Musketeers face off with the best of the Big East

Photo courtesy of Go Bearcats | Freshmen Princess Stewart (center) and A’riana Gray (not pictured) have been key parts of a young Xavier women’s basketball squad this season. Stewart scored a career-best 13 points against DePaul on Sunday afternoon.

The Xavier women’s basketball team had a tough weekend, losing close games to top ranked Big East teams Marquette and DePaul.

The team fell to 2-13 in Big East play but showed strong promise from the freshman class, who almost led the Musketeers to victory.

Despite the 80-63 loss to the Golden Eagles on Friday, senior guard Jada Byrd scored a career-high 22 points.

Xavier outscored the Golden Eagles in the first quarter, leading 14-12. However, that small lead was lost in the second where Marquette outscored the Musketeers 29-9.

Although they fell behind, the Musketeers refused to go unmatched again. Xavier ended the game outscoring the Golden Eagles by one point.

Senior forward Annina Aijanen, freshman guard Aaliyah Dunham and freshman forward A’riana Gray all chipped in nine points in the loss.

Gray also dished out five assists, and Ajianen added seven rebounds. Dunham had a team high three steals. Marquette moved to 11-3 in conference play and remains in second place in the Big East.

“With such a young team, consistency is something we are working to build on within games,” head coach Brian Neal said.

“Against Marquette, it was encouraging that we played well for long stretches, but it only takes a couple mental letdowns like we had in the second quarter to be really costly.”

Xavier lost a very close game to the best in conference DePaul Blue Demons, who squeaked out a 73-72 win on Sunday. The Musketeers opened up the game nailing 10 of their first 11 shots and held the lead for nearly 30 minutes of the game. There were nine different lead changes and four ties.

After dominating the first quarter and keeping it close in the second, Xavier led 45-39 at halftime but slowly started to see its lead diminish as the second half went on. The Blue Demons were leading by six points with 5:44 left in regulation, when Aijanen led an 8-2 run to tie the game at 69 at the 1:55 mark.

DePaul got ahead again, going 4-4 from the free throw line to take a 73-70 lead with six seconds left. Initially, redshirt junior guard Kindell Fincher hit what appeared to be a game-tying three to send it into overtime. Upon official review, it was determined her foot was on the line, finalizing a close loss. DePaul moved to 12-2 in Big East play and remains atop the conference.

Xavier finished the game with a season-high .600 (27-45) field goal percentage, its highest since February of 2012. This was also paired with the team’s seventh game with 10 or more three pointers, draining a total of 12 from behind the arc. Aijanen scored the game high of 18, a point shy of her career high.

Freshman Princess Stewart scored a career-best 13 points, going along with five rebounds.

Dunham also added 11 points and three rebounds of her own, and Gray added eight points with a three of her own.

“Our freshmen have played more than 40 percent of our minutes this year, which is an incredible number,” Neal said about the play of his firstyears.

“Their play in the DePaul game demonstrated how fast they are developing and it was exciting to see their potential.”

The Musketeers will square off this week on Friday against Creighton in Omaha, Neb. and on Sunday against Providence in Rhode Island.

Xavier returns home for its final game of the regular season on Feb. 25 when the Musketeers host Butler at Cintas Center at 2 p.m.

By: Jack Dunn ~Staff Writer~