Women take West, shift focus to Rock

With two more wins in their back pocket from last week, the Gannon University women could look ahead knowing they’ve clinched the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division championship with their regular season-finale against Slippery Rock still to come Wednesday.

But for the Knights, that wouldn’t be the right way.

Make that the Wright way.

Despite watching his team wrap up its second West title in four years with wins over Mercyhurst and Lock Haven, coach Cleve Wright has made a point to his players to finish the regular season strong, something they have taken note of.

“How are we approaching this game, Marisa?” Wright asked freshman forward Marisa Guyton Monday, already knowing the answer he’d receive.

“A day at a time,” Guyton said to her coach’s delight.

At 25-3, Gannon, ranked No. 8, still has a lot to play for as it jockeys for postseason positioning. In last week’s initial Atlantic Regional rankings, the Knights were tabbed first, meaning they hold the inside track to hosting the regional portion of the NCAA tournament.

“We would love to host the first round of the NCAA tournament and know we have to finish strong in the PSACs in order for that to happen,” guard Brittany Batts said.

Gannon would host the first three rounds if that remains the case, but Wednesday’s game, which will be senior night for forward Kelsey McCoy, Gannon’s lone senior, remains at the forefront for Wright.

“No, I’m thinking about Slippery Rock,” Wright said. “I’m just very intense and ready to go for this week.”

“We want to honor Kelsey, we want to play hard for Kelsey and finish the season right.”

Finishing has been the name of the game for Gannon all season, as the Knights once again overcame somewhat slow starts before wearing down both opponents last week to earn two more workman-like no-frill wins.

In a 62-50 win at Mercyhurst, 11 players saw action and scored, but none finished in double-figures. On Saturday, nine players scored, with Jen Papich leading the way with 19 points and 10 rebounds in Gannon’s 76-66 over Lock Haven. Gannon also committed just 11 turnovers Saturday, the second-fewest this season only to eight it committed against Ursuline in late November.

“They don’t stop and they find a way,” Wright said. “We’ve played 28 games and there have been many games where the team was able to find a way to win. Whether it was pretty or not didn’t matter.”

One of Gannon’s cleanest wins this season came against Wednesday’s opponent on Jan. 30, when the Knights took a 20-point lead at halftime before eventually routing the Rock 84-62.

But this season has taken wins of all kinds, which will pay dividends for the Knights.

As the No. 1 seed in the West, Gannon will be idle for the conference tournament’s first round and will play a quarterfinal game at the Hammermill Center on Tuesday, hosting the winner of Saturday’s Cal-Clarion game. The semifinals and finals will be played at the highest remaining seed in the East.

Wright said the extra time off shouldn’t interfere with the Knights’ routine.

“We’ll prepare for the game like any other, but we’ll have more days than we’re used to having,” he said. “We’ll use a little bit of that time to get some rest, get healed up.”

Should Gannon maintain the top ranking in the Atlantic Region, the Knights would have an advantage at the Hammermill Center, where they are 46-7 over the last four years.

When hosting the 2010 Atlantic Regional, raucous sellout crowds helped the Knights win each of their games convincingly on the way to a 37-1 record and Final Four appearance.

This year’s Gannon team is the fifth team in seven seasons to reach 20 wins, but Wright said it’s too early to know where it ranks among the others.

“That question is yet to be answered,” Wright said. “Ask me in about a month.”

 

JOE CUNEO

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