Patriot League roundup: Loyola stuns Bucknell; Natalie Kucowski leads Lafayette; and more news and notes

LAFAYETTE COLLEGE. Player is NATALIE KUCOWSKI. Photo credit to Rick Smith.
LAFAYETTE COLLEGE. Player is NATALIE KUCOWSKI. Photo credit to Rick Smith. /

Loyola tops previously unbeaten Bucknell

The league-leading Bison suffered their first loss in conference play, falling to last-place Loyola (MD), 60-50 in Baltimore. The reigning league champions entered the game with a 7-0 conference mark following recent dominant wins over league contenders, Lehigh and Colgate. Loyola came into the match-up with a single win in league play—a 68-59 victory over Army.  But Loyola led start-to-finish as all five starters scored in double-figures. How they’d do it?

Greyhounds ran out to a great start

Entering the game, Bucknell had not trailed at the end of the first quarter in any of their seven conference contests this season. Zero. Remarkably, their league-leading defense allowed double-digit scoring in just two of those quarters—Army scored a season-high 13 points in the league opener and Holy Cross put up just 11.

So how important is it to get an early jump against Bucknell? Winners of 12 out of their previous 13 games, Bucknell’s early success in games translates into a long, slow fight for opponents against a physical pack-line style defense, and a deliberate offense. The last time they trailed after the first quarter is also the last time they lost, a 78-73 double-overtime result on the road against Stony Brook.

Five early turnovers from Bucknell and some sharp long-distance shooting from the Greyhounds helped Loyola to grab an early lead. Alexis Gray, Delaney Connolly, and Laryn Edwards each hit a three pointer in the first quarter. They repeatedly attacked close-outs and moved the ball without over-penetrating the Bison defense—a key to beating Bucknell. At the end of the first quarter, Loyola led, 21-10. They never trailed.

The competitiveness toughness of senior guard Stephanie Karcz was a huge factor in the start too. She grabbed a key early steal and finish to help the Greyhounds out to the lead. Karcz finished the game with 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals. More than the numbers, Karcz was the personification of Loyola’s will to win and to dictate play.

Loyola dictated the tempo

Although Head Coach Joe Logan may have had his most demonstrative coaching effort of the season, the messages to his players were frequently about settling the team, playing calm, and slowing down. There were multiple possessions when the Greyhounds worked the shot clock down to the last few seconds or initiated their sets at the 10-second mark. Make or miss, Logan was resolute: the game would be played on Loyola’s terms.

Loyola was determined to play a low-possession game and force a deliberate, well-executed man-to-man Bucknell offense to play more organically against zone defense. The plan worked. They dictated the pace of play on both ends of the floor.

Zone took Bucknell out of rhythm on offense

Loyola alternated defenses make/miss throughout the game–displaying a 2-2-1 full-court zone that fell back to a 2-3 zone in the half-court on scores, and playing man-to-man on empty possessions. Bucknell couldn’t find a consistent answer against either defense. The Bison were clearly bothered by the full-court pressure and, although they had just 12 turnovers, were taken out of rhythm on the offensive end by the zone.

Sophomore shooting guard Ally Johnson has filled in admirably for injured point guard Marly Walls, but she seemed out of the mix on offense for Bucknell as a facilitator at the top of the key against the zone. The zone also forced forward Tessa Brugler from her usual spots in the offense and she couldn’t get enough touches inside the defense to find a rhythm.

Bucknell scored just one bucket inside the three-point arc through the first three quarters. Although the Bison shot well from distance for the game (12-for-29), their inability to effectively attack the zone through the short corner or high post led to an inconsistent effort from inside the arc (5-for-19) and limited chances at the free-throw line (4-for-4). The Bison’s 17-made field goals and four free throw attempts were both season-lows.

Loyola won the battle in the paint

The Greyhounds were assertive and aggressive all over the floor but it was their physical play around the rim that neutralized a size and length advantage held by the Bison. Loyola’s zone pressured the ball when it entered the middle of the floor and pursued missed shots to a 32-23 rebounding advantage. The output on the boards was the lowest for Bucknell since posting 19 rebounds in a season-opening 84-60 loss to Virginia.

The hosts also consistently attacked the rim. Although the pace was slow, the offense was anything but passive. Loyola ran their sets with pace and hit most of their screens with force. Speedy sophomore guard Edwards regularly drove the lane and found open teammates or drew key fouls against the Bison. Edwards scored 11 points, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. She added three assists.

Loyola posted a 24-10 edge in ‘points in the paint’ and finished enough shots at the basket to set their defenses and dictate play. They also posted up favorable match-ups down low. Hannah Niles (11 points) and Karcz each hit several key baskets in the post or finishes at the rim.

What’s ahead for both teams?

Despite the loss, Bucknell sits alone in first place and remains the favorite as the halfway point in league play approaches. The Bison play the stingiest defense in the conference and have one of best shooting teams. They are 7-1 in the Patriot League and take on Army and Boston University this week.

Don’t be fooled by the Greyhounds record. They are 2-6 in conference but have been in some heartbreakers—three two-point losses and a three-point loss in overtime. The senior leadership displayed by Karcz, Gray, and Niles is keeping Coach Logan’s team in the playoff mix. Has Loyola given the rest of the league a peek into the best way to disrupt the Bison on both ends of the floor? Stay tuned. These two teams play the rematch on February 8th in Lewisburg.

Natalie Kucowski is leading the charge for Lafayette

Head Coach Kia Damon-Olson’s Leopards are on the move. They sit in a three-way tie for third place and are on a three-game winning streak. A 61-53 victory over Lehigh this weekend was their first over the Mountain Hawks since 2015 and moved their record in the league to 5-3. Leading the way is forward Natalie Kucowski who is averaging 13.3 ppg and pulling down 13.3 rpg.

Kucowski posted double-doubles in each game last week—a 17-point and 17-rebound effort in a 57-52 win over Army, and a 15-point, 11-rebound performance against Lehigh. The junior earned Patriot League Player of the Week, the second time she has claimed the honor this season.

It has been quite a year for Kucowski. She was named to the Pre-season All-Patriot League team and has gone on to eclipse the 1,000-point scoring mark for her career and become Lafayette’s all-time leading rebounder. She leads the NCAA in rebounds per game (13.3) and defensive rebounds per game (9.7).

The team’s 5-3 league mark is the best since the 2007-2008 season. They are doing it with defense: the Leopards are tops in the Patriot League in defending the three-point line, limiting teams to 27.9% from behind the arc and are second in overall field goal percentage defense at 36.%–just behind Bucknell at 35.7%.

Kucowski is a big part of that defensive improvement. She leads the league in blocked shots per game (2.9) and is tops in overall blocks with 52. She also leads in defensive rebounds per game (9.7) with 175 overall.

Lafayette is a surprise contender and shares honors with Colgate as the most improved team on the season. The Leopards finished conference play at 2-16 last year before grabbing an upset playoff win over Army, 63-61. This year’s Patriot League pre-season poll placed the Leopards ninth in the 10-team conference. But Damon-Olson is continuing to grow her program and Kucowski is leading it to higher ground.

Kucowski is making her case for Player of the Year. Her 13 double-doubles lead the league. She’s seventh in scoring, tops in rebounding, and her 44.8% shooting percentage is the same as forward Lauren Manis–the pre-season Player of the Year. Kucowski’s consistency is leading the turnaround in Easton and making Lafayette more than just a tough out, she’s making them a winner. The Leopards face Colgate and American this week.


Bucknell (14-5, 7-1)

Colgate (14-5, 6-2)

Lehigh (13-6, 5-3)

Holy Cross (12-7, 5-3)

Lafayette (9-9, 5-3)

Boston University (9-10, 4-4)

American (7-11, 3-5)

Navy (7-12, 2-6)

Loyola (MD) (5-14, 2-6)

Army (5-14, 1-7)

Game of the Week:

Holy Cross at Colgate @2:00p.m. February 1st

If Holy Cross is going to make a move in the regular season race for top of the league, this is a game they have to win. It’s been an up-and-down last few weeks for the Crusaders and they sit in a three-way tie for third, looking up at both Colgate and Bucknell. Led by the dynamic play of senior forward Lauren Manis, they might just have the most talented starting unit in the league. But a must-win game on the road is tough task.

Colgate is looking to take the next step. The first big opportunity for that leap came last week against Bucknell but the Raiders fell behind early and couldn’t find a way back. This game is a chance to grab a stronger hold on a top-two spot. Expect a high-scoring and entertaining contest between the top two scoring offenses in the league and two of its top players in Manis and Colgate’s Rachel Thompson.

The last meeting: March 2, 2019. Holy Cross jumped out to a 23-4 lead after one quarter of play and went on to grab a road win at Cotterell Court, 80-67. Avery LaBarbera hit six of her team’s 12 three-pointers. The Crusaders dominated the boards, 48-32.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

January 29th

American at Lehigh @12:00p.m.

Boston University at Loyola (MD) @6:00p.m.

Army at Bucknell @6:00p.m.

Colgate at Lafayette @7:00p.m.

Navy at Holy Cross @7:00p.m.

February 1st

Lafayette at American @1:00p.m.

Lehigh at Army @1:00p.m.

Holy Cross at Colgate @2:00p.m.

Bucknell at Boston University @2:00p.m.

Loyola (MD) at Navy @4:00p.m.

League news and notes:

  • Army’s Lindsey Scamman scored 21 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in a 57-45 loss to Navy. The 22 boards set a program record.
  • The freshman trio of Maggie Pina (23), Maren Durant (14), and Sydney Johnson (13) combined for 50 points in Boston University’s 76-70 win over Holy Cross.
  • Colgate is 9-0 at home this season.
  • In a win over Lehigh, junior Natalie Kucowski posted her 13th double-double of the season for Lafayette with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
  • Senior guard Mary Kate Ulasewicz scored a career-high 23 points for Navy in a win over Army.
  • Lauren Stack scored a career-high 10 points and matched a career-high in rebounds with five in American’s 63-44 win over Loyola (MD).
  • Colgate’s 63-62 overtime win against American snapped a 27-game losing streak for the Raiders in their match-up with the Eagles.
  • Center Megan Swords scored 16 points and hauled in 16 rebounds for Holy Cross in a 74-57 road win over Lehigh.
  • Bucknell converted a season-high 12 three-pointers (12-for-29) in a 60-50 loss to Loyola (MD).
  • Navy secured their first two wins in league play with victories against Boston University and Army.
  • Sophomore guard Megan Walker leads Lehigh with 24 made three-pointers.
  • Head Coach Kia Damon-Olson has the Leopards of Lafayette (5-3) off to their best start in the Patriot League since 2007-2008.
  • Lauren Manis posted double-doubles in both games this week. She now has 51 double-double games in her career at Holy Cross.
  • Army freshman forward Lindsey Llewellyn scored a career-high 14 points–including four three-pointers–in a 46-41 win over Boston University.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Natalie Kucowski, Lafayette, Junior Forward

  • Posted double-doubles in wins over Navy and Lehigh. Recorded a 17-point, 17-rebound game against the Mids and followed it with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance versus Lehigh.
  • Her 13.3 rebounds per game average is tops in the nation.
  • Has 13 double-doubles on the season.
  • Leads the Patriot League in blocks (52) with 2.9 per game.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week:

Maren Durant, Boston University, Freshman Forward

  • Scored a season-high 14 points in the Terriers’ comeback win over Holy Cross.
  • Grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds in Boston University’s win over Navy. The 14 boards were the most recorded by a freshman since 2006.
  • Had five blocks against Holy Cross. Has a team-high 24 blocks on the season.
  • Shot 9-for-14 for the week. Shooting 56.0% from the floor on the season (28-for-56).

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