Lakers take defensive battle in SUNYACs

Senior guard Kassie Kleine handles the ball in front of a defender during the Lakers’ 38-35 playoff victory over SUNY Cortland on Tuesday at Max Ziel Gymnasium. (Nick Graziano | The Oswegonian)
Senior guard Kassie Kleine handles the ball in front of a defender during the Lakers’ 38-35 playoff victory over SUNY Cortland on Tuesday at Max Ziel Gymnasium. (Nick Graziano | The Oswegonian)

In its first home playoff game since the 06-07 season, the Oswego State women’s basketball team was able to hold off SUNY Cortland and advance to the SUNYAC semifinals with a 38-35 win Tuesday night.

An impressive crowd came out to support the Lakers at Max Ziel Gymnasium. In such a close game, sixth-year head coach Tracy Bruno says that playing at home was a huge advantage for her team.

“That’s why you fight so hard to play at home, so that when it’s tough and you need a basket or a stop or somebody to miss a free throw or whatever it might be, that sixth man in a basketball situation was awesome,” Bruno said.

The Lakers, who are now 15-0 this season when holding their opponents to fewer than 50 points, have made an identity for themselves on the defensive end of the floor. According to Bruno, being active on defense is what has allowed her players to be so successful.

“We knew we really needed to be active bumping cuts, be active guarding drives, be in good help-side when they did get some post situations and at the end of the day we just needed to make sure we had hands in the faces of shooters,” Bruno said.

In addition to their relentless defense, the Lakers lead the conference in three-point field goal percentage. In the early stages of the first half, they were able to open up a 17-10 lead on the Red Dragons with three straight three-point buckets. Yet, the following eight minutes saw no made field goals by either team, and Cortland was able to close the gap with five straight points just before the half to make it a 20-17 contest.

They were able to keep that momentum going as the second half began, tying the game at 22 just five minutes in. However, neither team seemed to be able to get any rhythm going on the offensive end, as only three points were scored between the two teams in the next several minutes.

At this point in the season, Bruno believes that having played each other multiple times is what made this game such a close match-up.

“When it’s the third time you’re playing one another you kind of know what each other are doing,” Bruno said. “We just continued to kind of go to our spots, and they were beating us to our spots, and as a result we turned the ball over a little bit.”

In fact, the Lakers turned the ball over 25 times. While this ultimately was a result of how familiar the two teams are with each other, fatigue may also have become a factor this late in the season. With a conference championship now on the line, they can no longer afford to be casual with their possessions.

“The first thing that always goes up on the board in our pre-game chat is ‘value our possessions,’ that’s a constant theme.” Bruno said. “In games where scoring is going to be at a premium, if you’re going to hand the ball to the other team 25 times you’re putting a lot of pressure on your defense.”

Down the stretch, Cortland was able to tie the game with 53 seconds remaining, but that was the last time they would score. Oswego State tightened its defense and was able to make its free throws to take a 38-35 lead with just 7.2 seconds left. In one last-chance effort, the Red Dragons inbounded the ball and rushed up the court to attempt a desperation three-point shot, but it was blocked by Laker senior Evelyn Josbena to seal the victory. Looking forward to the rest of the tournament, Bruno believes that her seniors displaying that kind of effort is what will make the biggest difference for them.

“With five seniors, it’s about those guys continuing to work hard and play with a sense of urgency and not wanting it to be over,” Bruno said.

The Lakers will play SUNY Geneseo on Friday in their semifinal matchup at New Paltz. After splitting their first two games, this will be the third time Oswego State and Geneseo have met this season. Aside from playing at home, a neutral court is the best possible situation for the Lakers, who seem to have a hard time playing at Geneseo. While they will be looking to make a few adjustments before the game, the Lakers are exactly where they want to be and they have all the confidence in the world.

“This year probably more than in some recent years, I think it’s wide open,” Bruno said. “I think that anybody can win it, and that’s exciting, so we have to feel relieved that we got through Cortland, and we have nothing to lose now.”

Senior guard Kassie Kleine attempts a free throw in the Lakers’ 38-35 win over SUNY Cortland on Tuesday. (Nick Graziano | The Oswegonian)
Senior guard Kassie Kleine attempts a free throw in the Lakers’ 38-35 win over SUNY Cortland on Tuesday. (Nick Graziano | The Oswegonian)