Gannon wears down opponents

The Gannon University women’s basketball team has habitually shown a penchant for grinding out tough, physical, no-frills victories this season.

And that’s just the way they like it.

The Knights, who are ranked No. 7 in the Tuesday’s USA Today poll and sit atop the Pennsylvania State Athletic Association standings, have remained even-keel all season.

“When we practice at 7 in the morning or 7 at night, whenever it is, we want to make sure we’re that same team,” coach Cleve Wright said of the Knights, who maintain an 18-2 overall record and 12-1 conference mark. “We’re that team that competes hard, plays together, shares the ball and stays focused on goals.”

Consistency has been a recent trademark of the Knights, who are already within one win of clinching a spot in the conference tournament for the 14th time in 15 seasons. Gannon will have its chance Wednesday on the road against Slippery Rock University (14-3, 3-10), which the Knights have defeated 18 of their last 19 meetings.

Junior forward Jen Papich, who, along with guard Brittany Batts, leads the team with 12.4 points per contest, said there is still work for the Knights to do.

“We’re getting more consistent,” Papich said. “We’ve some issues with little things at times—boxing out,  not trying to do too much — now we’re starting to really be more consistent and it’s exciting.”

The Knights’ uniformity can even be seen on the stat sheet, as Gannon boasts one of the more balanced teams in the country. Four players are averaging double-digit points and six are averaging at least 20 minutes on the floor each game.

“Our team takes confidence in that,” Wright said. “It means that everybody has to be ready. We’re like a lot of teams that have had sickness and adversity and different things happen, but because of our depth, we’ve been able to maintain and keep moving forward.”

But it’s the Knights’ defense where most of their pride lay. Gannon is second only to Indiana University of Pennsylvania, giving up 57.1 points per game.

“Coach (Wright) will tell you that our defense will lead to our offense,” Papich said. “We have the mentality that you can’t always control whether your shots are going to go down on offense, but you can always control what you’re doing on defense and what kind of effort you’re giving.”

Gannon’s defense was at the forefront when the Knights held Mercyhurst and Clarion universities to under 50 points in a pair of no-stress wins last week.

While Gannon took a while to get warmed up in both games, the Knights eventually flexed their muscles and pulled away from the Lakers and Golden Eagles.

“I do think we have a team that can impose its will on people when it wants to,” Wright said. “We want to have that approach every time we step on the floor.”

With nine games remaining in the regular season, all against conference opponents, Gannon has settled into a routine that Wright says will give the Knights more confidence.

“The hope is that we get into a rhythm,” Wright said. “Now that we’re into this, it allows us to get into a rhythm where we get Sunday off, you clean up for Saturday’s game on Monday, you’re preparing for Wednesday’s game on Tuesday.”

 

JOE CUNEO

[email protected]