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Stony Brook women’s basketball to host injury-plagued Elon

Head coach Ashley Langford (foreground) high-fives her players as they walk towards the tunnel before a game against Hofstra on Friday, Feb. 16. Langford’s team will host the Elon Phoenix tomorrow. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

As the battle for the top seed in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) ensues, the Stony Brook women’s basketball team will look to pounce on a weak opponent to stay at the top.

In a rematch of the 2023 CAA women’s basketball tournament’s opening round, the Seawolves (20-3, 10-2 CAA) will take on the Elon Phoenix (9-16, 5-7 CAA) this Sunday at Island Federal Arena. Opening tip-off is set for 1 p.m. The last time these two teams met, Stony Brook eliminated Elon from the playoffs with a come-from-behind 54-51 win.

By the CAA’s standards, the Seawolves and the Phoenix are on polar-opposite ends of the offensive spectrum. Stony Brook’s 75.7 points per game pace the conference, while Elon’s 53.4 are the worst out of 14 teams.

The Seawolves’ dominant offense runs through the tandem of point guard Gigi Gonzalez and center Khari Clark. Gonzalez is back on top of the CAA’s scoring leaderboard with 16.7 points per game on a .422/.360/.816 shooting line. Clark sits third in the conference with 16.0 points per game while also leading it with a .630 field goal percentage.

Power forward Sherese Pittman has also been a lethal third option in Stony Brook’s offense, averaging 11.9 points per game while shooting 46.5% from the field and 82.1% from the free-throw line.

The Seawolves have a very healthy shot diet and have been lethal from every scoring level. They lead the CAA in both field goal percentage (.452) and three-point percentage (.345). Stony Brook boasted the best free throw percentage in the conference for a long while, but a slump has dipped it to fourth at .749.

Shooting guard Victoria Keenan leads the CAA with a .428 three-point percentage on 138 attempts and is averaging 8.7 points per game as the Seawolves’ top bench option. Shooting guard Zaida Gonzalez has stayed cold from the field, but her three-point shooting has picked up, as she has raised her percentage from deep up to .357. Gonzalez’s 8.4 points per contest rank fifth on the team.

Power forward Shamarla King is a multi-faceted offensive player who can use her 6-foot frame to post up and her shooting ability to play on the wing. She owns a .457/.340/.750 triple slash this year.

Stony Brook moves the ball better than anyone, as its 16.2 team assists per game lead the CAA. Gigi Gonzalez is the offense’s quarterback and averages 5.5 assists per game: the second most in the conference. Point guard Janay Brantley (2.1) and Pittman (2.0) are also averaging multiple assists. Eight different Seawolves have dished out over 20 dimes this year.

Stony Brook’s powerhouse of an offense will pose a challenge to the Phoenix’s defense, which ranks seventh in the CAA with 60.7 points allowed per game. They have held opponents to a .387 field goal percentage and a .297 three-point percentage, which rank eighth and seventh in the conference, respectively.

Elon’s defense has made plenty of plays on the ball, as it ranks fifth in the conference in steals (7.9) and sixth in blocks (3.3) per game. However, some of its most impactful defenders are injured and will not play on Sunday, making the hill even steeper for the Phoenix to climb.

Center Iycez Adams is second in the CAA with 1.8 blocks per game and averages 1.0 steals, as well. She was injured on Sunday, Feb. 11 against the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) and missed Elon’s Friday game versus Northeastern. She will remain on the sideline against the Seawolves. In her stead, power forward Maya Johnson — the Phoenix’s second-leading shot-blocker with 0.8 per game — will likely move to center.

Also out is fellow center Ava Leroux, whose 6-foot-4 frame makes her one of the CAA’s tallest players. However, she is out for the season with an injury sustained in December. In Adams and Leroux’s absence, centers Hannah Dereje and Aly Wadkovsky will be tasked with protecting the rim against Clark, Pittman and others.

Dereje has averaged 5.9 minutes per game in 20 appearances this year and stands at 6-foot-3. Wadkovsky is 6-foot-2 and has played only 4.2 minutes per game, but she has seen the floor in each of the past three games and will definitely do the same against Stony Brook.

Point guards Maraja Pass and Jessica Booth each bring a pair of active hands to Elon’s starting lineup. Pass leads the team with 1.4 steals per game while Booth is averaging 1.1. The problem there: they also are unavailable. Pass was hurt against UNCW alongside Adams, while Booth went down two days before on Feb. 9 during a matchup with Hampton.

Perhaps the team’s biggest absence is power forward Raven Preston: the 2022-23 CAA Rookie of the Year. Preston was the squad’s leading scorer and rebounder last year with 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Her 5-foot-11 frame allow her to get high-percentage looks and dominate the glass, while her guard skills help her create for herself. Unfortunately for the Phoenix, Preston suffered a season-ending injury before 2023-24 tipped off.

Besides Johnson, their only regular starters that are available are point guard Regina Walton and small forward Vanessa Taylor. Taylor is second on the squad with 27 steals and averages 1.4 per game, while Walton has swiped 16 takeaways.

With Taylor’s skillset and height (5-foot-8), she will likely start at the two instead. The rest of Elon’s backup wings are all relatively tall, giving it a height advantage over the Seawolves.

One player from the second unit who will definitely start is small forward Ajia James, who is a 6-foot-1 wing who spaces the floor for the Phoenix. She is an inch taller than Johnson, but she has not been very present in the paint, as she has blocked just three shots this year. James will likely stick to a stretch-four role on Sunday, rather than center.

Other than James, small forwards Diamond Monroe and Ruby Willard are candidates to start at either the three or the four. Both of them are tall wings at 5-foot-10 apiece, but they do not offer much rim protection. They have combined for just 21 steals and two blocks — both of which came from Willard.

Limiting the Seawolves’ second chances is one of Elon’s top defensive concerns. However, that will be tough sledding, as the Phoenix are only ninth in rebounds per game (36.0) as a team. It only makes it harder for them without Adams and Pass, who are their top two rebounders. Adams’ 7.5 boards per game are the fifth most in the CAA, while Pass hauls in another 4.5.

Amongst active Elon players, Johnson and Taylor both average 3.4 rebounds per game to lead the team, followed by James with 3.3. Unless the Phoenix’s bigs can get busy on the glass, they are in a heap of trouble.

Stony Brook is the best rebounding team in the conference with 42.4 per game. Clark has been at the forefront of the effort, as she is seventh in the conference averaging 7.4 rebounds per game. Up there with her is Pittman, who is 10th in the conference with 6.4 boards per contest. King has been a top-10 rebounder at times this year and is just short of it right now with 6.0 per night.

Point guard Gigi Gonzalez also helps the cause with 4.0 rebounds per game. After her, small forward Kelis Corley averages more rebounds per game (3.7) than any healthy Elon player.

The Seawolves’ elite rebounding has been a grand factor in their defensive success. Their 57.7 points allowed per game are the fifth-fewest in the CAA. Opponents are shooting just 34.7% from the field and 25.2% from three-point territory against them this year — both of which rank second in the conference.

Clark and Pittman protect the rim well and have Stony Brook placed third in the CAA with 3.6 blocks per game. Clark’s 1.3 rejections per contest are the fifth most in the league, while Pittman’s 1.0 rank 10th. Clark also leads the team with 1.5 steals per game, trailed by Gigi Gonzalez’s 1.4.

Another sneaky-good rim protector is Brantley, whose 6-foot frame makes her one of the tallest players at her position in the conference. She has blocked 11 shots this year — the third most on the Seawolves’ roster. She is also averaging 0.8 steals per game despite playing just 19 minutes a night.

Keenan is in a similar boat as a bench player, as she boasts a 0.9 steals per game rate despite averaging only 21.6 minutes.

None of these numbers bode well for the Phoenix, who also own the second-worst field goal percentage (.361) and three-point percentage (.265) in the conference. They also shoot just 62.1% from the free-throw line, which is the seventh-worst figure in the nation.

Things may get even worse, as Adams (9.7 points per game) and Pass (9.1 points per game) are Elon’s two leading scorers. Pass lives up to her name, as she is a very good passer. Her 4.0 assists per game are the fourth most in the CAA, and that comes as a player whose teammates are shooting just 35.2% around her.

James is now the Phoenix’s top option. She is averaging 8.2 points per game on a .319/.314/.810 shooting line. She leads the team with 133 three-point tries. Monroe also tries to space the floor, as she has attempted 106 threes but has only made 29 of them (27.4%). Willard leads the squad with a .318 three-point shooting percentage.

With both Pass and Booth inactive, Walton will run the point by default. She is the team’s second-leading passer with 2.1 assists per game.

Dereje leads their active roster with a .429 field goal percentage on just 28 shots. Johnson has shot 42.6% from the field this year on a much larger sample size.

With nothing but advantages stacked in its favor, Stony Brook has to make sure it hits this layup.

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