ST. LOUIS – Senior captain Michela North corralled her 14th career double-double in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the No. 4 Tufts University women's basketball team on Saturday evening during a 57-43 triumph over host and No. 6 Washington University during the Elite Eight in St. Louis, as the Jumbos punched their ticket to a fourth consecutive Final Four.
|Jac Knapp scored in double figures for the fourth straight game.|
The Jumbos (29-2, 9-1 in NESCAC) continue to perform their best when the lights shine the brightest, as the squad has compiled a 17-5 record during the last four seasons in the NCAA Tournament.
The Jumbos' NCAA journey will continue with a matchup against No. 2/3 St. Thomas (Minn.) in Final Four action on Friday, March 17, at the Van Noord Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Bears (26-3) see their season come to an end in the fourth round of the national tournament for the second consecutive season. No. 1 Amherst will square off against No. 7/10 Christopher Newport during the other semifinal-round tilt in Michigan.
North also posted her third career 20-point, 10-rebound performance in the NCAA Tournament, as the 6-foot-2 post player finished with game highs of 20 points and 15 rebounds, shooting a stellar 9-for-12 from the field. Junior forward Melissa Baptista took some of the scoring load off the shoulders of North, scoring all 14 of her points in the second half.
Sophomore guard Jac Knapp reached double figures with 10 points, marking her fourth consecutive game with a double-digit point total. Junior captain and guard Lauren Dillon became the Jumbos' all-time, single-season leader in steals, as she posted her 88th of the season with 8:58 left in the second quarter and passed Lisa Raffin (87 steals, 1980-81).
Senior forward Zoe Vernon led the Bears with 10 points, going 4-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-3 from 3-point range, while senior forward Lily Sarros finished with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
The Bears came into this contest averaging 77.3 points per game, which ranked No. 13 among all Division III institutions in the country. The Jumbos' defense, which ranks second in scoring defense (42.5), controlled the tempo of the game, forcing the Bears into difficult shots off the dribble and long contested jumpers.
Dillon cashed in on a runner down the right side of the lane with seven seconds left in the first half, giving the Jumbos a 19-18 lead heading into intermission. The Jumbos' grueling NESCAC and out-of-conference schedule played a pivotal role in this game, as they have been tested with close games against Amherst and No. 19/21 Bowdoin.
Those experiences playing in tight games against top-caliber competition helped the Jumbos stay calm heading into the second half, as they claimed a commanding 22-12 advantage in the third quarter, swinging the momentum of the game quickly in the second half.
Baptista buried a 3-pointer nine seconds into the third, but the Bears tried to use the energy from the home crowd to stay in the game, as a driving layup by sophomore guard Claudia Smith trimmed the Jumbos' cushion to 27-23 with 7:27 left in the period.
The Jumbos then claimed complete control of the game with a crucial 8-0 run, starting with Knapp going 2-for-2 from the free-throw line and ending with a deadly turnaround jumper by North over her right shoulder on the right block, giving the visitors a 35-23 advantage with 4:22 on the clock.
The Bears stayed within striking distance heading into the fourth, as sophomore guard Becca Clark-Callender converted a buzzer-beating, mid-range jumper at the end of the third, cutting the deficit to 41-30.
The Jumbos began to pull away early in the fourth and it was obvious that the Bears were going to have to play a nearly flawless fourth quarter, especially with the Jumbos' top-notch defense giving up no easy baskets. Baptista drilled a crucial stepback trey from the top of the circle at the end of the shot clock with 8:55 left on the clock, extending the Jumbos' lead to 44-30.
A three-ball by Knapp made the score 47-30 with 8:05 left. The Bears tried to make a late run by applying high-energy, full-court pressure, but the closest they were able to get was 12, as a free throw by senior guard/forward Jenn Dynis with 1:52 left cut the Jumbos' lead to 55-43.
The Jumbos took a 14-12 lead at the end of one behind an early eight-point effort by North. The second frame featured some great defensive-oriented basketball, as both teams gave the opposition fits, denied any easy baskets and brought high-intensity defense possession after possession. There was a total of 11 points scored in the frame, as the two teams went a combined 5-for-26 from the floor.
The Jumbos shot 35.8 percent from the floor (19-for-53), 18.8 percent from downtown (3-for-16) and 76.2 percent from the free-throw line (16-for-21), as freshman guard/forward Erica DeCandido went 6-for-6 from the charity stripe off the bench. The Bears went 18-for-59 from the floor (30.5 percent), 2-for-13 from downtown (15.4 percent) and 5-for-10 from the line (50.0 percent). The Jumbos won the rebounding margin, 46-36.
Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern