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Women's basketball find winter break success

After beating rival Princeton for first time in 13 years, Bruno now fourth in Ivy League

While most members of the student body were scattered around the world for winter break, the women’s basketball team (11-5, 2-1 Ivy) remained hard at work, resulting in some important wins.

Without the distraction of classes and often training two to three times per day, the team posted a 5-2 record over winter break. Over this period, Bruno scored an average of 77.7 points per game while holding their opponents to 71.1. The break was highlighted by the team’s first win over conference rival Princeton in 13 years, as the Bears exploded for nearly triple digits.

The action started with an 80-71 win at home over Saint Peter’s University (3-16, 2-8 MAAC), extending Bruno’s winning streak to five games.

The Bears then traveled to play Virginia Commonwealth University (11-10, 4-4 A10), and their winning streak was snapped in an 85-72 loss to the Rams.

But Brown bounced back with a 68-51 win over Morgan State University (2-17, 0-6 MEAC), followed by a 90-44 trouncing of Rhode Island College (5-13, 2-6 LEC) in their final test before Ivy League play. Justine Gaziano ’20 scored 30 points in the victory over RIC.

Gaziano, Shayna Mehta ’19 and Taylor Will ’19 provided much of the offensive firepower throughout this stretch. They all eclipsed double-digit points in each of the four games leading up to conference play.

Because of changes to the Ivy League’s postseason, the importance of each game has ramped up. The 2016-17 season marks the inaugural year of the Ivy League Tournament, a two-day, season-capping clash at the Palestra in Philadelphia, held as a tournament between the top four teams in the conference standings. The champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. This year, Brown has made reaching the Ivy League Tournament a goal.

“We take every Ivy game as a Super Bowl … and we’re really focused on improving from last year and trying to be at the Palestra in March,” said Head Coach Sarah Behn.

Brown traveled to Princeton (7-9, 1-2) to open Ivy League play. There, Bruno unleashed an offensive whirlwind, dropping 98 points on the Tigers, highlighted by 33 points from Gaziano — her second straight 30-plus point performance. Brown returned home with a 98-88 win, the first time the Bears have beaten Princeton in 13 years.

Since the matchup against Saint Peter’s — Gaziano’s first game back after dislocating her right thumb against Bryant University a month earlier — the first-year has been prolific. She has contributed 14, 16, 19, 30, 33, 24 and 17 points in her last seven games, and is scoring an Ivy League second-best 19.2 points per game while leading the conference in shooting percentage.

While she was initially discouraged by her injury, Gaziano said she stayed motivated by staying in shape and focusing on ball handling with her left hand.

“I got my head up and knew I would be back with my teammates soon enough,” Gaziano added. “I decided to look at the positives of the situation because it could’ve been worse … I knew I had to be resilient.”

While a younger member of the squad, Gaziano has already gained the trust of her teammates. Captain Megan Reilly ’18 said that if she were to close her eyes on a fast break and blindly chuck the ball down court, Gaziano would be there to convert the opportunity.

“She is an unbelievable player,” Reilly said.“I’m honored to be her teammate.”

For her back-to-back 30-point efforts, Gaziano was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week as well as the U.S. Basketball Writers Association Women’s National Freshman of the Week. 

The next day, Bruno suffered a tough 86-60 loss to Ivy League-leading Penn (9-6, 3-0) in Philadelphia.

After a strong first half, Bruno held on for a 76-73 victory over Yale (9-7, 0-3) in their third and last conference tilt over the break. Mehta scored 20 points on 63.6 percent shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and added three assists. She was recognized as the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week for her performance. The win left them fourth in the Ivy League.

While Brown has scored the most points per game in the Ivy League at 74.4, it fares worst in the conference in points allowed, giving up 68.4 per contest. This high scoring, fast paced offense is consistent with Behn’s preferred style of play.

“You can probably tell from some of our scores: We like to run,” Behn said, adding that the fast-paced offense suits the team’s personnel, but they need to get stops on the defensive end.

Mehta, who averages 14.7 points per game, thrives in her coach’s system.

“We love to run the ball … we love to push it up court and shoot quickly and just tire the other team out,” Mehta  said.

Having notched a win in 11 of its last 13 contests, Brown brings its potent offense to New Haven to take on Yale Friday.

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