WALTHAM, Mass. – The Bentley University women's basketball team sits on top of the Northeast-10 standings and is ranked fifth in the latest USA Today/ESPN/WBCA Division II national coaches poll.
However, despite a 17-2 overall record and five consecutive wins by an average of 26 points, the Falcons aren't the hottest team in the region or even the conference. That honor goes to 14-3 Southern Connecticut State, which ran its winning streak to 13 games with a 66-60 win over Southern New Hampshire Wednesday night.
The lone regular season match-up between the Falcons and the Owls will take place Saturday afternoon, a 1:30 encounter at the Dana Center.
How important is the game? A Bentley win would give coach Barbara Stevens' team a two-game lead over Southern, as well as control of the tie-breaker should the two finish the season tied, and keep the Falcons at least a game up on second-place Pace. On the other hand, an Owl victory would create at least a tie for the NE-10 lead, and perhaps a three-way deadlock, if Pace wins at Stonehill. In addition, the Falcons would lose the tie-breaker to both Pace and Southern in the case of a tie.
Saturday's game will mark only the seventh time this season that the Falcons will have the pleasure of playing on its home court, where they have won 17 in a row, a streak that includes victories in the NE-10 playoff final and the NCAA regional championship game last March.
Bentley tuned up for Saturday's game by overpowering Le Moyne Wednesday night, 78-36, for its largest margin of victory since November 2008. The Falcons shot 53 percent from the floor, scored 41 points off 29 Dolphin giveaways and enjoyed runs of 12-0, 19-0 and 18-0. Le Moyne became the ninth team to score less than 50 against the Bentley D, and also the ninth to shoot under 33 percent from the floor.
Sophomore forward Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS), who scored 15 points at Le Moyne on 6-of-6 shooting, has been one of the dominant players in the NE-10 this season despite barely cracking the top 50 in minutes played. Her 18.4 scoring average is second in the conference, she's number four in field goal percentage (.554), ninth in free throw shooting (.823 with her 93 FTM second most) and seventh in defensive rebounding.
The team's other double figure scorers are also the team's top two offensive rebounders, sophomore forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/ Wachusett Reg. HS) and junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS). Brugliera provides 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, her averages slightly better than Finn's 10.7 and 5.6.
Southern Connecticut, which has exceeded all expectations after being picked 13th in the preseason NE-10 coaches poll, hasn't shot as well as its opponents this season, either from the field or from the foul line, and the rebound margin is just +0.7. However, the Owls have been perfect since the start of December due in large part to their ability to force turnovers (23.5 a game) and defend the three (a conference-low 54 with a 29 percent success rate). They average over 14 steals a game (sixth in Division II) and have two of the top three in the conference in that category, junior guard Camille Fantini (59) and senior guard Sylvonya Moore (44).
Moore has had a strong year for Southern and is coming off a career-best 30-point, six-steal effort in Wednesday's win over SNHU. That boosted her scoring average to a team-best 14.3, and she's also averaging nearly five rebounds. Fantini is next on the scoring list at 10.4 a game, and she also provides about six rebounds a game.
Sophomore center Moni Smith-Ocran has been the third-best rebounder in the NE-10, averaging 9.7 along with 9.4 points. Her season has included five double-doubles, the most recent coming a week ago against Stonehill (18 points, 13 rebounds).
Bentley's homestand will continue next week with Merrimack (Tuesday) and Saint Anselm (next Saturday) making the trip to the Dana Center.