While most of women's basketball fans' attention this week has been focused on Monday night's nationally televised UConn-Baylor showdown -- and that contest was certainly well worth watching, the game of the night may have gone down in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where a Damika Martinez jumper with 2.9 seconds left nudged Iona past perennial Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference kingpin, Marist 73-71.
The Red Foxes, winners of the last eight MAAC tournament titles, came in having won 10 straight this season, 36 straight over MAAC foes and 29 in a row over Iona, including a 72-48 romp in the 2013 MAAC title game. The team hadn't been out of first place in the league standings since 2004-05.
Still, there was a general sense during the preseason that if any team was going to unseat the Red Foxes, these Gaels were that team. Led by Martinez, fourth in Division I in scoring at 25.2 ppg, and national rebounding leader Joy Adams (13.9 rpg, to go with a team-second 18.5 ppg for a double-double average), Iona burnished its credentials as a worthy challenger by stringing together 11 straight wins heading into the Marist matchup.
The first-place showdown lived up to the hype. It featured 13 ties and 12 lead changes. Marist shot 48.2 percent; Iona 52.8 percent. The Red Foxes (11-5, 5-1 MAAC) led by as many as 10 a little more than five minutes into the second half, but the Gaels slowly whittled down the gap to capture a four-point edge with just over a minute-and-a-half to play. Back-to-back layups by Marist forward Emma O'Connor, the last with 24 seconds left, leveled things at 71 before Martinez drained the decider to give Iona (13-2, 6-0) its first victory over Marist in 13 years.
The teams will meet again in the regular-season finale on March 2 at Iona. And no one will be surprised if, about a week later, there's a third meeting in the MAAC Tournament final.
James Madison (11-4, 1-0) sent an emphatic message throughout the Colonial Athletic Association by spanking Delaware, 87-51, Sunday to snap the Blue Hens' 44-game winning streak against CAA foes. The Dukes also own double-digit victories over Virginia and UCLA this season, along with a win at St. John's and a three-point loss at North Carolina. Add Virginia Commonwealth (15-2, 3-1) and George Washington (12-4, 3-0), also-rans in the Atlantic 10 last season, to this year's list of conference contenders. VCU knocked off 2013 A-10 tournament champion Saint Joseph's in a nationally televised affair Sunday for its 14th victory in 15 games. The Colonials, meanwhile, have won eight straight and are 6-0 since Clemson transfer forward Jonquel Jones became eligible. Jones, a Top-20 prospect nationally coming out of Riverdale Baptist (Md.), ranked fourth in the ACC in rebounding before deciding to leave Clemson after eight games in 2012. She currently is averaging 12.2 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Colonials.
Gonzaga (14-3, 4-1) had a dominant week in the powerful West Coast Conference, following up a 26-point win over Brigham Young with a 29-point rout of then-24th-ranked San Diego. It was the second straight sobering loss for the Toreros, who also lost by 21 at Portland. San Diego began the week celebrating a 15-0 record and its first-ever AP ranking.
Middle Tennessee State (13-3, 2-0) at UTEP (12-2, 2-0): The projected top two teams in Conference USA stage their only regular-season meeting.
George Washington (12-4, 3-0) at Dayton (9-4, 2-0): The Colonials look to legitimize themselves against a Dayton team that's won seven straight and still looks like the team to beat in the A-10.
Winthrop (12-4, 6-1) at Liberty (10-6, 6-1): The Lady Flames have dominated the Big South the way Marist has ruled the MAAC, but Winthrop could present as dangerous a challenge as Liberty has seen in years.
St. John's (10-5, 3-1) at Marquette (12-3, 3-1): The absence of the heavyweights in the old Big East (UConn, Louisville, Notre Dame) means a lot less margin for error for these teams in establishing NCAA Tournament credentials.
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