Rams Set a New Course
One of the nation’s top rebuilding jobs is currently underway at Fordham, where head coach Stephanie Gaitley and the Rams are 7-4 this season as they near the start of the Atlantic 10 Conference season. The seven wins are a sharp contrast to recent seasons for Fordham. In 2007-08, the Rams went 0-29 and over the last five seasons have managed only a 40-109 (.268) record.
November victories against Albany, Cornell, Delaware State and San Francisco established things early for the Rams. A hard fought 51-48 loss at Marquette on Dec. 1 was a telling sign of a team on the rise. Gaitley, currently in her second season at Fordham, has received significant contributions from a number of players, most especially, newcomers Erin Rooney and Marah Strickland.
Rooney, a redshirt 5-foot-8 junior guard from New Zealand, came to Fordham with Gaitley after playing two seasons under her direction at Monmouth. She has had an immediate impact for Fordham on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. The 2010-2011 NEC Defensive Player of the Year at Monmouth, she has started all 11 contests so far this season for the Rams after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Strong at the free throw line where she is 43 of 48 this season, Rooney leads the team with an average of 14.3 points per game while ranking second on the team with 21 steals, including a five-steal performance against Marquette. She captains a team that has ranked amongst the best in the NCAA Division I in scoring defense this season.
The other major addition for the Rams has been 6-foot forward Strickland, who has followed an unconventional path to Fordham. After starting 59 games in two years at Maryland, Strickland sat out the 2009-2010 season after deciding to transfer to South Carolina. She played one season at South Carolina in 2010-2011, completing a bachelor’s degree in political science. Given an outright release from South Carolina, she enrolled at Fordham in the fall of 2011 to pursue a master’s degree in urban studies and play for Gaitley, but illness sidelined her for the 2011-2012 campaign.
Given a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, Strickland finally suited up in a Rams uniform for the first time this season and she has not disappointed. She is averaging 12.7 points while pulling down 4.0 rebounds per game. Also strong at the free throw line, Strickland is 31 of 34 at the stripe this season.
And Then There Were Eight
Over the last week, three teams fell from the unbeaten ranks, leaving Colorado (9-0), Connecticut (8-0), Dayton (10-0), Duke (8-0), Georgia (11-0), Oklahoma State (8-0), South Carolina (10-0) and Stanford (9-0) still undefeated. The biggest victory amongst the undefeated eight was scored by Colorado at home last Friday when the Buffaloes scored a 70-66 victory against No. 8 Louisville. Colorado will be facing numerous challenges over the next two weeks with visits by New Mexico (Dec. 29), Stanford (Jan. 4), California (Jan. 6) and Utah (Jan. 8).
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Stanford Facing Tough Schedule
Saying No. 1 Stanford will face a challenging schedule over the next several weeks is an understatement. The Cardinal, who have already scored a win against defending national champion Baylor this season, will face four ranked teams who have a combined record of 34-1 this season. First up will be a Dec. 19 visit to South Carolina (10-0). On Sunday, Dec. 22, the Cardinal will travel to Knoxville to play the 7-1 Tennessee Lady Vols. Following that game, the team returns home to play Connecticut (8-0) on Dec. 29. Stanford will open Pac-12 Conference play with a Jan. 4 game in Boulder against 9-0 Colorado.
Seven Consecutive for Villanova.
Another early season success story involves Villanova, which won its seventh consecutive game and improved to 8-1 following a 61-54 victory against visiting Princeton on Dec. 12. The Villanova bench scored 29 of Villanova’s 61 points in the victory. Villanova’s lone defeat in non-conference came at Minnesota on Nov. 11 by a 75-60 count.
Alexander Records No. 300
Syracuse senior center Kayla Alexander leads the Big East Conference in blocked shots and recorded her 300th career block on Dec. 15 against Binghamton.
Stringer Closing in on 900
Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer is eight victories shy of the 900-career win milestone after recording No. 892 on Dec. 16 in a 42-34 home win against No. 23 Miami (Fla.). The earliest that Stringer could reach 900 would come Jan. 22 at home against Georgetown.
Nine of the 14 teams in the Southeastern Conference currently have a win streak of five or more games with every team currently .500 or better. The SEC is one of three conferences in which all teams are at .500 or better with the Big Ten and Big 12 also touting the same.
Odyssey Sims has returned to the Lady Bears lineup with a vengeance after missing four games with an injury. She was named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Week after scoring a season-high 27 points in Baylor’s 94-56 win against Oral Roberts on Dec. 12.
Faulkner Joins 1,000-Point Club
Southern Mississippi’s 5-foot-6 junior guard Jamierra Faulkner became the 22nd player in program history to join the 1,000-point club on Dec. 15 against Loyola. Faulkner’s 10 steals in that game established a new individual single-game record at Southern Miss.
Cal Golden So Far
Stanford may be No. 1 in the latest polls and undefeated along with Colorado atop the Pac-12 Conference standings, but Cal have played beneath the radar by improving to 8-1 on the season following a 71-65 win at Northwestern on Dec. 17. Brittany Boyd led the way with 18 points in the win against the Wildcats. The next test for Cal will come when they host No. 21 Kansas on Dec. 21.
Return to the Glory Days?
Old Dominion, which hosts the Norfolk Regional in late March, has jumped out to a 6-1 record that includes wins against Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth. The Monarchs’ lone loss this season was to Cal. Old Dominion’s last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2008.