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Defense sparks women's hot start

  [caption id="attachment_12332" align="alignnone" width="600"]Seton Hall Athletics Seton Hall Athletics[/caption]

They say defense wins championships, and it did play a huge role in the Seton Hall women’s basketball team taking home the Big East regular season championship last season. It has been an even bigger reason why the Pirates are enjoying such a great start this year. The Pirates are off to their best start since the 1989-90 season when they won their first seven games before stumbling against Georgia on the road. The team is 7-1 this season, with the first loss also coming to the Bulldogs on Sunday. Heading into Wednesday’s game against Fordham the Hall has allowed opponents to score just 56.5 points per game, which ranks No. 1 in the Big East. “I think the team’s success is based on how well we’ve played defensively as a group,” head coach Tony Bozzella said. “If we are going to be good it is because of our defense, more so this year than any other year.” Seton Hall’s defense is forcing opponents to shoot 32.9 percent from the field, which is not only tops in the conference, but ranks No. 18 in the country. The Pirates are also holding opponents to just 24.7 percent shooting from three, and block 5.4 shots a night. Both rank in the top-two of the conference. Those blocks rank the blue and white in the top-40 nationally.
The Pirates have relied on junior center Lubirdia Gordon for many of the team’s rejections. She averages 2.8 blocks per game, which is the second-best mark in the conference and top- 20 in the nation. That, along with her 6.3 rebounds, shows how vital she has been defensively. “She is the anchor and we would be nowhere near where we are without her,” Bozzella said. “Last year [Chizoba Ekedigwe] filled that role, and I think Lubirdia really watched [Chizoba] and has taken it to the next level. She does a great job not just block- ing shots, but altering shots and also dissuading people to want to drive because you are going to drive into a kid that is going to block your shot.”
Even Gordon’s teammates are not thrilled about facing her in practice because of the skill that she brings in the paint. “She’s huge and has an impact, like a scaring tactic. Even in practice, I’m going into the lane thinking about it,” graduate student Shakena Richardson said. “She is always looking to block shots and she is long. You just don’t go in the paint.” Seton Hall has 68 steals as a team, and 15 have led directly to baskets on the other end of the floor. Senior Aleesha Powell leads the team with 2.1 steals per game and has been a huge reason why the defense is so tough.
“[Powell] does make an impact defensively because she never takes a possession off,” Bozzella said. “She tries her best all the time. I’m very pleased with her effort play in and play out from practice to games. She has done a great job with that.” Powell sat out last season after transferring from Iona, but her teammates have already noticed the impact that the senior brings. “Aleesha is really fast, so her speed really helps her with her small size,” Richardson said. “She gets into the passing lane, steals balls and gets us easy transition points, so that is always a plus.” Other Pirates, like Richardson and Tiffany Jones, have turned heads with their solid play defensively, too.
Jones is constantly guarding the top forwards on opposing teams while putting up 8.1 rebounds per game along with 1.6 blocks. Richardson has consistently guarded opposing top scorers, which is no easy task. “[Shakena] has been asked to guard the other team’s best scorer and done a great job with it,” Bozzella said. “She is an intelligent player out there. She needs to be more aggressive than she was recently, and we need that. I think when she does that she can raise her level and help our defense a lot more.” Improvements do need to be made, especially after the reigning NCAA Team of the Week was lackluster in the 70-52 loss in Athens. After leading 33-30 at the half, the Pirates were outscored 20-7 in the third quarter and could not recover. “We have to try harder and more consistently. In that third quarter, we stopped playing,” Bozzella said. “They’ve got to do a better job of fighting through adversity and playing tough, because when we play tough we are one of the best teams in the coun- try.”   Sean Saint Jacques can be reached at sean.saintjacques@student.shu. edu or on twitter @SSaintJ7.

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