Knights strive to rekindle fire

The Gannon University women’s basketball team will look to reverse a two-game losing streak as it takes on Mercyhurst College in a cross-town rivalry slated for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center.

In both of its two most recent games against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rivals Edinboro University and California University of Pennsylvania, Gannon allowed 72 points, a number that has been unfamiliar to the defensive-minded Knights so far this season.

Coach Cleve Wright said the team has been strong defensively up until this point in the season.

“We need to buckle down and refocus on the defensive end,” he said. “Both of those teams scored over 70 points against us, and that’s not common for this team.”

Another staggering figure to plague the team in both losses were the 18 offensive rebounds snatched by both the Fighting Scots and the Vulcans. According to Wright, this is something that the defense will need to work out.

“To me that’s part of defense,” he said. “Defense doesn’t end until you get the rebound. We have to keep people off the offensive boards.”

Sophomore forward Jen Papich also saw the amount of rebounds given up as a vital area of improvement as the team moves deeper into PSAC play.

“If we understand the importance of rebounding and crash the boards with urgency, we’ll prevent this from happening again,” she said.

Though the Knights have faced some stiff competition from conference teams in the past week, their first real test, according to Papich, came when they traveled to Puerto Rico over winter break from Dec. 30 to Jan. 2.

The Knights, who currently hold on to the no. 25 spot in the ESPN Top 25 Coaches poll, split the pair of international games they played, dropping the first to UPR Rio Piedras 54-57 and stealing the other from UPR Bayamon by a score of 74-73.

Papich said this was a big step for the team to take, as they were battling against several factors that did not work in their favor.

“We played in an environment that was completely different from what we’re used to,” she said. “The gym was open, the weather was 85 degrees and the refs spoke very little English.”

Although these games were the main reason for the Knights’ trip, Wright and Papich both said that there were other aspects of the trip that promoted team bonding.

“We had a couple unique games down there where we were playing the local teams and had the local flavor going on,” Wright said. “But we had the opportunity to do other things as well.”

These other things included visiting a rainforest and bioluminescent bay, which is inhabited by organisms that glow when the water is disturbed, a sight that Wright said was “the coolest thing” he’s ever seen.

The team also spent time on New Year’s Day in a children’s hospital.

As it takes on Mercyhurst tonight, Wright says the team must focus on protecting the rim and buckling down defensively. He also said they must recognize and take better advantage of opportunities.

“We had some plays not go our way (against Cal), we had some things not happen for us,” he said. “But we don’t want to put ourselves in that situation where a call here or a call there or a ball that doesn’t bounce your way decides a game. We need to play the whole game.”

Papich said she is confident that the Knights will figure out how to get back in the win column and is ready to continue improving.

“We just have to keep working hard and staying positive, the wins will come,” she said. “We have the potential to be great together, and a lot of teams don’t have that.”

The atmosphere for the matchup is certain to be intense, according to Wright, who said both teams will have solid fan support.

“I want our players to handle to atmosphere with maturity,” he said. “I think this is a big game, just as I think every game we play is a big game.”

CHRISTINE PEFFER

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