(Photo by Gary Quintal)
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, February 25- The final week of the regular season of the women’s division of the Atlantic-10 Conference has begun.
Thus, each contest is crucial in the determination of seeds for teh A-10 tournament. Five teams are battling for the top four positions that will be given a bye in the first round of the tournament. Two of the five, the Fordham Rams (20-7, 10-2) and the St. Joseph’s Hawks (19-7, 10-2) met on Sunday afternoon at the Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx.
This year’s women’s team at Fordham, under the direction of second year coach Stephanie Gaitley, has taken for itself the slogan “Tradition begins NOW!” The new tradition the team has adopted is one of being successful on the court. Since joining the Atlantic-10 in 1995, Fordham has not had a winning record. In a single season, the team has never won more than five conference contests, has not won more than six consecutive contests, and has not been victorious in 10 non-conference games.
This year’s marks have put all those negative records in the past. The Rams defeat of the Hawks on Sunday ended a 13-game losing streak to St. Joseph’s. It earned the Rams its first 20-win season since the 1993-4 season. It may also qualify Fordham to earn its first bye in the A-10 Tourney in mid-March.
The Fordham victory moved it above St. Joe’s for third place in the conference standings. If each of the top four current teams (Dayton, Charlotte, Fordham, St. Joseph’s) win its final two regular season games, the four will finish in the same order they now are in and each will be exempt from playing in the first round of the conference tournament.
The lead changed hands eight times and the game was tied twice during the first 10 minutes of Sunday’s game. Fordham scored 10 unanswered points to take a 24-16 advantage at 7:22. The first half ended with Fordham holding its biggest lead of the half, 33-24.
Fordham reached its largest lead early in the second half as a three by Arielle Collins gave the Rams a 38-26 advantage. The lead lessened later in the half, but Fordham remained in the lead until the score was knotted at 58 with 13.9 seconds left in regulation. A dramatic shot from half-court at the buzzer by Marah Strickland went in and out of the hoop.
The Rams scored the first five points of overtime to ensure the victory. Strickland scored a career-high of 31 points (10 more than her previous high) during the game including seven of Fordham’s 12 during overtime. Freshman Samantha Clark achieved her fourth double-double of her first collegiate season with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Erin Rooney was not far from a triple-double with 14 points, 9 boards and 7 assists. Collins, on 4 of 6 shooting from the field, netted 9 points.
The Fordham win was greeted with joy throughout the gym as the large crowd celebrated.
Prior to the start of the game, Strickland, Collins, Charlotte Stoddard and Ranait Griff were honored in Senior Day ceremonies.
Fordham plays host to St. Bonaventure University on Wednesday evening, February 27, and travels to Philadelphia for its final regular season contest at Temple University on Sunday afternoon, March 3.