Last week we trekked out to Western New York to report on five games over four days.
This week, we have the benefit of staying within our upstate New York home base to watch and report on four games (two men's, two women's) over four days, so we'll continue with game-by-game reports/observations.
Starting with ..,
Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Kids' Day Game with Fairfield women at Siena.
The game was at Siena's on-campus Alumni Recreation Center. The announced crowd count of 2,368 (almost exclusively elementary school-aged children) was reportedly the second largest to ever witness a Saints' women's game at the ARC. The all-time attendance-setter was a 2005 contest against Maryland (3,780), the year Maryland won the national title.
In this one, Siena had a 10-point lead (20-10) early, and still had a nine-point edge (30-21) late in the first half.
And, then, Fairfield's always solid defense took over. At one stretch early in the second half Siena committed turnovers on seven consecutive possessions.
Still, the Saints were tied at 49 with about three minutes remaining when Fairfield's standout long-range shooter Alexys Vazquez went to work. She drained three three pointers on the Stags next four possessions to give her team a 58-53 lead with about 1;40 remaining and Siena never got closer than three again in what turned into a 66-59 victory for the Stags.
- If there is a better long-range shooter at any mid-major program nationally than Vazquez, I'd have to be convinced.
As a sophomore she made 61-of-143 3-point tries a year ago. That 42.7 percent accuracy would have ranked her 2nd nationally if she qualified (by making two per game) for the national leadership. Fairfield played 35 games a year ago, so she would have had to have made nine more three-pointers to qualify for the national leader board.
This year she's connecting on a 41.3 percent rate (38-of-92) and, yes, it's hard to imagine that an opponent wouldn't key on her in a late-game situation. But, two of her late-game threes on this day were wide-open, take-all-the-time-you-need looks, and the third got released just before a Siena defender arrived.
- Fourth straight setback for Siena after it held a sizeable lead. On Thursday, it was a nine-point lead with just over a minute left in the first half. Prior to that, the Saints held leads of 6 (at Sacred Heart with 1:30 remaining), of 6 at Canisius (with 2:20 remaining) and 8 at Niagara (with 5:30 remaining) before losing all three.
- In the early speculation about the opponent most-likely to be a challenge to the long-time domination of Marist in the conference standings, Fairfield is most definitely in the picture.
The Stags only lost by five at Marist four days earlier and had been within a point, 57-56 and in possession of the ball with under a minute remaining.
But two Fairfield turnovers in the final 51 seconds, coupled with points by Marist on its final two possessions enabled the Red Foxes to hold off the Stags.
Fairfield is now 2-1 in league play and if it's not the Stags who will challenge Marist, then maybe it will be Iona, which is off to a 3-0 start and has beaten its three opponents by scores of 11 (against Niagara), 14 (Canisius) and 30 (Manhattan).
- If there were an award for "Most Improved Player" in the conference, Fairfield would have two strong candidates.
Their 6-1 junior center Brittany Obi-Tabot only played an average of 3.8 minutes per game, and only scored 20 total points a year ago.
This year, though, she had a 24-point, 10-rebound performance against Marist on Sunday and followed that up with Thursday's 20-point, 4-rebound effort against Siena.
On the year, she averages 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.
The other candidate would be 5-10 junior guard Christelle Akon-Akech, who only averaged 11.7 minutes per game a year ago.
Akon-Akech was off to a slow start this year, too, playing behind sophomore teammate Felicia DaCruz until Thursday.
DaCruz appeared to struggle against Siena's back-court quickness early and only played 7 minutes before giving way to Akon-Akech, who contributed 6 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 4 steals in a career-high 33 minutes of playing time.