Coach believes bid gives SFU an edge

LORETTO – The season isn’t ending the way it was drawn up, but the St. Francis women’s basketball team will still get to play in a national postseason tournament this week.

The Red Flash received and accepted a bid late Monday night to play in the Women’s Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament that features teams that finished third and fourth in their respective leagues.

St. Francis will travel to Fairfield University for the first round on Thursday.

“I think it’s great to be in the postseason and have an opportunity to win something,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “It gives us an opportunity to compete in a playoff situation. It gives us at least one more game.

“For the program, it’s helps us going forward. It can show that we’re always going to playing for something beyond the NEC tournament. We’re going to play for championships, whether they are in the NCAA Tournament, WNIT or the WBI.”

The Red Flash are making their second trip to Connecticut in eight days and fourth since the middle of February.

St. Francis made one trip to play regular season games at Quinnipiac in Hamden, Conn. on Feb. 16 and Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn. on Feb. 18, and another to play at Central Connecticut State in New Britain, Conn. on March 4.

Last week, the Red Flash traveled to Sacred Heart again for the Northeast Conference semifinals. They opted to stay in the Nutmeg State following that win to prepare for the NEC championship game at Quinnipiac.

“We’re a little tired of going to Connecticut,” Haigh joked. “We would have liked a change of scenery, but now we’ll have to win a game to earn that. You don’t get a choice in the postseason.”

The Red Flash (17-15) were tabbed as the No. 6 seed in the East Region, while the Stags are the No. 3 seed.

Should St. Francis win its first round game, there’s a possibility it could host Howard in the quarterfinals on Saturday or Sunday.

The Red Flash defeated the Bison, 69-61, at DeGol Arena to open the season in November.

Seventh-seeded Howard plays at No. 2 Pennsylvania on Thursday.

“It would be crazy to play them again,” Haigh said, “but I’d almost rather play someone new. We haven’t played anyone from the Ivy League in a while.”

Also in the East, top-seeded Detroit hosts eighth-seeded Belmont and No. 4 Northern Kentucky hosts No. 5 College of Charleston.

Mercer was given the top seed in the West, followed by Lamar, Utah State, Elon, Eastern Kentucky, South Dakota, Presbyterian and McNeese State.

“We’re all kind of in the same situation. All the teams are pretty evenly matched,” Haigh said. “They are all 50/50 games. The brackets look like they are teams that all had the same kind of season.”

St. Francis and Fairfield will meet for the first time since the 1989-90 season. The Stags lead the all-time series, 2-0.

Fairfield is 17-13 overall and was 11-7 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, good for a third-place finish this season. The Stags were upset by No. 6 Siena in the MAAC quarterfinals.

The Stags, who average just 53.6 points per game, are led offensively by Katie Cizynski (12.0) and Brittany Obi-Tabot (10.5). Defensively, Fairfield yields 53.2 points per game.

“They’re good. They’re talented. It’s a huge contrast of styles,” Haigh said. “Fairfield is a very disciplined team. It’s tough to get them out of their style of game. We will definitely try to pressure them.

“So you have a team that wants to run and take quick shots, and one that will slow things down. One team wants to win with 75 points, the other wants to win with 50 points. We’ll see how it goes.”

Haigh feels his team has a good shot not only of winning Thursday’s game, but of winning the the whole tournament – provided the Flash show up to play.

“Any of the possible matchups are all winnable,” he said. “When the good St. Francis team shows up, we are very good. We’ve been Jekyll and Hyde this year, though.

“But there is a possibility we could win this tournament.”