Pittsburgh, PA — Tuesday evening starts Atlantic 10 Championship play as several teams will host first round contests at 7 p.m. Eastern Time save for Saint Louis which tips off at 8 p.m. Eastern Time since it is located in the Central Time Zone.
This is the second year teams which finish in the top half of the league have been rewarded with home games and the top two seeds, which this year are Dayton and Duquesne are exempt from playing in these games having earned a bye. It is a way to reward those who performed best in the conference portion of the season.
The six winners of these games will move on to the quarterfinals with Dayton and Duquesne which once again will be played at Richmond Coliseum in Richmond, VA.
Last year, all six home teams earned victories proving the importance of the home-court advantage though this year things may not be so cut and dry.
All six home team’s coaches spoke prior to their matchups with the placement below being based upon what the Atlantic 10 sequentially had on its bracket.
This piece will focus on the seventh seeded Saint Louis Billikens, which will take on the Massachusetts Minutewomen Tuesday night.
Saint Louis comes into Tuesday night riding a ton of momentum after winning on its senior day against a Dayton team which previously had not lost in conference play. The 85-72 final outcome Saturday afternoon changed that.
“We have a great group of young woman and it has not been the season that we hoped at the beginning, but this year could be the one we thought of in the end,” Saint Louis coach Lisa Stone said. “It’s time to rewrite your story as you go into postseason because we’ve got a shot of confidence, energy and had great togetherness, what we’ve been looking for all year against the best team in the conference. We rose up and now we’ve got to use that as motivation as we start a brand new season.”
In some respects it was an up and down regular season for the Billikens but never did the lows spill over something which Stone believes shows her team’s character.
“Success is a journey, not a destination and it’s just a different journey that you have to embrace and learn from,” said Stone. “I have stayed very positive with this team the entire time, even with the heartbreaking losses. My thing is that you take every experience and turn it into a positive. That’s how I am and that’s how our team is. The game with Dayton shows that if we come out right away and establish ourselves on the defensive end instead of waiting back and getting a feel for what a team does, it makes a big difference. We did that on Saturday.”
UMass presents an interesting test Tuesday. Saint Louis beat the Minutewomen by 21 points on the road last season and then at home by 40 in the first round of last year’s Atlantic 10 Championships, but led for 27 seconds in this year’s contest, which was enough to win a 64-63 contest.
Coming into this game, UMass has won each of its past three games.
“Their newcomer Bre (Hampton-Bey) is a great player,” Stone said. “They’re very dangerous and playing very inspired. Tory has done a great job with them and they’ve got size with (Maggie) Mulligan. (Hailey) Leidel is unconscious from outside at times. They have a really solid six players and we have to take advantage of what we did the other day, protect our home court and play with a lot more energy and enthusiasm than we did the last time. They gave us everything they could last time and switched their defenses, so we have to concentrate on us being very good. At this part of the season you try to be really sharp with what you do, come in with great effort and stay connected as a team on both ends.”
At this point in the season, Stone takes winning streaks out of the equation and the focus has to be solely on her team with the hope that her best players can shine and the bench performs well.
“I always tell our team that we are only as good as our next 40 minutes so they are the most important 40 minutes of the year,” Stone said. “Everyone’s record is 0-0 right now so it doesn’t matter what teams are doing, it matters what is done Tuesday night.”
Saturday against Dayton, senior Aaliyah Covington got a start and Stone appreciated her toughness. According to Stone, she is projected to start against UMass because of this trait and how it will be needed out on the court.
Really though though this stretch certainly provides nerves, Stone displayed clear excitement in describing this make-or-break time of the year.
“It’s tournament time, it’s March Madness baby, let’s play,” she said.