Jan. 12, 2011
By Mark Singelais, Albany Times Union
The Siena women's basketball team hit rock bottom on Dec. 12.
The Saints scored seven points in the first half on 1-for-20 shooting. They trailed by as many as 47 points (66-19) in the second half. They committed a season-high 24 turnovers.
It ended in a 72-33 rout, and it's not as though the Saints were playing UConn. The beating took place at Sacred Heart, a program that had lost to UConn by 54 points a week earlier.
"We just knew that it couldn't really get any worse than that," Siena junior guard Cristina Centeno said. "It could only go up from there."
Although Siena lost twice more to drop to 1-8, the team began to show improvement.
And now the group that plummeted to the lowest of lows is riding the high of a five-game winning streak that has the Saints tied for first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Siena (6-8 overall, 4-0 MAAC) upended Fairfield on Monday night to get off to its best conference start since the 2001-02 season. The Saints have their longest winning streak since December 2005.
Even Siena coach Gina Castelli was at a something of a loss to explain her team's dramatic turnaround.
"You think you have all the answers and you don't," she said. "I think that's one of the things you learn in coaching, is just try every avenue, but until you let go and let the team figure it out, sometimes that's the best thing to do."
The Saints are proving the MAAC coaches wrong after they were picked eighth in the league's preseason poll.
Siena senior forward Serena Moore, the team's leading scorer, said it simply took a while for the players to realize their potential.
"I want to say (it's) just our attitude and our work ethic," Moore said. "We always knew we were a good team. We just had to find our own way. That's what Coach has kind of allowed us to do."
The Saints have found scoring help for Moore, a preseason first-team all-league selection who's usually the focal point of opposing defenses.
Junior guard Maja Gerlyng, a native of Denmark, has averaged 15.4 points during the winning streak. Centeno scored 19 in the win over Fairfield, which was previously unbeaten in league play.
"I just feel like we're playing better as a team so there are better possibilities for me to get the ball," Gerlyng said. "No one's afraid to make the extra pass and we're seeing more who's open now."
Siena is also playing stingy defense. In the past five games, the Saints have held four opponents to fewer than 50 points and all five below 40 percent shooting from the field.
"We're just trying to get back to the basics of defense, and communication is the most important thing," Centeno said.
While the Sacred Heart game was the nadir of Siena's season, Castelli said the turning point came on Dec. 30, when the Saints beat host Fordham 49-47 in a holiday tournament to begin their streak.
"The fact that we won on the road against an Atlantic 10 team, it really gave our team a lot of confidence," Castelli said. "We played hard and played well together and I think it changed a lot of the attitudes of the players."
Siena will try to keep rolling with its western New York trip at Niagara on Friday and at Canisius on Sunday.