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Below .500, but Rivera’s on fire and they’re (finally!) winning at home

December 25, 2009 – 4:54 PM

images The PLAYBOOK

The Playbook is an occasional series on University of Rhode Island Women’s Basketball team and head coach Cathy Inglese as she works to turn around a losing program. Check out previous installments here, here, and here.

By Laura Pappano

Ten games into the 2009-2010 season, Coach Cathy Inglese is one game behind. At the same point last year, the team was 5-5; this year they are 4-6, but just beat Towson at home to put them at 5-6. And that home win was big.

Not just because senior guard Lindsay Harris put up a career-high 20 points, but because it happened in their house. This was a team that last year won more games on the road (they were 2-3 at home at the 10-game mark last year vs. 4-2 at home now). They are turning the Ryan Center into a psychological plus (and yeah, home attendance is up, too).

Before the season started, Inglese wondered how she was going to get baskets. She was counting on Captain Megan Shoniker who averaged 11 points per game at the 10-game mark last year.

But who else would be throwing down 2’s and 3’s?

URI's Ashley Rivera against Providence College (62-71 L)

The answer as turned out to be Ashley Rivera, an Inglese recruit from Lowell, MA, a 5’4″ freshman guard who has averaged 12 points per game (and earned recognition — twice — as an Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week award). Shoniker, meanwhile, has kept up her production, averaging 10 ppg.

That said, stats for the first 10 games show that the team has put up fewer points so far (519 to 584 at this point last year). They are still being outscored by opponents — and losing by wide margins in some cases.

But this year, they have won two tight games — one against Seton Hall by 2 points, and one against New Jersey Institute of Technology by 4 points. Take note. If we are reading tea leaves, that should say something about a team’s resolve and mental toughness moving ahead.

What’s going better than expected? Coach Inglese said in an e-mail that “team chemistry and cohesion on and off the court” is surprisingly smoother. “I feel like our team defense has come together and is continuing to improve,” she says, adding, “We have out-rebounded our opponents most of the time.”  (URI is averaging 39 rebounds per game to opponents 37. Last year, URI and opponents were even at 34.)

What to work on? “Consistency, offensive execution, and minimizing our turnovers.” Amen. This year the team is averaging 22 turnovers per game (to opponents 13.8), compared with last year at this point (17.9 to opponents 18.6).

Work remains, for sure. But this team is hustling.

URI’s Ashley Rivera against Providence College (62-71 L)