Women’s basketball: Ladies off to NCAA-record 9th semifinal
“Revenge is sweet.”
The words of senior co-captain Zoë Unruh resonated throughout the Washington University Field House after the No. 6 Washington University women’s basketball team defeated defending-champion George Fox University 59-52.
With the win on Saturday, the Bears earned a trip to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament in Bloomington, Ill.
The No. 5 Bruins defeated the No. 6 Bears in the NCAA championship game last season, but the Red and Green won at home for their ticket to the national semifinals.
Off an inbound pass, junior guard Alex Hoover put the first points on the board with a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. The Bears added several more shots and jumped to a 9-0 lead.
But George Fox fought back. After two consecutive Wash. U. fouls, the Bruins tied the game with 12:41 remaining in the half and then grabbed a two-point lead.
Needing to break the George Fox three-two zone, Wash. U. head coach Nancy Fahey inserted Claire Schaeperkoetter into the game. The sophomore ignited the Bears with three quick three-pointers and kept the team in the game, though the Bruins took a 27-24 lead into halftime.
“We knew we were going against the zone defense, and a lot of times you’ve got to spread out the zone by hitting outside shots,” Schaeperkoetter said. “I know that’s one of my roles when I go in, so I was just trying to be ready and looking for my open shot.”
At the opening of the second half, the Bears began to find seams in their opponent’s zone defense.
“There was a point where I went with all shooters on the outside. I felt like they were cheating off of people,” Fahey said. “I think it just separated them a little bit, made them play a little more extended—that was my intent.”
With 13 minutes left in regulation, on George Fox’s possession, the Bruins committed a turnover, and a layup by senior Janice Evans gave Wash. U. a lead it never relinquished.
“It’s tough against a zone if you’re not hitting your shots…What we wanted to do in the second half was just relax a little bit and hope [our] shots start falling,” Unruh said. “Once they did, we could build momentum, and we were kind of able to take it from there.”
George Fox narrowed the Bears’ lead to two after free throws from freshman Hannah Munger, but the Bears responded with a three-pointer from Unruh and continued to pull away to a game-high lead of 11.
“We were trying not to focus too much on [Munger] because we knew they had some outside threats as well,” Unruh said.”Our idea was that they might get some inside points, but we just wanted to make sure we contained the dribble drive.”
The Bears held the Bruins to 33.9 percent shooting for the game, and capitalized on points off the bench with 22 for the game. Schaeperkoetter finished with a career- and team-high 16 points, while Unruh and Evans added 13 in the win.
Munger led all scorers with 17 points, but the Bruins shot under 30 percent from the floor in the second half and just 1 of 10 from three-point range, allowing Wash. U. to pull away.
Although the games were held during spring break, the Bears drew a crowd of nearly 500.
“Despite it being spring break, I think we had more fans in the stand than we’ve had at our games when there have been students on campus,” Unruh said. “You’ve got to give it to [the fans]; they were a great crowd, very loud, very supportive.”
The Bears advance to face No. 1 Amherst (31-0) at 5 p.m. on Friday. The undefeated Lord Jeff’s average 76 points per game.
“It’s never easy in March,” Unruh said. “I think we’ve just got to continue playing our defense…I think our shots will be there. It’s really on the defensive end where we’ll be able to make a statement.”
The game will be a rematch of last season’s NCAA semifinal, which the Bears won 65-49. No. 4 Hope College (31-1) will meet the University of Rochester (23-6) in the other semifinal.
“We just had to play the defending national champion… as I told these kids, possession by possession,” Fahey said. “We know this team, we played them last year. I’m sure they’re feeling the same way we felt against George Fox, because we knocked them out.”