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women's college basketball notebook

For Holy Cross women’s basketball, slow and steady wins the games

Forward Lindsay Berger, who is making the most of her minutes this season, says the Holy Cross system is "a fun way to play basketball for sure."Mark Seliger

Modern basketball continues to push the limits on fast-paced, 3-point-heavy play at all levels of competition.

So how is Holy Cross, one of the slowest women’s basketball teams in the country, having one of its best seasons in decades?

The Crusaders are 14-3, their hottest start since 1996-97, and have stormed to a 6-0 record in Patriot League play. Yet according to data from CBB Analytics, they have the 342nd-ranked pace in the nation out of 361 Division 1 teams. Since conference play began, Holy Cross has averaged just 61.5 possessions per 40 minutes, the seventh-slowest pace nationwide.

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But the offense remains productive, and with a high-end defense backing them, the Crusaders have played a successful brand of methodical basketball.

“It feels really good to be able to get out there and kind of just play, and just see who happens to step up and have a good scoring game,” said sophomore forward Lindsay Berger. “It’s a fun way to play basketball, for sure.”

Holy Cross lost Avery LaBarbera, the 2021-22 Patriot League Player of the Year, to Wisconsin in the grad transfer portal. Her departure left the Crusaders without a go-to scorer. Instead of one person stepping up, the rest of the team has adapted.

Coach Maureen Magarity implemented more of a free-flowing offensive style when she took over last season and has stuck with it. Holy Cross doesn’t run many sets; the players rely on each other to keep the ball moving and stay active spacing the floor. A well-oiled motion offense can be harder to scout and find weaknesses in.

“It’s just a fun offense to play when you have the right players,” Magarity said. “Obviously, my staff has done a great job recruiting the right pieces that can play in that system. You have to be able to have players with a pretty high IQ, too, to run that offense, or it can get super stagnant and [have] a lot of standing around.”

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Magarity says she developed her offensive style with influence from her playing career as a 6-foot-1-inch forward at Marist. She also learned from her father, former Army coach Dave Magarity, who often ran offenses through dominant post players.

Berger, a post player herself, has broken out with Janelle Allen in Magarity’s offense. The 6-2 forward played 6.8 minutes per game last season, but this year, after switching to a high-minutes bench role, she is third on the team in scoring (9.5 points) and fourth in the Patriot League with a 52.2 percent field goal clip.

Holy Cross coach Maureen Magarity and her father, former Army coach Dave Magarity, greet each other before a 2021 game.US Military Academy

“Last year, I heard a lot of, ‘Your hard work will pay off. Someday, you’re going to look back on this and you’re going to be so thankful for doing all the work,’ ” Berger said. “I think that, especially this preseason, it showed. So it was very rewarding to say the least.”

During her time as a reserve, said Berger, she strived to improve her strength and passing out of the post. The latter has been particularly valuable this season with Holy Cross’s roster of versatile cutters and shooters.

“In our main offense, it’s normally the post players towards the top of the key towards the elbow,” said Berger, “so it’s more getting the ball at the elbow, turning around and facing the basket, looking for yourself first, but then also knowing who’s cutting where, and where the shooter is on the team.”

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Of course, a league-best defense remains the backbone of the scorching start. The Crusaders rank ninth in the nation, allowing just 52.5 points per game, and they won a battle of defense-first vs. offense-first when they beat high-octane conference rival Lehigh, 66-64, last Wednesday.

“I mean, gosh, I’ve watched games with Lehigh where they just take a shot two seconds into the shot clock and score 90-plus points,” said Magarity. “So I am really, really proud of that.”

Holy Cross still battles occasional lulls in its offense when a player needs to step up late in the shot clock and get a bucket. But with so many options, the Crusaders have been steady as they power past league foes.

“Out of our main offense, there’s like a million and one different things that we could do,” Berger said. “The opportunities are endless for this team, and it’s so exciting.”

Freshman feats

Boston College point guard Taina Mair now owns the school record for assists in a season by a freshman with 140 to date. Her total is second in the nation, one behind Connecticut’s Nika Muhl ... Northeastern freshman Ariana Webb earned Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week honors after averaging 10 points and 4 rebounds in two starts ... UMass (13-4, 3-1 Atlantic 10) came back from a double-digit deficit Saturday to hand St. Joseph’s (14-3, 4-1) its first conference loss.

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