By Tim Pulsifer
---- — Back in early December, Plattsburgh State’s women’s basketball team proved it could be a force to be reckoned with, picking up a couple of impressive conference wins at home versus Buffalo State and Fredonia.
The Cardinals will look to prove they can get the job done away from Memorial Hall as well this weekend in a pair of key SUNY Athletic Conference matchups versus the Bengals tonight and the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon.
“We took care of business on our home court the last time, but every game has its implications from here on out and these are two teams that figure to be right there with us in the conference standings for the rest of the season,” Plattsburgh coach Cheryl Cole said. “Overall, I think we are a better team than we were when we met them the last time. But I think both of those two teams are as well, making this weekend’s games that much more intriguing.
“With things as tight as they are in the conference, these are two big games with huge implications for everyone involved.”
Plattsburgh (9-7, 5-4 SUNYAC) is currently alone in fourth place in the SUNYAC but just a game ahead of Buffalo State and just two up on Fredonia.
Tonight’s matchup will pit two very evenly matched teams with the mutual objective of attempting to climb the conference standings. In their first meeting, the Cardinals outlasted the Bengals 71-60,on Dec. 8 at Memorial Hall. Things may not be quite so easy this time around for Plattsburgh, however, facing an improving opponent on its own floor.
Buffalo State (8-8, 4-5 SUNYAC) has been up and down thus far but has been on a bit of a hot streak of late, winning three of its last four games, including big conference victories over Oswego, Fredonia and Geneseo. The sole setback during that period was a somewhat surprising 66-56 loss at Brockport Tuesday night.
“Buffalo is a very talented team and a very tough team for anybody to beat down there. Every year it’s just a tough environment to play in, and I don’t expect this year to be any different,” noted Cole. “When we met them up here, their top scorer (Biannca) Smiley got in foul trouble early and was not really a factor. That was pretty unusual for her though and, realistically, I don’t expect that to happen again. She’s a very disciplined player, and we are just going to have to figure out a way to defend her, take her out of her comfort zone and hopefully slow her down.”
Smiley, who was limited to a season-low five points in the first meeting, is currently second in the league in scoring, averaging 14.8 points a game, and is also shooting a conference-best .497 from the field. The junior standout also recently averaged 19.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in Buffalo’s wins over Geneseo and Fredonia, earning her accolades as SUNYAC women’s basketball Player of the Week.
Fredonia (8-7, 3-6 SUNYAC) is another talented team with a star player and a lot riding on this weekend’s play. The Blue Devils, who dropped a 79-50 decision to the Cardinals back on Dec. 7, have been struggling lately, losing three of their last four. But they still find themselves in a good position to move up in the standings should things go their way.
Fredonia is led by the SUNYAC’s top scorer in Becki Hebert. Hebert, who edged out the Plattsburgh’s Kathleen Payne for the conference scoring title a season ago, is once again putting up some pretty lofty numbers. She is currently averaging 20.2 points per game, more than five points a game better than the No. 2 scorer in the conference, with a field-goal percentage of .439, third-best in the conference.
“She always has had great games against us,” Cole said. “She’s just a pure scorer who finds ways of putting points on the board. Last time, I thought we did a pretty good job defending her, and she still managed to finish with 20-plus points, mostly from the line. She’s just one of those players you have throw different looks at defensively and hopefully limit her touches. Both her and Smiley should really test our defense this weekend.”
Plattsburgh, which is coming off a dominant win at Potsdam this past Tuesday night, would like nothing better than an encore performance or two this weekend.
“We put ourselves in a position where we need to play well and steal a game or two on the road,” Cole said, referring to a pair of conference losses to New Paltz and Oneonta at home last weekend. “We got back to doing what we do best, though, and that’s playing dominating defense in the Potsdam game. So hopefully we can carry some of that over and get that kind of an effort, play 40 minutes of quality basketball against two very good teams this weekend. No matter what happens, I expect both teams to be more than ready and expect a battle in both games.”