Dramatic Rally Helps Jeffs Capture Little III Title in 58-55 Win at Wesleyan|
February 9, 2001
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. - The Amherst College women's basketball team outscored host Wesleyan University 12-2 in the final 3:44 of play to hang on for a dramatic 58-55
victory over the Cardinals in a key NESCAC pairing on Friday night. With the win, Amherst's 11th in its last 12 games, the Jeffs lock up their second outright Little III title in as many years, breaking the record set by 1987-88 squad for best-ever record through 21 games in the process.
|Sara Bozorg '03 connected on|
a driving lay-up along the
baseline with 49.8 seconds left
to put the Jeffs ahead for good
"There comes a point where you run out of things to say," said Head Coach Billy McBride. "This team just has the will to win. We've been in every situation, and we've responded."
For most of the first half, however, it did not look like the Jeffs would need any late-game heroics, thanks to a dominating defense that held the Cardinals to only nine points in the game's first 15:18. Amherst, thanks to sophomore forward Sarah Walker (W. Hartford, CT) and senior Co-captain Charlotte Taylor (Harvard, MA), enjoyed a 15-9 lead three-fourths of the way to halftime, before Wesleyan's outside shooting brought the Cardinals back into the game. Behind first-year guard Ashley Elia (Tenafly, NJ) and sophomore sharpshooter Shaleen Bowman (Guilford, CT), Wesleyan rattled off four three-pointers in quick succession, eventually taking a 20-19 lead with 2:52 left before the break.
Amherst sophomore Sara Bozorg (Amherst, MA) responded with a trey of her own, and the two teams traded baskets until halftime, to which the Jeffs took a 25-22 lead. Amherst held Wesleyan to an eight-for-35 performance (22.9 percent) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, but the Cardinals were five-of-eight from downtown, which was the difference in the first half.
Wesleyan's stingy defense, which held the Jeffs to a similarly-poor six-for-21 (28.6 percent) effort in the opening period, continued to press after halftime, keeping Amherst from putting together an offensive surge. Instead, the two teams traded baskets for the better part of the first 13 minutes, eventually battling to a 41-41 tie with 6:59 remaining. From there, the Jeffs, who had been ice-cold from downtown in the first 33 minutes of the game, began to heat up from outside, beginning with a deep three-pointer from first-year Shannon Russell (Shrewsbury, MA) at the 6:41-mark.
The Cardinals, however, responded, and Elia drained a three-pointer of her own on Wesleyan's ensuing possession, knotting the game again at 44. Walker responded with a driving lay-up on Amherst's next possesion, but Bowman's jumper from the baseline at the 5:33-mark once again brought the teams even, this time at 46. Bowman's jumper, however, would turn out to be the spark of a 9-0 Cardinal run, including a three-pointer from first-year Amy Posocco (Willington, CT) that extended the Wesleyan lead to five, 51-46, at the 4:22-mark. A pair of Bowman free throws 16 seconds later gave Wesleyan a 53-46 lead just before the four-minute mark, and the Cardinals seemed to be in control.
But Amherst was not ready to go away that quietly. On the Jeffs' ensuing possession, Russell came off a Walker pick at the top of the key and launched a three-pointer that hit the front and back of the rim before dropping, cutting the Wesleyan lead to four. Elia put back a Bowman miss on Wesleyan's next trip to extend the lead back to six, 55-49, with 3:18 to go, but the Jeffs had one more run in them. On their next trip, Taylor found fellow Co-captain Hallison Putnam (Lexington, KY) with a perfect cross-court skip pass, and Putnam drained a three-pointer to cut the Amherst deficit in half. After neither team was able to convert their next possession, Taylor came through with the biggest shot of the day, connecting on a three-pointer from the left wing off a nifty feed from Bozorg to knot the game at 55 with 2:02 left. In 102 seconds, Amherst had erased Wesleyan's seven-point cushion.
The Jeffs weren't done there. Following a Bozorg steal, the two teams traded missed short jumpers, giving the ball back to Amherst with just over one minute left. After working the ball around for 15 seconds, Bozorg used a hesitation move to break free, before driving along the baseline and somehow squeezing a lay-up between two Cardinal defenders. The shot found the back of the net, and the Jeffs held a 57-55 lead with 49.3 seconds left. On Wesleyan's next possession, the Cardinals worked the ball around until they found Elia along the left baseline, but the rookie's attempted jumper was swatted by Walker, her game-high fourth rejection, into the hands of Russell. Eventually, the Cardinals fouled Putnam with 10.3 seconds left, and the junior hit one of two free throws to extend the Amherst lead to three. Wesleyan got off one last shot attempt, but Posocco's three-point try just before the buzzer was long, and Walker hauled down the rebound-her game-high 13th-to seal the victory.
"For a young team to exhibit this kind of confidence leaves me speechless," said McBride, as the Jeffs won a game that they had trailed in late in the second half for the fourth time this season. "We just never give up."
The Jeffs were led by a quartet of clutch performers in the victory, including Bozorg, Putnam, Taylor and Walker. Along with the game-winning bucket, Bozorg finished with 12 points, five assists and four rebounds, and Putnam added 10 points, including a five-of-six performance from the foul line. Walker also made her living on the charity stripe, connecting on eight of her 10 free-throw attempts en route to her 12-point, 13-rebound, four-block night, and Taylor finished with eight points and nine rebounds, including her only three-point attempt of the night, the game-tying bomb just before the two-minute mark.
With the win, the Jeffs (18-3, 5-1 NESCAC) wrap up their second consecutive outright Little III title, after completing the season sweep of Wesleyan and splitting their two games against arch-rival Williams College. Thanks to WesleyanÕs 75-65 win at Williams last Friday night, the Jeffs locked up a back-to-back mini-conference title for only the second time in the program's 24-year history. The win itself was also a milestone for the Jeffs, who broke the record previously held by the 1987-88 squad for best record through 21 games. With their 13th straight win over Wesleyan, Amherst also assured itself of a bid in the seven-team draw for the inaugural NESCAC tournament, set to begin two weeks from now. The Jeffs can lock up a home game with just one win in their final three games, and can guarantee themselves the top seed in the tourney by winning each of their last three NESCAC match-ups, beginning with their 3:00 p.m. tip-off on Saturday at Connecticut College. Currently, the Jeffs are tied for second place with Colby College, who travels to number-one Bowdoin College on Saturday for a 3:00 p.m. duel.
In the loss, Wesleyan was paced by the combo of Bowman and Elia, who helped the Cardinals match their school-record of most three-pointers in a game, finishing eight-of-14 from downtown. Bowman's team-high 12 points included a pair of treys, and Elia was a perfect three-for-three from downtown en route to a solid 11-point effort. The Cardinals were hurt by their poor shooting, finishing only 20-67 (29.9 percent) from the floor as a team, the 20th time this season that an Amherst opponent was held under 40 percent, and the seventh time that the Jeffs have held their opposition below 30 percent.
The Cardinals, who fall to 12-6, 2-4 in the NESCAC, return to action on Saturday against Trinity College, also a 3:00 p.m. tip-off.
Game Box Score