Overtime victory clinches spot in national championship game
BLOOMINGTON, ILLINOIS. The No. 6 Washington University women’s basketball team has some unfinished business after punching its ticket to the national championship game at 2 p.m. on Saturday with an 86-75 overtime victory over No. 1 Amherst College. The Bears face No. 4 Hope College for the national title.
It was a game with three different stories. The first half was dominated by the Lord Jeffs, as they leapt to a 10-0 start and took a 28-18 lead into halftime. Amherst capitalized on a 29-15 rebounding advantage.
For Wash. U. in the first half, junior Kathryn Berger came off the bench and gave the Red and Green the first points of the night 4:33 into the game. Wash. U. struggled offensively shooting 20.7% from the field in the first period.
The second half was a battle between the two titans, as Wash. U. tried numerous times to chip away at the Amherst lead. The Bears would get as close as six points for most of the period before the Lord Jeffs extended the lead to double digits.
With less than seven minutes to go, the shots started falling in for the Red and Green. “At that seven minute mark, it was to the point that it was now or never,” graduate student Jaimie McFarlin said. “If we were going to make a run, we had to do it then because they were too good offensively to make a run later. It was do or die.”
The team responded, and senior Zoë Unruh and sophomore Claire Schaeperkoetter scored two back-to-back three pointers to cut the deficit to one.
The clutch shooting sent fans to their feet and the Shirk Center was filled with Wash. U. cheers. “They were a huge part of our win tonight,” junior Alex Hoover said. Around 200 Washington University fans including students and adults cheered the Bears on. Two fan buses sponsored by Washington University and several carloads of students made the two and a half hour journey.
For several players on the team including Unruh, seniors Janice Evans and Stacey Niese, and McFarlin, this is their last shot at a national title. “We said we were going to celebrate for 15 more minutes then focus on Hope,” Hoover said.
A back and forth battle ensued, and Unruh tied the game up with 4:37 left on a three pointer. With about three minutes to go, Berger gave the Bears their first lead with a pair of free throws to make the score 62-60. Hoover came up with a big block over a wide-open sophomore Shannon Finucane. Hoover drove down the length of the court, faked out her defender and scored the lay up to give the Bears a two point lead. The Lord Jeffs tied the score back up. On the ensuing Amherst possession, Hoover stopped a breakaway from scoring the easy lay-up with her first foul of the game. Amherst sophomore Caroline Stedman missed both foul shots with under half a minute to go. The Bears nearly won the game in regulation time, but the buzzer beating jumper by graduate student Jaimie McFarlin hit the rim.
Overtime was all Bears, as they controlled the period from the tip-off. Unruh knocked down a three just 14 seconds into the period, and the rout was on. The Red and Green outscored the Lord Jeffs 22-11. Wash. U. went on a 12-0 sprint over the first three minutes of the period before Amherst could respond. “Having the extra five minutes was to our advantage and we also had the momentum coming into the overtime, having just erased a big deficit,” Unruh said.
Free throws proved to be a big help, with the Bears scoring a season high 83.8% (31-37) from the line. Berger was 9-for-9. McFarlin, Unruh and Berger led the Bears with 19 points each. McFarlin led Wash. U. with 14 rebounds.
As for Saturday, the Bears are looking towards the ultimate prize. “Possession by possession, stop after stop…that’s how you win,” McFarlin said. The Bears have been to the championship game three times in the past four seasons and look to break into the win column.