higher than they did during the regular season.

Fabbri said the free throws at the end of the game helped the team prevail.

“Outside of Brittany Johnson’s three-point shot after her free throws, the free throws didn’t allow the game to get any closer,” Fabbri said. “Our free-throw shooting at this time of the year was huge.”

Freshmen standouts Paula Strautmane and Aryn McClure made an impact, combining for 20 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds.

The biggest rebound came from Rookie of the Year Aryn McClure.

McClure fought her way to get the offensive rebound after Johnson missed her second free throw.

McClure dished the ball to Johnson who hit a three-pointer from the corner to give Quinnipiac a seven-point lead.

“It was the biggest play of the game,” Fabbri said. “For Aryn to track it down and Brittany to hit it, it gave us the separation we needed for the last two minutes of the game.”

The Bobcats were able to squeak out a victory against Monmouth, but their toughest task is still ahead of them.

Quinnipiac will have to face either Iona or Marist, without their best defensive player, for the MAAC Championship.

If they’re going to win, they will need their younger players to continue to play their best.