LOUDONVILLE — In readying for an unusual game, Siena worked on an unusual thing.
The Saints, head coach Ali Jaques said Tuesday, devoted time to practicing how to handle game-play scenarios with fewer than five players on the court.
“It’s better to go through it in case it happens,” Jaques said.
The Siena women’s basketball team is expected to start Wednesday’s 7 p.m. MAAC game at Monmouth with six available players — enough for the team to field a starting lineup plus one reserve. So, if players foul out or suffer an injury, the Saints could quickly find themselves in a situation that calls for them to play at even more of a disadvantage than they already are as they enter the matchup.
Well, as they “hopefully” enter the matchup, as Jaques points out.
After all, the journey to Monmouth (0-4 MAAC, 0-8 overall) represents the third road trip that Siena (2-2, 2-2) has taken this season, but Wednesday night’s game will be the first road contest Siena has actually played. Previously, Siena made trips to Canisius and Quinnipiac, but were then unable to play games because of COVID-19 disruptions discovered after the Saints had traveled.
Siena postponed its games last weekend following more positive COVID-19 test results within its program’s Tier 1 personnel group, but the Saints did not fully pause their in-person team activities. While the new individuals who tested positive needed to isolate and “appropriate Tier 1 contacts” needed to quarantine, the pool of Saints who previously tested positive are able to continue with day-to-day activities.
The Saints have enough people in that group to continue playing games, and are able to do so — for now — at their choosing since they have fewer than eight available scholarship players, which is the standard the MAAC set this season that necessitates a team must play its scheduled games.
The six players — and two coaches, including Jaques — who will be representing Siena Wednesday night in West Long Branch, New Jersey, have all previously tested positive for COVID-19. Jaques declined Tuesday to specify which Saints will suit up for her team at Monmouth. Keeping that information secret affords Siena some element of surprise against Monmouth, which doesn’t know the players Jaques has available to use.
But . . .
“We’re certainly not really at any kind of advantage,” Jaques said.
Among its available personnel for its game at Monmouth, Siena has “people that can play every position,” Jaques said, but it’s no small thing which Saints the team actually has available to play. Siena has six players averaging at least 27 minutes per game and those players account for 93.8% of the team’s scoring — and of that leftover 6.2%, freshman Ahniysha Jackson is responsible for 86.7% of it.
Siena hasn’t played since it defeated Rider on Jan. 9 and 10. Monmouth had a stretch of more than a month during its season that saw it not play, but then played four games in the final eight days of January. The final two of those games saw Monmouth lose twice to Rider, and the Hawks didn’t score more than 35 points in either of those games.
Jaques’ 2014-15 team played the vast majority of its season with an active roster of seven players, and ended up 22-13 and finishing its campaign with a loss in the Women’s Basketball Invitational Championship Game. The next season, Jaques’ team won a MAAC tournament game that it finished with only four players on the court.
It’s long been a program built upon toughness — and Jaques expects that characteristic to show through Wednesday night at Monmouth.
“We’re going to play to win,” Jaques said.