Before Monday afternoon, the only thing Lauren Hall-Gregory knew about the University of New England women’s basketball team was that they “are a very good team.”

In the 72 hours since, she’s tried to become an expert.

Hall-Gregory’s New York University Violets will meet the Nor’easters in the first round of the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament at 6 p.m. Friday on the campus of Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Like many of the matchups in the round of 64, the teams have little prior knowledge of each other ”“ the Nor’easters and Violets have never met on the hardwood. And with just four days to prepare for the biggest game of the year so far, Hall-Gregory is in the midst of a full-fledged cram session to get her team ready.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to play such a great, strong opponent, and a team who’s been to the NCAA tournament,” said Hall-Gregory, a former guard at Hofstra University, who is in her second year as head coach of the Violets. “Obviously, that will be a challenge for our players and our team, but we’re really excited about it.”

NYU shouldn’t be sold short either. After winning just 10 games a year ago, the Violets took a huge step forward this season by going 20-5, including 9-5 in the competitive University Athletic Association conference.

It was the first time NYU posted a winning record since the 2009-10 season, and Friday’s game will be the Violets first NCAA game since making the Sweet 16 in 2009.

“We inherited some really talented and great young women, and we have some freshman who have followed suit as well,” Hall-Gregory said. “We have a good combination of really high-character kids who are talented and work hard.”

The resurgence has been led by a pair of young players in sophomore Megan Dawe and freshman Kaitlyn Read, both first team all-UAA selections.

Dawe, a 6-foot forward, leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game), rebounding (6.8 rebounds a game) and shooting percentage (53.7 percent). Read, a guard, added 13.4 points a game ”“ including a 43.8 connection percentage from 3-point range ”“ and 3.4 assists per game, in addition to 2.8 steals a contest.

But Dawe and Read are hardly the only threats as eight different players average over six points a game for NYU, as shown by the 17.1 assists per game the team averages. In total, the Violets average 74.6 points a game, while holding opponents to just 60.9.

“Offensively we just share the ball well; we have people who understand what they do well and stick to that,” Hall-Gregory said. “We give up a good shot to get a great shot, you can count on that with us. And we have a very good first player in Megan Dawe, so we have kind of an inside-out game.”

As for the work Hall-Gregory has been putting in in the tape room on the scout, she’s seen plenty of the attributes in UNE that have made her own team so formidable this season.

The Nor’easters have a dominant post player in Kelly Coleman, a Commonwealth Coast Conference first-team selection who leads the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) and rebounding (7.2 rebounds a game).

But like NYU, UNE is far from a one- or two-trick pony as seven players average more than 5.8 points a game or more.

“In terms of scouting, Kelly Coleman is at the top of the list. She does a little bit of everything for them, and to me, seems to be a really tough-minded, physical post player,” Hall-Gregory said. “Our post players will have to step up and be ready to guard her on the perimeter, in the paint and across the boards.

“But it looks like they share the ball pretty well, and obviously have the confidence to shoot it and offensive threats. And they get to the foul line an awful lot, so to me, that says they have an aggressive group of players who aren’t scared of contact.”

The two teams are also similar in their makeup, with just two seniors on each roster and the lion’s share of the minutes going to underclassmen.

Where they differ is in post-season experience: UNE has played in the NCAA tournament four of the past five years, picking up its first-ever win last March, while this will be the first trip to the NCAA’s for every player on the NYU roster.

But with a squad that has learned how to win against good teams this season, Hall-Gregory is hopeful that the experience gap won’t be the deciding factor Friday.

“Experience helps, certainly. But I think we have a group that has learned to learn quickly,” Hall-Gregory said. “I start three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, so they’ve had to learn on the fly all season long.

“I have a lot of confidence in them to be able to handle the pomp and circumstance and enjoy the ride. We’re there for the same reason that everyone else is.”

— Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected]

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