BY TIM PULSIFER
---- — NEW YORK — The Plattsburgh State women’s basketball team will be looking to pick up right where it left off before the semester break returning to the court this weekend at the NYU Holiday Classic.
The Cardinals (5-2, 3-1 SUNYAC) will open the tournament against William Smith College (4-3) this afternoon at 3 p.m. and then will meet Skidmore (2-5) tomorrow, starting at 1 p.m.
Thanks to a new and improved system that has emphasized team defense and rebounding, Plattsburgh is off to one of its best starts in recent memory.
The Cardinals, who currently sit in third place overall, only a game behind unbeaten Oswego and New Paltz, in the SUNYAC standings, will look to carry over some of their early season success into this second semester starting this weekend versus the Herons and the Thoroughbreds at NYU.
“We’ve had 18 days off, so there may be a little rust, but everyone has to deal with that. Overall, I think, we feel anxious and excited to get going again,” said Plattsburgh coach Cheryl Cole. “We have been doing some nice things so far, but we also know where we need to get better in a lot of areas.
“Hopefully, a couple of games against good, non-conference opposition, like this, will help us improve in those areas and make us an even better team when we get back into our conference schedule.”
The Cardinals have been playing outstanding team basketball, thus far, particularly on the defensive end of the court as well as on the boards. Through seven games, Plattsburgh has held its opponents to an average of just 56 points a game. The Cardinals were also a plus 10 in total rebounds per game over that same period.
Cole has liked what she has seen thus far but still sees her team as a work in progress.
“Like I said, we have been doing some nice things that we had set out to do this year and were on a quite a roll before the break,” said Cole. “That said, I think everyone understands what’s ahead of us. We know, we need to keep getting better over the second half in order to get to where we want to be and these two games are just part of that process.
“It’s also just a nice trip to an area where we do a lot of our recruiting and close to home for several of our players. That should make it even a bit more special. It should be a fun weekend.”
Much improved defensive play and rebounding have been the two biggest keys to Plattsburgh’s early season success.
But, it hasn’t all been about defense and rebounds. There has also been much to feel good about on the offensive side of the basketball. Sophomore point guard Brittany Marshall, in particular, is off to a sizzling start, averaging a career-best 13.7 points and a conference-leading 4.7 assists per game.
The Malone standout was also recently recognized as ECAC Division III Upstate Player of the Week (12/11/12) after averaging 20 points, leading the Cardinals to back-to-back home wins over conference rivals Fredonia and Buffalo State on the weekend of Dec. 7-8.
In addition to Marshall’s hot start, Plattsburgh has also demonstrated something else somewhat lacking in recent years. The Cardinals have shown superior depth and a strong interior presence in the paint.
Kathleen Payne (14.3 ppg., 8.0 rpg), Tequilla Lloyd (8.8 ppg), Brooke Reifinger (6.9 ppg), Dana Nucaro (6.1 ppg) and Catherine Cassidy (6.1 ppg) have all made significant contributions on both sides of the ball, in the early stages of the current season, for Plattsburgh. As a team, the Cardinals have averaged better than 65 points a game, a number that puts them among the conference elite in offensive output.
After the NYU Holiday Classic, Plattsburgh returns home to face another non-conference opponent in Norwich University at Memorial Hall on Jan. 8.