Rubber match for Navy, Loyola in Patriot League tourney

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Based on the regular season series, it would be hard to predict what will happen when Navy and Loyola meet in Monday night’s Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals.

The Midshipmen and Greyhounds split with the home team winning in convincing fashion.

Taylor Dunham scored 22 points while Kaila Clark totaled five steals and two blocks as Navy routed Loyola, 73-44, in the Patriot League opener for both schools on Dec. 29 at Alumni Hall. Loyola was simply awful offensively that night, shooting just 29 percent (16 for 54) from the field and committing a whopping 29 turnovers.

It was a completely different story two months later as Navy struggled mightily on offense in suffering a surprising 58-40 loss to Loyola on Feb. 24. The Mids shot 30 percent (14 for 46) from the floor and committed 19 turnovers at Reitz Arena in Baltimore.

“I really don’t know what to expect. Our team games this season were so dramatically different,” Loyola head coach Joe Logan said. “When we played earlier in the season, Navy was hot and looking like it could go undefeated in the league. By the end of the season, we were playing a lot better basketball and they had just come off a tough loss.”

Logan believes the Greyhounds and Midshipmen are somewhat similar in terms of personnel and predicted the team that gets things going on the offensive end will come out on top.

“I think these two teams match up pretty well on both sides. Neither team is very big. Our guards are the predominant players,” Logan said. “I know it sounds simplistic, but whoever makes shots is going to win. Both teams had trouble putting points on the board in the previous matchups. It will be interesting to see who can find a way to score the basketball on Monday night.”

Senior captains Taylor Dunham and Hannah Fenske led the way as Navy was clearly the better women’s basketball club over the course of the entire season, compiling a 23-6 overall record and 13-5 conference mark to earn the third seed for the tournament. Meanwhile, youth and inexperience resulted in a rocky campaign for Loyola, which finished 9-20 and 7-11 to draw the sixth seed.

“Loyola got off to a slow start during the non-conference season. I think they have found their identity while going through the league,” Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper said.

Loyola began the season expecting to build around senior guard Bri Betz-White, a first team All-Patriot League selection in 2017. However, Betz-White played in just five games before being shut down for the season with an injury.

Logan was forced to make some adjustments and it took time for Loyola to settle into a particular playing style. The Greyhounds lost five of six to start Patriot League play, but an upset of second-place Bucknell sparked a stretch of four wins in five outings.

Logan said the greatest improvement has come on offense as the coaching staff has finally found some rhythm along with some go-to scorers.

“We have become a bit more consistent offensively and our kids are playing with more confidence. They have a better understanding of what we want to do on offense, what we want to run and who we want to get the ball and in what situations,” he said.

Loyola is led offensively by freshman forward Isabella Therien and sophomore wing guard Stephanie Karcz, who are averaging 15.1 and 14.5 points, respectively. Alexis Gray gives the Greyhounds a third double-digit scorer as she is contributing 12.4 points per game.

“Joe is better than any coach in the league at featuring players. I’m sure he went into the season thinking he was going to feature Betz-White. Now they are featuring Therien and Karcz,” Pemper said. “They know who they are now and are doing a good job of getting the ball in the hands of their key scorers.”

Karcz was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year while Therien was selected as Rookie of the Year this past week. They are the first Loyola women’s basketball players to earn those awards.

Therien, out of Cherokee High in Marlton, N.J., has reached double figures in 23 of 25 games this season. She was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week in five of the final seven report periods.

Karcz ranks third in Division I with 112 steals, an average of almost four per game. She made 10 steals in the last meeting with the Mids. The versatile 5-foot-11 New Jersey native is the only player in the Patriot League averaging a double-double as she also grabs 10.3 rebounds per game.

Navy has been led all season by Dunham and Fenske, who are averaging 14.6 and 10.9 points, respectively. Those two seniors have also been the primary playmakers with Fenske dishing off a team-best 116 assists and Dunham delivering 83.

“Dunham and Fenske have really developed into outstanding players. They play the game the right way and are fun to watch,” Logan said. “Hopefully, we can find a way to shut them down one more time. They are seniors who have played a lot of basketball games and are not going to want to lose. Hopefully, our kids have the same sense of urgency on Monday night.”

Loyola has primarily played man-to-man defense this season, but employed a zone to great effect in the last meeting with Navy.

Navy is coming off a superb performance, having routed regular season conference champ American, 76-49. After being limited to 40 points in each of the previous two contests, the Mids broke out offensively with Dunham draining seven 3-pointers in scoring 23 points.

“I feel very good after what we did on Wednesday. I really liked the way we came out. We were really dialed in. We were running and pushing the ball. Everyone was focused and energized,” Pemper said.

twitter.com/BWagner_CapGaz

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
73°