No. 5 Xavier 74, Fordham 59
Xavier coach Kevin McGuff was happy to finish off the Atlantic 10 regular season unbeaten.
Now with the stakes much higher, he knows his team will have to improve its play to make a prolonged run in the conference and NCAA tournaments.
Ta'Shia Phillips scored a season-high 25 points, making 11 of her 12 shots, and No. 5 Xavier beat Fordham 74-59 on Sunday to clinch the school's first undefeated season in Atlantic 10 play.
``I'm happy we won and are 14-0, but it can't be about just winning,'' McGuff said. ``It's got to be about how we play. It's unacceptable for us to play like that in a game this time of year.''
The Musketeers were sloppy, turning the ball over 17 times without facing much pressure from the Rams. Xavier's only real offense was Phillips, who made her first 11 shots before missing a layup in the final 2 minutes.
``I had no idea I hadn't missed,'' said Phillips smiling. ``We always try to establish the inside game to free up the outside shooters. I was just doing what I could.''
Amber Harris added 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Musketeers (24-3, 14-0), who have won 15 straight games. Despite the winning streak, McGuff hopes that his team's struggles against Fordham will help them refocus for the tournaments ahead.
``I hope so,'' McGuff said. ``We go to the A-10 tournament and the NCAAs and it's you lose, you go home. You need to have that mindset now. There's a real consequence when you don't.''
Xavier lost in its first games of both the Atlantic 10 and NCAA tournaments last season.
Sunday's game was originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, but the Musketeers were stuck in Cincinnati when the winter storm hit the Northeast on Friday. Xavier couldn't get a flight to New York until late Saturday night and didn't arrive to their hotel until early Sunday morning.
``We were a little tired, but you can't use that as an excuse,'' Phillips said.
The Musketeers became only the sixth team to run through the conference unbeaten. George Washington was the last to do it in 2006-07.
``I'm happy for our players despite today's efforts,'' McGuff said. ``We worked hard to put ourselves in this position.''
Becky Peters scored 17 points to lead Fordham (8-21, 2-12), which has lost seven straight games.
Xavier was the highest ranked team to visit Fordham since the Rams hosted No. 5 Stanford in 2002.
Leading 51-48 midway through the second half, Xavier went on a 9-2 run as Phillips scored four points during the burst. Her layup with 7:33 left made it 60-50.
Arielle Collins answered with a 3-pointer for Fordham, but that's as close as the Rams would get the rest of the game. Collins finished with 12 points while Caitlin Shadbolt and Tiffany Stokes each added 11.
Fordham honored its lone senior Randall Hurst before the game. The team's leading scorer played only 4 minutes before injuring her left knee driving to the basket. She didn't return.
``Collins and Caitlin gave us great minutes off the bench,'' Fordham coach Cathy Andruzzi said. ``We were missing our leading scorer and best defender and this will give us great confidence going into next season.''
Fordham was tied for 12th in the conference with La Salle and only the top 12 teams make the A-10 tournament. The Rams won a coin flip to break the tie and wrap up a berth in the tournament.
Xavier scored the game's first 10 points and looked on its way to a rout before Fordham rallied to within 12-7. Phillips and the Musketeers reasserted themselves scoring the next seven points. The junior center had five of the seven as Xavier took a 19-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half. Fordham then started connecting from behind the arc, hitting six 3-pointers over the next 10 minutes to take its only lead of the game on Collins' shot from behind the arc with 1:27 left in the half that made it 32-31 Rams.
Phillips answered quickly with another layup on the other end and Katie Rutan's 3-pointer with 7 seconds left gave Xavier a 36-33 halftime lead. Phillips finished the half with 19 points, making all nine of her shots from the field. Collins and Peters combined to hit five of their eight 3-point attempts before the half.
``We were hitting threes which helped us early on,'' Peters said. ``We were focusing on our defense and making them work to score. It definitely gives us confidence knowing we hung with them for 35 minutes.''
The teams traded baskets in the second half before Xavier built a 51-42 lead on back-to-back layups by April Phillips and a lay-in by Dee Dee Jernigan. But Peters answered with a 3-pointer and Stokes scored three straight to make it 51-48 with 11:10 left.
The Musketeers improved to 17-2 all time against the Rams, winning the past 15 meetings.