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NEW YORK – Wagner coach Lisa Cermignano never hesitated about opening the season against No. 7 Kentucky.
When the phone rang last spring she jumped at the chance to bring one of the nation's best teams to Staten Island.
After all, the only way to make her team better in her mind, was to play the best.
Despite losing 96-57 on Sunday, Cermignano wasn't discouraged by the loss.
"I'd rather play the best to raise the bar and get them to the place and the level I'm used to," she said.
Cermignano played at George Washington in the late '90s and was an assistant there when the Colonials were a constant Top 25 team.
Her first year at Wagner saw only three victories, but with a very talented group of newcomers led by freshman Jasmine Nwajei, the future is bright.
"Our goal is January and getting ready for the NEC," she said of the Northeast Conference. "With a young team we tried to create excitement for the program and challenge them against the best. These kids are used to playing at a high level in high school and expected the same here."
Despite being outsized and outmatched, the Seahawks didn't quit.
"This was definitely just a start," said Nwajei, who scored 19 points to lead the Seahawks. "It was a fun experience because a team ranked that high had never been at Wagner before. We never saw the gym this packed."
Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell was impressed with the Seahawks.
"They are definitely much improved from last year," he said. "Lisa's done a terrific job."
Having Kentucky in town created a buzz around campus all week. Fans turned out in droves for the game with nearly 1,900 in attendance — the most at a Wagner women's home game in a long time.
The fans were excited early when Wagner led 5-0 after baskets by Nwajei. They led 7-3 before Kentucky scored 27 of the next 30 points to take control of the game. The Wildcats hit five 3-pointers during the game-changing spurt. Bria Goss had eight points in the run, including a 3-pointer that made it 30-10 with 8:26 left in the half. She finished the game with 17 points. DeNesha Stallworth had 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead Kentucky (2-0).
Kentucky led 50-27 at halftime and poured it on in the second half. Goss scored nine quick points to extend the lead over 30 before the first media timeout of the second half.
The Seahawks couldn't get any closer the rest of the way.
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