LEWISBURG — Bucknell knows it will have a fight on its hands tonight in the Patriot League women's basketball semifinals.
The top-seeded Bison (25-5) face fourth-seeded American, perhaps the toughest matchup they had in conference play this season.
"We know it's going to be a tough game," Bucknell senior Megan McGurk said. "In the playoffs, in March, every game is going to be a tough one. We've been working really hard in practice, especially since the last time we saw them. We think we've improved a lot on our own game."
Bucknell rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat American 73-67 in overtime at home Jan. 5. When the Bison traveled to American, the Eagles handed them one of only two conference losses, 59-47 on Feb. 1.
"They're a very, very well-coached team," Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell said. "They have a lot talent. Offensively, they've been able to score with us, which has been a big thing. Defensively, they have very smart players."
Roussell said he thought American turned it up a level in its win over Bucknell, which is why the Bison weren't able to rally for a win the second time around.
"It was different than maybe anybody else that we've seen," he said. "We kind of got hit in the mouth. I thought we bounced back at times. When you dig yourselves that big a hole, so many things have to go perfectly. I know we were able to do it the first time, but it's such a hard thing."
McGurk pointed out that because American is so fundamentally sound, it took away some advantages the Bison exploited against most teams this year.
"They threw a defense at us we hadn't seen before," she added. "We've seen it a few times now in the Patriot League. We've made some tweaks to the offense that we think will have us prepared to go against not just that defense but any defense in the future."
American is the only Patriot League team that outscored Bucknell over the two meetings this season.
"We're going to have to be on our 'A' game," McGurk said. "They have five-plus players who can be a threat at any time."
Bucknell's other conference loss was to Holy Cross in the game after American, but the Bison have improved since then.
"Our energy level has been great," Roussell said. "What we learned in that American game — and the loss to Holy Cross — is we have to play with energy. The ball has to have energy.
"I think we're much better at playing well together. It wasn't like we weren't playing hard, but there were some instances where we were trying too hard and maybe not using our teammates as well as we should have."
American was paced by Emily Kinneston, who averaged 19.5 points in the two meetings with Bucknell. Kinneston was a second-team All-Patriot League selection.
Kinneston led American (15-15) with 19 points in a quarterfinal win over Boston.
Claire DeBoer, the Patriot League Player of the Year, led Bucknell by averaging 15.5 points a game against American.
Bucknell edged Loyola (Md.) 75-72 in the quarterfinals, getting a blocked shot by DeBoer on a desperation 3-pointer by Loyola. Sune Swart led Bucknell with 20 points and six rebounds in the quarterfinal.
Another thing the Bison have going for them is they are hosting the championship rounds. Bucknell has won 26 consecutive home games, including all 14 this season.
"There's just a different energy in Sojka," McGurk said. "Our bench is a little more into it. Our fans are a huge help. Just being able to sleep in our own beds and do our routine and not have to worry about being on the bus or in a hotel is also helpful."
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