Streaking Saints plan to keep pedal to the metal

The Siena men’s basketball team faces Fairfield tonight with a chance to improve to 14-0 in the Metr

The racehorse Zenyatta pushed her record to 14-0 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall.

Not content to have their two-time champion retire or rest on her laurels, Zenyatta’s owners kept her in training, and now she could be looking at a massive payoff as springtime approaches.

The Siena men’s basketball team faces Fairfield tonight with a chance to improve to 14-0 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and clinch the regular-season title.

If that happens, though, no one in the program seems to be content to rest up for the all-important conference tournament. In fact, the Saints are acting more like the great mare, and not the Colts, in their belief that the rest of the regular season would have meaning even if, at some point, the title was in the bag.

Siena has been leaning on its starters for heavy minutes all season, and the Saints don’t expect that to change no matter what happens at 7 tonight at the Times Union Center against the Stags.

“I’d rather keep playing,” said senior point guard Ronald Moore, who has shown no signs of tiring, despite averaging a whopping

35.6 minutes per game. “When you’ve got a player in the zone and he’s really feeling it, I know you don’t want him to get injured, even though the game might not mean much, but keeping a player in rhythm is important, I believe. Football is a more contact sport than basketball.”

The Indianapolis Colts drew some criticism for resting starters like Peyton Manning in the last two games of the regular season, at the expense of taking their best shot at an undefeated season, to protect them from injury.

Winning the regular-season championship, which brings an automatic berth in the National Invitation Tournament, is all but a foregone conclusion for Siena (20-4 overall), which only needs to beat any one of its remaining five MAAC opponents to do so.

Of course, going 18-0 is something that’s discussed by those around them, especially the media. Senior power forward Alex Franklin paused, then cracked up when asked if he ever thinks about an undefeated season after Siena’s surprisingly easy 88-68 win over Iona, then in second place, on Friday night.

“A little bit. One game at a time,” he said, laughing at his own rel­iance on the shopworn sentence. “Obv­iously, one of our goals is to run the table, but you can only win one game at a time to accomplish that, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

“No, we’re not thinking about that at all,” junior shooting guard Clarence Jackson said. “We’re just trying to play ball and enjoy it. That’s the only thing we can do. Obviously, we know it’s there. We’ve got the students and everybody talking about it.

“You can’t let that get to you too much. Just keep your com­posure.”

When Fran McCaffery was asked at the end of his postgame press conference about going undefeated, he said, “I’m thinking about Fairfield. Thank you.”

Iona head coach Kevin Willard, naturally, was more expansive on the subject.

After watching his 17-7 team pretty much get dismantled, he said he saw no reason why Siena couldn’t finish 18-0.

“They’re extremely well-coached,” he said. “They say they’re not deep, but they don’t need to be deep, because they do a lot of good things, they’re very well-conditioned and they’re older kids. There’s no reason why they couldn’t [go undefeated], but they still have some tough games ahead. It will be interesting to see how it ends up.”

Siena also has had an uncanny knack for staying out of foul trouble, which has allowed McCaffery to keep his starters in there. On Friday, the starting five scored 82 of 88 points, and each played at least 32 minutes.

Occasionally, a starter will pick up two early fouls and sit on the bench for the remainder of the first half, but only one, Ryan Rossiter, has fouled out (once), and backup forward Owen Wignot has fouled out twice.

“It’s really just being smart on the defensive end,” Moore said. “You’ve got to play help defense. If you get beat, you’ve got to rotate. That’s something we’ve been practicing a lot, rotating, trying to keep guys from getting easy baskets. I guess you could say it’s a key for our starters to stay out of foul trouble, and for the most part we’ve been able to do that all season.”

The Saints beat Fairfield (9-4, 16-7), 81-73, in Bridgeport, Conn., on Jan. 16.

Siena has won 14 straight, the long­est winning streak in the country, and their 33 straight home wins is the second-best streak in the country, behind Kansas.

“We’re going to keep winning,” Jackson said. “That’s our whole motto, just keep winning. Just keep knocking teams off. It’s going to be great, great for us and great for this community.”

“Clinching the championship would be a great accomplishment for us, but you never know what can happen, you always have the MAAC tournament, and it’s kind of like a new season,” Moore said. “Winning the game on Monday would be great for us, not only beating Fairfield twice, but to secure that regular season.

“We definitely have the talent and capability to do so [go undefeated], but we don’t want to look too far. It’s in our eyesight. It’s possible.”

Categories: College Sports

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