AMHERST, Mass. – The No. 3 Tufts University women's basketball team is advancing to its fourth consecutive NESCAC championship game, as the second-seeded Jumbos' outlasted third-seeded and No.17/20 Bowdoin, 49-44, in semifinal-round action on Saturday at LeFrak Gymnasium at Amherst College.
|Jennie Mucciarone posted five points and three boards off the bench.|
Senior captain Michela North controlled the backboard for the Jumbos (25-1, 9-1 in NESCAC), finishing with a game-high 14 rebounds, while sophomore guard Jacqueline Knapp, who is averaging 10.5 points per game in her last four games, posted a team-high nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from the floor and a 2-for-3 performance from beyond the arc.
"It is exciting to be moving on to the championship," said 15th-year Jumbos head coach Carla Berube. "I cannot say it was our best 40 minutes of basketball, but our defense, especially in the first half, was tremendous. We got some great 3-point shooting, and then in the second half found Michela well. She had a monster game on the backboard and then making some shots. I do not think we ended the game the way we wanted to; we need to be able to step up and make free throws, but I am proud of the way we fought. Bowdoin is an awesome team and they fought to the very end."
The Polar Bears (21-4, 8-2 in NESCAC) were led by a game-high 10 points and six rebounds from junior guard Lauren Petit, as she went 4-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. Senior forward Ally Silfen led the Bears with seven rebounds and senior guard Marle Curle chipped in with nine points, four rebounds and four assists.
The Jumbos' started the game with a high-intensity, on-ball defensive mindset, holding the Polar Bears to five first-quarter points. The Jumbos' defense forced six first-quarter turnovers, while forcing the Bears to shoot 2-for-10 from the floor and 0-for-5 from downtown.
The Jumbos' continue to utilize the three-ball as a weapon, going 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the first quarter. Junior forward Melissa Baptista drained a 3-pointer from straight on less than a minute into the game. Knapp then buried a 3-point shot from the right of the arc with 8:36 left in the first off a great feed by Baptista out of a double team in the post, which gave the Jumbos a 6-0 lead.
Knapp has been a crucial ingredient in spacing the floor for the Jumbos, shooting 15-for-25 from the field (60.0 percent) over her last four games. She has been knocking down open shots when teams' decide to double team North or Baptista in the post.
"Offensively, I am trying to do whatever I can to help the team win," Knapp said. "Most of time, teams are looking to double Michela and Melissa. It does help if guards like me, Lauren Dillon, Josie Lee, Jennie Mucciarone, Erica DeCandido and Sadie Otley hit shots because then they cannot necessary leave us open. That is something we have been working, trying to take some of the pressure off them and being a threat from the outside as well."
The Jumbos' extended their lead to 11-2 with 3:20 left on a trey from the left baseline by Dillon off an extra pass from the top of the key by Mucciarone. The Bears' trimmed the Jumbos' lead to 11-5 with 1:25 remaining, as sophomore center Cordelia Stewart buried a turnaround jumper in the paint and Silfen made a free throw. The Jumbos' claimed a 14-5 advantage at the end of one, as Baptista drilled a trey with eight seconds left.
The Bears' cut the deficit to 18-10 with 5:47 on the clock in the second with a 3-pointer by Petit from the left of the arc created by the strong penetration of Curle, which collapsed the Jumbos' defense. Knapp scored on an offensive rebound with 34 seconds left, giving the Jumbos a 28-12 cushion. Petit drained a trey with 10 seconds left, shaving the Jumbos' advantage to 28-15 heading into intermission.
There were some anxious moments for the Jumbos in the third, as the Bears' scored the first eight points of the frame. Sophomore guard Abigail Kelly cashed in on a contested jumper from the left baseline with 4:13 left, cutting the Jumbos' lead to 28-23.
Senior forward Katy Hicks played with the poise of an experienced player, stepping up and burying a 3-point shot with 3:59 left, putting an end to the Bears' 11-0 spurt. The Jumbos' ended up taking a double-digit lead, 38-26, into the fourth, as Mucciarone crashed the offensive glass and finished a layup in traffic with five seconds left.
The Jumbos were able to keep an ample amount of separation from the Bears in the final stanza, as the Jumbos' held a 47-37 advantage on back-to-back made free throws by DeCandido with 38 seconds left. The Bears' cut the deficit to five points on two occasions in the final 10 seconds, but the Jumbos' punched their ticket to another NESCAC title game. The squad hoisted the conference title in 2014 and 2015, with the one in 2014 being the first ever in program history.
Amherst defeated fifth-seeded Colby College, 53-33, on Saturday afternoon in the other semifinal-round matchup, as Amherst was led by a game-high 18 points by sophomore Emma McCarthy, who shot 7-for-8 from the floor.
The Jumbos will compete against Amherst on Sunday at noon with the conference title at stake in Amherst, Massachusetts. Amherst is undefeated this season, and the Jumbos' lone loss was a one-point setback, 36-35, against Amherst at Cousens Gym on Feb. 4, as the last three meetings between the two programs have been decided by one point. Amherst defeated Tufts, 50-49, in the 2016 NESCAC championship game.
"Tomorrow is a new day and obviously we are excited to get another crack at them," Knapp said. "We are going to have to play better and work on the things that we did not do well today. I think we will come out firing tomorrow."
Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern