Men's & Women's Basketball Set for Dramatic Final Weekend of Regular Season|
February 14, 2001
AMHERST, Mass. - With only this weekend's two NESCAC games against Bowdoin and Colby Colleges remaining on their regular season schedules, the Amherst College men's and women's basketball teams are both in good position for bids to the first-ever conference tournaments in the two sports, with both squads still alive for the top-seed-and a first-round bye-in the seven-team field.
Women's Basketball (19-3, 6-1 NESCAC)
Friday, February 16, 2001, vs. Bowdoin College (14-6, 6-1 NESCAC), LeFrak Gymnasium, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, February 17, 2001, vs. Colby College (17-5, 6-1 NESCAC), LeFrak Gymnasium, 3:00 p.m.
The seeding situation is not quite as complicated for the Amherst women's team, who continue to be one of Amherst's biggest winter surprises, with a 19-3 record entering Friday and Saturday's home dates against the Polar Bears and the White Mules.
With a 6-1 conference record, the Jeffs are currently part of a three-way tie for first place in the league with the two Maine schools, and can lock up the top seed and a first-round bye in next week's NESCAC Tournament with a sweep of their two weekend games, both in the friendly confines of Amherst's LeFrak Gymnasium.
Amherst has been led all season by one of the league's most balanced offenses, with six different players-including all five starters-averaging between seven and 13 points per game. First-year guard Shannon Russell (Shrewsbury, MA), who scored 17 of her game-high 20 points in the second half of Amherst's win at Connecticut College last Saturday, has averaged a team-best 13 points per contest, while classmate Sarah Bergman (Shaftsbury, VT) has posted 10.5 points to go along with her 8.5 rebounds per game. Sophomore point guard Sara Bozorg (Amherst, MA) has had a stellar second season running the Amherst offense, leading the league both in assists per game (6.4) and steals per contest (4.0). Indeed, the strength of the Jeffs, thanks in part to Bozorg, has been their defense. Behind Bozorg and sophomore forward Sarah Walker (W. Hartford, CT), whose 11.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game are both best in the NESCAC, Amherst has held its opponents to an average of less than 52 points per game, holding 20 of its 22 opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
|First-year guard Shannon Russell|
averages a team-best
13 points per contest
The Jeffs, who are one win away from matching the 1987-88 squad for the most wins in a single season in school history, are 9-1 at home, and have rolled to 12 wins in their last 13 games, including their current season-long seven-game winning streak. This week's NCAA Regional and New England Women's Basketball Association (NEWBA) polls both have Amherst ranked third in the region, their highest rating since the inception of the two polls.
The Jeffs will have their work cut out for them, however, if they hope to maintain that ranking, beginning with Friday night's showdown against Bowdoin. The Polar Bears bring a 14-7 overall record (along with their 6-1 conference mark) into Friday's game, fresh off of Tuesday's 69-46 win over Maine-Farmington. Like the Jeffs, Bowdoin also boasts two players averaging in double-figures, sophomore forward Kristi Royer (Lewiston, ME) and first-year phenom Lora Trenkle (Surry, ME). Entering Tuesday's matchup against Maine-Farmington, Royer was netting a team-best 13.8 points per game, with Trenkle scoring at a 13.4 points-per-game clip. Royer has also been Bowdoin's leader on the boards, pulling down eight caroms per contest, while Trenkle and junior guard Jessie Mayol (Westbrook, ME) have given the Polar Bears one of the league's best backcourts, combining for 111 assists between them.
Bowdoin, which had won nine straight games before back-to-back losses last week to Salem State College and Colby, can also clinch the top seed in the NESCAC tournament, but would need a sweep and at least one Colby loss to do so.
Colby, like Amherst, controls its own destiny, and can lock up the top seed with a sweep, thanks to its huge 65-58 victory at Bowdoin last Saturday. The White Mules, who enter the weekend with a 17-5 record overall, have been anchored by sophomore forward Sarah Walsh (Catonsville, MD), whose 13.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game are both team-highs. Walsh, a third-team All-NESCAC selection as a rookie, has helped the White Mules to wins in eight of their last nine contests, with an 84-80 double-overtime loss against Bates College as the only blemish during that streak. Sophomore point guard Bianca Belcher (Lewiston, ME) is the other Colby player averaging double-figures, adding a team-best 71 assists to her 10.8 points-per-game. Sophomore reserve Jasmine Ashe (Cumberland, ME) has been the league's deadliest shooter from downtown, connecting on 37 of her 97 tries from behind-the-arc, just ahead of Amherst's Russell at 38.1 percent.
The Jeffs, who have already clinched a home game-and no worse than the fourth-seed-in next week's conference tournament, could host the semifinals and finals with a weekend sweep, and would otherwise host a first-round game on Tuesday night before heading to Maine next weekend for the league's Final Four. The tournament champion receives the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, though Amherst, already with a 19-3 record, could be an attractive candidate for an at-large bid-and their first-ever trip to the Big Dance-even without the conference championship.
The Polar Bears and White Mules swept the Jeffs in Amherst's trip to Maine last year, seriously damaging Amherst's hopes of an ECAC Tournament bid, which were all-but dashed with a loss to Trinity College the following week. The Jeffs' chance for revenge begins Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in LeFrak Gymnasium, before Senior Day on Saturday afternoon, when the Jeffs tip-off against the White Mules at 3:00 p.m.
Men's Basketball (15-6, 4-3 NESCAC)
Friday, February 16, 2001, at Bowdoin College (14-7, 3-4 NESCAC), Brunswick, Maine, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 17, 2001, at Colby College (15-7, 5-2 NESCAC), Waterville, Maine, 3:00 p.m.
The men's basketball team, with a 15-6 record after Tuesday night's 79-63 victory over Brandeis University, will finish their regular season on the road, traveling to Bowdoin on Friday night before a Saturday matinee at Colby. The Jeffs currently have a 4-3 record in the NESCAC, good enough for a tie for third-place in the league with Wesleyan University, and can still wrap up the top seed in the NESCAC tournament with a sweep and some help.
Leading the Amherst offense is the duo of sophomore forward Steve Zieja (Hadley, MA) and senior tri-captain Brian Daoust (Dover, MA), who have combined to average 34 points per game. Zieja's 9.1 rebounds per game are tied with sophomore center Pat Fitzsimons (Durham, NC) for best on the squad, while Daoust has been a three-point threat all season, converting 58 of his 153 attempts from downtown. The Jeffs have also received a late-season surge from silky first-year guard Adam Harper (Washington, DC), who has scored nine points or more in each of Amherst's last six contests, including a career-high 21 points in a critical 86-68 win over Connecticut College last Saturday.
|Rookie point guard Adam|
Harper has scored at least
nine points in each of
the Jeffs' last six outings
Bowdoin, 3-4 in the NESCAC (and 14-7 overall) is one of three teams (along with Connecticut and Tufts University) fighting for a tournament bid, with the trio currently tied for sixth in the league. The Polar Bears, who destroyed the University of Maine at Farmington, 89-52, on Tuesday night, boast five players averaging over nine points a game, led by the duo of senior center David Baranowski (Amherst, NH) and junior guard Greg Orlicz (Liverpool, NY). Baranowski, who is shooting a NESCAC-best 67.0 percent from the field, has put up 14.1 points per game, while Orlicz, who posted a game-high 23 points in just 22 minutes in Tuesday's win, is scoring just under 11 points per contest, including a 22-52 performance (42.3 percent) from downtown.
The Polar Bears need only a split of their two weekend games, including Saturday's matinee against Trinity College, to lock up a bid to the NESCAC tournament.
After Friday's game at Bowdoin, the trip only gets harder for the Jeffs, who face first-place Colby in Saturday's regular-season finale. The White Mules, who have a 15-7 record overall, are tied with Trinity atop the NESCAC with a 5-2 conference record, and face the Bantams in a first-place showdown on Friday night.
The following afternoon, the Jeffs come to town, where they will have to find a way to shut down senior Colby forward Sam Clark (Woolwich, ME), whose 20.8 points-per-game is best in the NESCAC. Clark, the reigning NESCAC Player of the Week, is third in the league in rebounding, pulling down a team-best 9.2 boards per game, and is second in the conference with 2.0 blocks per outing. After Clark, the White Mules feature two other players averaging double-figures, senior guard Zeb Davis (Skowhegan, ME) and junior swingman Damien Strahorn (Menlo Park, CA). Davis has been a marksman from downtown, connecting on a league-best 65 of his 141 three-point attempts (46.1 percent), while Strahorn is the conference's best free-throw shooter, converting on 53 of his 58 chances (91.4 percent) from the charity stripe.
The Jeffs, who swept Bowdoin and Colby en route to a trip to the NCAA Regional Semifinals one year ago, need a sweep in Maine and a lot of help in order to gain the top seed in next week's conference tournament, but can assure themselves of a spot in the seven-team field-and a likely home game in the first round-with a split of the weekend pair.