Not dwelling on the past, the East Carolina women’s basketball team looks at the American Athletic Conference tournament as a new season and aims to use a potential run as a springboard to an invitation to a postseason tournament.
“This is a completely new season,” graduate forward Kristen Gaffney said. “I believe basketball has four seasons. You have preseason, you have conference, you have your conference tournament, and then, luckily, hopefully you get a fourth season, which is [the] NCAA/NIT.”
Due to finishing last in the regular season conference standings, East Carolina (11-18, 2-14 AAC) was placed as the lowest seed in the tournament. The top five seeds are given byes for the first round, so the Pirates will face off against No. 6 seed Southern Methodist (16-13, 7-9 AAC), Friday at 8 p.m. in Uncasville, Connecticut.
ECU picked up one of its only two conference victories against the Mustangs, a 58-57 home win, Jan. 7. It was a tightly contested matchup that saw Antoinette Bannister bank in a 3-point shot in the final seconds to give the Pirates their 10th win of the season. ECU, however, is not putting too much stock into the fact that it already beat SMU.
“I don’t believe we have any advantage at all,” Gaffney said. “We can’t remember anything we did that game. We need to come in with a new game plan, a new focus.”
In order to beat the Mustangs a second time this year, the Pirates will have to find a way to slow down junior forward Alicia Froling. The Australian native, who recorded a double-double with 22 points with 15 rebounds in the first match up, led SMU with 13.9 points per game and 10 rebounds per game.
“You got to limit [Froling’s] touches,” ECU head coach Heather Macy said. “You’re not doing silly things like putting her to the line. We’ve got to make sure we do a really nice job in tournament play of staying out of foul trouble.”
Gaffney will most likely be tasked with matching up against Froling. Similar to her SMU counterpart, Gaffney led ECU in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
While Gaffney can more than hold her own when it comes to putting the ball into the basket, she will need help battling for boards with the Mustangs, who grabbed 46 rebounds in the first game and averaged 42.1 rebounds per game during the season. In contrast, the Pirates averaged 37 boards per game.
“We hadn’t rebounded well this year and I think a lot of it is us being so undersized,” Macy said. “We’ve got to do a good job of position rebounding and rebounding with our bodies and in an aggressive way.”
ECU senior forward Bre McDonald hopes to repeat her performance from the first matchup against SMU. McDonald, who finished second on the team with 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, had a team-high 16 points and 10 rebounds in the first go around.
As a senior, McDonald is well aware of the fact that the season and her career can be over, depending on the outcome of this game.
“Tomorrow could be our last practice,” McDonald said. “I hope it isn’t, but I’m just going to give it my all and just encourage the rest of the girls to do the same. If it is [our last game] what are we saving it for?”
If ECU defeats SMU, it will next face South Florida in the quarterfinals Saturday at 4 p.m.
The semi finals will then be played Sunday, with the championship game following Monday at 7 p.m., with ESPN 2 broadcasting.