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College basketball: St. Hilaire’s return should boost SLU women’s hoops

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CANTON — St. Lawrence University women’s basketball coach Dan Roiger already knew senior guard Cassie St. Hilaire, an Adams Center native, was one of his key players. What happened at the start of this season merely reinforced that knowledge.

St. Hilaire injured her knee in a preseason scrimmage and missed the first four games of the season and was only played limited minutes in her first two games back.

The Saints started the season 1-3 in St. Hilaire’s absence, although a few other regulars were out as well. SLU also lost the game where St. Hilaire returned, and later SLU was 3-5.

SLU has come back to win its last four games and now hopes that with a healthier roster it can find a way to win the Liberty League Tournament and earn a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament.

“Getting Cassie back in the lineup was huge for us,” Roiger said. “She’s a senior, and seniors are the only people who can play like seniors. They bring leadership, they bring a sense of security and confidence, because they’ve been there so many times before. I think they bring a level of intensity and I think Cassie has always been intense. Having her on the floor is so different than having her on the bench. She’s our best defender against kids who drive (the lane). Cassie stabilized us on defense and in rebounding.”

In the first four games without St. Hilaire, the Saints were outrebounded by an average of four. Since she’s been back, SLU has been outrebounding teams by 12.

In eight games this season, St. Hilaire is averaging 7.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists and she’s averaged 20.3 minutes.

Roiger’s best example of her value to the team comes from an incident that happened during a game well into her freshman year.

“We played a team that had a really good athlete who could jump and I put Cassie on her,” Roiger said. “Some time in the middle of the first half she didn’t box her out. I said, ‘Cassie, you’ve got to get contact!’ After the game I said, ‘That’s the first time I’ve talked to you all year.’ She is so fundamentally sound. She just doesn’t make mistakes. She gets every assignment that she has to do and she does it with her positioning. Cassie might not get every rebound, but I can almost promise you that her opponent will not get it either.”

One reason St. Hilaire made so few mistakes early in her SLU career was being part of a successful South Jefferson High School program.

“It’s a lot due to that,” St. Hilaire said. “I learned a lot in high school. I still continue to learn from (Roiger) here.”

The knee injury presented St. Hilaire with a challenging way to start her final season.

“It was horrible,” St. Hilaire said. “I worked really hard in the summer and preseason to get in shape and just having that injury putting me back and not being able to play in my first game of my last year was pretty tough. It made coming back that much more enjoyable. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. It was really frustrating for me, but I just came back and (things) were that much better.

“I was still present in the locker room with the girls, and before the game when they were warming up, I’d stand under the basket and cheer and just be there to support them and encourage them.”

With her knowledge of the game it sounds like St. Hilaire would make a good coach, but that’s not something in her plans.

“Not professionally,” St. Hilaire said. “I think once I have a family and kids I might coach them in basketball or soccer or something.”

St. Hilaire majors in psychology, economics and pre-management, and she has to take some of her classes at rival Clarkson University, where she plans to go to graduate school next year.

“It is very weird,” St. Hilaire said of being a part-time Golden Knight. “I’ll see some of the (Clarkson) players over there. I wear (SLU gear) loud and proud. I get some weird looks, sometimes people laugh in class if I say I’m from St. Lawrence.”

Fair, Ennis on Wooden list

Syracuse University freshman Tyler Ennis is one of 25 players named to the Wooden Award’s national watch list, joining Syracuse senior C.J. Fair on the award’s midseason list of candidates.

Ennis, a 6-foot-2 point guard who is averaging 11.9 points and 5.3 assists per game, was one of five freshmen added to the Wooden’s watch list. Freshmen are not included in the preseason list of candidates.

The other freshmen chosen to the list were Aaron Gordon of Arizona, Jabari Parker of Duke, Julius Randle of Kentucky and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas.

Fair remained on the Wooden watch list after being named to the preseason list. Fair and Ennis were among four sets of teammates who made the list. The others were Gordon and Nick Johnson of Arizona, Parker and Rodney Hood of Duke and Adreian Payne and Keith Appling of Michigan State.

The Wooden Award All-American Team, consisting of the nation’s top 10 players, will be announced the week of the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, a Wooden Award All American in 2012 and 2013, looks to become the first three-time selection on the men’s side since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough (2007-09).

Times sportswriter John Day contributed to this report.

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