January 13, 2012 by Julia.Fisher
While most Drexel students were home with their families over winter break, the women’s basketball team (7-7, Colonial Athletic Association 3-1) was tearing up the court against various opponents. With two triumphant CAA wins sandwiching one conference and 4 four non-conference losses, the women are ready to put their best feet forward to face their toughest competitors yet.
“We have definitely had some ups and downs this season,” head coach Denise Dillon said. “But one thing the team continues to do is work hard and put forth the effort to be successful. With that continued effort we will pull out some tough wins.”
The Dragons’ conference play began Dec. 4 against the University of North CarolinaWilmington. After previously losing to St. Joseph’s University in a tight battle, the team stepped it up for a big 58-43 win in Wilmington, N.C.
From the start, Drexel had command of the game, both offensively and defensively. Mimicking her performance against the University of Pittsburgh, Kamile Nacickaite scored fast and early. She led the team with 17 points overall, while teammates Hollie Mershon, who had 16, and Taylor Wootton, who put away 10 points, were not far behind.
With Drexel’s prominent defense, the Seahawks were held to just 13 points in the first half. Although UNCW gained momentum in the second, they still finished the day shooting below 30 percent from the floor, while Drexel hit close to 50 percent.
In the final minutes of play, Dillon made sure that she cleared her bench at least once, and 11 of the 12 women snagged one or more rebounds.
After defeating the Seahawks, the Dragons faced Seton Hall University Dec. 12. in South Orange, N.J, only to fall to the Pirates 64-77.
Even with Nacickaite and Mershon’s combined 42 points, their efforts on offense weren’t enough to conceal the team’s poor performance on defense.
The contest started out neck-and-neck, with both teams hitting their shots from all positions of the court. With less than 10 minutes left in the first half, Nicole Jones made a lay-up, bringing the score to 20 apiece.
This closeness in score was short-lived, seeing as Seton Hall almost instantly went on an 11-0 run against the Dragons, finishing the half 45-29 and giving themselves a lead that Drexel ultimately couldn’t catch up to.
Coming out of half time, the Pirates picked up where they left off, consequently leaving the Dragons in the dust. With time on their side, Seton Hall did their best to run out the clock and make last minute passes and shots. Once Drexel got wind of the Pirates game plan, they began pressing the defense.
Although it was a good effort, it was too little too late, and the Pirates took the gold in this match-up.
The Dragons walked away with a loss, but Nacickaite finished by moving into 12th place for all-time scoring at Drexel with a total of 1,223 career points. She has since bumped up her ranking to 10th all-time.
As Dillon puts it, “As a player, [Kamile] has now made a mark on our program, which puts her in a category with so many other talented players who have been part of our success over the years.”
Next, the Dragons took on the La Salle Explorers at the Daskalakis Athletic Center for their first home game in 38 days.
Once again the game started off tight, with both teams making solid shots. Both the Dragons and the Explorers managed to evenly distribute their energy and consistency in shooting throughout the whole game, not just one half in particular.
Wootton had a personal career high of 20 points which couldn’t have come at a better time. Without her perseverance around the net, it is possible that this game would have a very different outcome. Teammate Ayana Lee also reached a career high of nine points throughout the contest.
With a lot of back-and-forth scoring, it wasn’t until the last few minutes that the Dragons really stole the show. With just over 10 seconds to play, Abby Redick went to the line to shoot two and sank both free throws, giving her team a 72-59 win.
The 72 points scored is the largest number thus far this season. This ego boost was unfortunately short-lived, since the Dragons proceeded to lose their following four consecutive matchups.
“We put together a challenging out of conference schedule to prepare us for the CAA,” Dillon said. “You never want to give up four in a row. It’s a good reminder for me and the team every time we step on the floor…we continue to emphasize the importance of staying consistent with our game plan. The team is doing a better job of working together, which results in better basketball.”
All four losses were extremely close, including their overtime battle against the University of Pennsylvania, in which they fell to the Quakers 65-67 Dec. 22.
Shortly after, Drexel lost two back-to-back home games. First, the Dragons fell to the University of South Carolina 58-62 Dec. 28, and just three days later suffered a tough 51-63 loss against Princeton University.
Even after experiencing three tough losses, the Dragons had hoped to come up with a big win against conference competitor Hofstra University, but to no avail.
Drexel traveled to Hempstead, N.Y. to kick off 2012 on a positive note, only to find themselves losing to Hofstra 65-76 Jan. 5.
This marked their first, and thus far only, CAA loss of the 2011-12 season.
Thanks to the efforts of Mershon, Nacickaite and Wootton, who each had double figures, the Dragons kept up with the Pride throughout the first half, and even surpassed them for a brief moment — a very brief moment.
“We remind Kamile, Hollie and Taylor to work on making others better which will help us be better,” Dillon said. “For us to be successful it has to be a total team effort.”
Once the Pride got wind of Drexel’s attack, they began to pick up the pace and level of play, leaving the Dragons unable to keep up with the fast-paced consistency of their opponents.
For the duration of the contest, Hofstra had a hefty lead and ended up defeating the Dragons by 11 points.
Now bringing the tally to four consecutive losses, Drexel used their home-court advantage against Towson University Jan. 8 to pull out a big and long-awaited win.
Although the Tigers put the first two points on the board, it would prove to be their only lead throughout the rest of the game. Nacickaite proceeded to score the first 11 points for her team, finishing the day with 19. She also added to her list of accolades by becoming just the third player in Drexel history to reach and surpass the 200 mark for three-pointers, and also holds the title of most efficient three-point shooter with a .411 career average.
Nacickaite’s strong play proved to be contagious. Eleven of the 12 Dragons scored points against the Tigers, including sophomore Tory Thierolf’s first field goal, as well as freshman Tiffany Johnson’s first collegiate field goal.
In addition to their list of firsts, Drexel shot 70 percent from beyond the arc, and made seven three-point shots, both reaching and exceeding this season’s records.
The Dragons can also attribute their win to aggressive and successful rebounding. Drexel entered the contest ranked last in the CAA for rebounding percentage, and ultimately out-rebounded Towson, who were previously ranked second in the CAA for their efficiency.
Drexel finished the game with almost twice the amount of points as the Tigers, 66-38. And the positive momentum doesn’t stop there.
The Dragons took on the extremely talented players of James Madison University Jan. 12 on the Dukes’ turf, and walked away with a huge win.
“JMU is the two time defending CAA champs,” Dillon said. “There is not much more motivation that can be used when you are playing a team that has consistently shown they play at a high level.”
It appeared to be motivation enough for Drexel. The team started off a little slow with countless turnovers and missed shots, ending the half trailing 17-25.
The glimmer of hope entering the second was the fact that Mershon made the last two baskets of the first, giving her team a boost of motivation for a more constructive half.
Coming into the second, Drexel scored six points back-to-back and took the lead for what turned out to be the rest of the game.
As Dillon put it, “Our mantra is to play Drexel basketball which includes the following: discipline, focus and controlling the tempo, which ultimately puts us in a position to be a contender in every game when we step onto the floor.”
Throughout the whole second half, Drexel exhibited all that encompasses their mantra, and completely broke down the usually powerful and efficient JMU team.
Drexel finished the game with a resounding score of 60-43, brining their record to 3-1 in the conference.
Next the Dragons take on Georgia State University Jan. 15 at home at 2p.m.