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PREVIEW: Landmark Conference Basketball Championship Games

(Posted February 29, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- A capsule look at Juniata College's matchups for the 2008 Landmark Conference Basketball Tournament Championship games on Saturday, March 1. The fourth-seeded men will travel to Scranton, Pa., to take on the third-seeded Royals, while the Juniata women will face Scranton in a battle of the top two seeds.

WBB: #2 Juniata College (18-8) at #1 University of Scranton (20-5)
5:00 p.m. tip-off, John J. Long, S.J. Center / Scranton, Pa.

The no. 2 seed Juniata College Eagles will be facing top-seeded University of Scranton for the Landmark Conference women's basketball championship on Saturday, March 1, following Juniata's 61-59 win over Moravian in Wednesday night's quarterfinal game.

This will be Juniata's third overall appearance in a conference championship game, and first since the 1991-92 season when the Blue and Gold dropped an 83-80 overtime decision to Susquehanna University in the MAC's Northern Division Championship game on Feb. 27, 1992.

Juniata's first championship game appearance was in 1980, when the then-Indians fell to Scranton 68-61 in the MAC Northern Division Championship on Feb. 29, 1980. That Scranton-Juniata clash was the second of four meetings that season, all of which ended in Scranton's favor; the teams met once in the regular season, and met again twice in the AIAW tournaments.

Scranton swept the regular season meetings between the two teams. Despite 20 points from Kelly Ashcraft (Bellefonte, Pa./State College) and a double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds from Jen Hnatuck (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Trinity), the Eagles fell to Scranton's three-point barrage and lost 71-66 in overtime - Juniata's only OT contest this season - on January 12 in Huntingdon. The Royals were 7-of-15 from beyond the arc as Scranton's Megan Kopecki scored a then-season high 21 points. In the rematch on February 1 in Scranton, Hnatuck (13 points) was the only Eagle to score in double figures as Juniata dropped a 73-54 decision to the Royals.

Ashcraft, a First team All-Landmark selection, continues to pace the Eagles offensively with 13.2 ppg, good enough for fifth among Landmark scoring leaders. She has averaged 15.3 ppg over the last six games, and has shot .609 (42-69) during that span; her 21 points and .833 FG% (10-12) in the semifinal win over Moravian was her sixth consecutive double-digit scoring effort and sixth straight .450-or-better shooting performance. She is shooting .566 from the field this season, and was ranked 21st in Division III in field goal percentage.

Claudia McDowell (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) was Juniata's other First team All-Landmark honoree, and is second on the team in scoring with 12.6 ppg. McDowell is shooting .826 (90-of-109) at the free-throw line, fifth in the Landmark and 60th in Division III. She dished out seven assists in Wednesday's game against Moravian, matching her season-high set in the 70-64 loss to regionally-ranked Gwynedd Mercy College.

Hnatuck, named to the All-Landmark Conference Second team, is averaging 12.0 ppg in her rookie season. She has tallied 17 games where she has scoring in double figures, including 14 points in Wednesday's win over Moravian.

Ali Meckey (Ebensburg, Pa./Bishop Carroll) has been Juniata's top outside shooting threat in 2007-08, as she has been throughout much of her career. She will be looking to add to her school-record total of 159 three-pointers. Meckey's 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field in the win over Moravian was her fifth double-digit point total this season. Her assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.55 puts her 64th among Division III leaders. Jill Walsh (Johnstown, Pa./Ferndale) has averaged 5.6 ppg this season, but is coming off a scoreless effort in Wednesday's win over the Greyhounds - just her third game this season where she was held off the scoreboard.

Off the bench, Kelly Rotan (Atco, N.J./Hammonton) has shot .750 (9-of-12) from the field over the past four games, while averaging 5.8 ppg during that span.

Altogether, a total of nine players have averaged eight-or-more minutes this season. Junior Gina Piccolini (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) is adding 2.5 ppg, and is a solid shooter with a .418 FG%. Senior Mindy Werner (York, Pa./West York) adds 2.3 ppg with 1.3 rebounds, while senior Court Callas (Sarver, Pa./Freeport) also adds 2.8 ppg and 1.3 rpg.

The regular-season champion Scranton Royals will be playing for the 20th conference title in the program's 33-year history. Scranton is 18-1 in conference championship games, with their last title game defeat coming in 1981 - a 68-58 loss to Elizabethtown College. The Royals are paced by Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year Megan Kopecki with 12.2 ppg and 3.6 rpg. Senior Kathleen Daly, a First team All-Landmark selection, adds 11.2 ppg to go with a team-high 5.4 rpg.

Scranton leads the all-time series against Juniata, 21-2. Juniata's last win over Scranton was on Feb. 25, 1992, when the Blue and Gold downed the Royals 71-65 in the MAC Northern Division semifinal game - a contest which, prior to Wednesday night's win over Moravian, was Juniata's last post-season victory.

The winner of Saturday's championship will not receive an automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III Championship; the Landmark is not eligible for an automatic bid until 2010. The winner is eligible to receive one of three "Pool B" bids, which go to independent institutions and institutions that are members of conferences with no automatic bid.


MBB: #4 Juniata College (17-9) at #3 University of Scranton (18-8)
7:30 p.m. tip-off, John J. Long, S.J. Center / Scranton, Pa.

No. 4 seed Juniata College will be battling third-seeded University of Scranton for the Landmark Conference men's basketball championship on Saturday, March 1, following Juniata's 77-49 thumping of Susquehanna in Wednesday night's quarterfinal game.

Saturday night's contest will mark Juniata's third overall title game appearance, as well as its second in as many seasons; the Eagles dropped a 63-60 decision to Widener University in last season's Commonwealth Conference championship game. The Blue and Gold's only other championship game appearance was in the 1969 MAC Northern Division tournament, when Juniata dropped a 63-61 decision to Scranton. Juniata has a 3-6 record in conference playoff games, including Wednesday night's win over the Crusaders. Under seventh-year Head Coach Greg Curley, the Eagles have a 3-2 record in all post-season competition.

Juniata and Scranton split the regular season series, with each squad posting a significant victory on its home court. Senior Brian Cannon (Fallston, Md./Fallston) scored 25 points and reserve guard Jeff Berkey (Stoystown, Pa./Shanksville-Stonycreek) tallied 20 points to lead the Eagles to an 84-69 win over the Royals on January 12, 2008, in Huntingdon. Scranton's Tom Bicknell logged 20 points while the Royals shot .569 (33-58) from the field as the Royals posted an 84-61 victory over Juniata on February 1, 2008, in Scranton. The 23-point loss was Juniata's largest margin of defeat this season. Overall, Scranton holds a 28-8 lead in the series.

This third matchup will pit two teams who are 1-2 in the conference in field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, and three-point field goal percentage.

Cannon, a Second team All-Landmark selection, paces the Eagles offensively with 18.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg. He is second in the league, 91st in Division III, in scoring, and fifth in rebounding. He is averaging 21.3 ppg over his last four games, and has shot .565 (35-62) during that span. He ranks fifth among Juniata's top ten career leaders in total points with 1,348, and with 555 rebounds he is only the fifth player in school history to surpass both the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks. His 478 points this season places him fourth among Juniata's single season leaders.

Senior Kyle Opitz (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine Richland) is also averaging in double figures with 14.4 ppg. He is Juniata's most lethal three-point option on a team loaded with outside shooting talent; his 62 treys this season ranks as the fifth-best single season mark in school history, and his ranks 103rd in Division in three-point field goals per game with 2.48. He has not hit a three-pointer in Juniata's last two games - the only games this season in which he has not recorded at least one trey. Opitz has shot .500-or-better from the field in eight of Juniata's last 12 games.

Senior teammate Brent Ferko (Sarver, Pa./Freeport) is contributing 9.7 ppg with 4.0 rpg, and has logged 10 double-digit scoring performances this season. Juniata's fourth senior, Garrett Bull (Red Lion, Pa./Red Lion) has scored 10-or-more in each of the past two games (11 vs. SU on 2/23, 14 vs. SU on 2/27), and four of his five double-figure scoring efforts have come over the last six games. Bull has shot .656 (21-32) from the field over the past six contests.

Sophomore Jeff Berkey (Stoystown, Pa./Shanksville-Stonycreek) has also found his shooting touch in the back-to-back contests against Susquehanna, averaging 11.5 ppg and shooting .571 (8-14). Overall this season, he is averaging 8.0 ppg with 3.3 rpg.

Juniors Eric Mueseler (Latrobe, Pa./Latrobe) and David Thompson (Altoona, Pa./Altoona) have also shown themselves of making big offensive contributions when needed. Mueseler is averaging 5.8 ppg this season with six double-digit efforts, while Thompson has logged 5.6 ppg in 2007-08 and also has six 10-point or more games.

Junior starter Justin Baker (Nanty Glo, Pa./Bishop Carroll) has been Juniata's top blocker this season with 24, while adding 2.8 ppg and 3.9 rpg.

Scranton posted a dramatic 79-78 win over no. 2 seed Moravian College to earn its trip the Landmark championship game, as the Royals overcame a 10-point deficit over the final 6:27 to gain the victory. The Royals are riding a four-game win streak heading into Saturday's title game, with victories in 11 of their last 13. Scranton will be playing for its 18th conference championship, and its third under current Head Coach Carl Danzig.

Four of Scranton's five starters are averaging in double figures, led by senior center and First team All-Landmark selection Tom Bicknell with 14.4 ppg and 11.1 rpg. Senior guard Randy Arnold and freshman guard Zach Ashworth are each averaging 11.2 ppg; Arnold earned First team All-Landmark honors, while Ashworth was a Second team selection. Junior guard Ryan FitzPatrick is chipping in with 10.3 ppg.

The winner of Saturday's Landmark championship will not receive an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Championship; the Landmark champion is not eligible to receive an automatic qualifier until 2010. The champion is eligible for one of four "Pool B" bids, which go to independent institutions and institutions from conferences with no automatic bid.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.