Women’s basketball loses to No. 4 Hope in NCAA second round

Jon Lewis | Senior Sports Editor

At the end of the fourth quarter Saturday night, junior guard Becca Clark-Callender and senior guard Natalie Orr brought a double team as the ball swung to Hope College’s Victoria Swift close to the halfway line. By the time Orr and Clark-Callender got to Swift, however, there were only six seconds left in a 16-point game, and they could only watch as the last seconds ticked away on the Washington University women’s basketball season.

“I thought Hope played an excellent game today, defensively and offensively,” head coach Randi Henderson in a post-game press conference. “Defensively, we tried to do some things to make the miss, and they didn’t. And that’s just the way basketball is played.”

The Bears were not outshot badly in the game—Hope shot 41.9 percent from the field to Wash. U.’s 40.9 percent—but every time they came within striking distance, the Flying Dutch put together a run to reassert their lead. In the end, the No. 4 team in the country closed out an 85-69 win on their home court to knock the Bears out in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Saturday’s loss came after a dominant 75-57 first round win Friday evening over Wheaton College. The Bears shifted the offensive focus to the inside against the Thunder; Wash. U. only attempted 13 three-pointers compared to their season average of 19.

Junior forward Madeline Homoly was the star of the night with 25 points, 21 of them in the first three quarters. Sophomore forward Kristina Schmelter put on a show of her on the low block, contributing 14 points off the bench. Schmelter and Homoly played almost exclusively separately against Wheaton, something Henderson said was a conscious decision made to give each player space to succeed on offense.

“We’ve been playing [Schmelter] and [Homoly] together for a while,” she said. “They both have a skill set that we need to capitalize on in the paint. It was getting tougher and tougher to play them together. This was the first time I split them up in a long time, and I think it paid off for us.”

Homoly agreed with Henderson’s assessment. “[Schmelter] is a great block player,” she said. “I think it works really well with us coming in separately because we both get to take over the paint when we’re in. And I think that helps our team because it helps us not crowd each other. I know that in a lot of the games we would get in each other’s way because we were both trying to post up at the same time.”

The Bears’ backcourt also made some major contributions against Wheaton, with both Orr and junior Rachael Sondag scoring in the double digits. Clark-Callender did not amass huge stats, but paced the offense off the bench and made her only shot of the game, an off-the-dribble pull up three to close out the first half. The Wash. U. defense was smothering against the Thunder, who only shot 27.6 percent from the field.

Whatever momentum the Bears might have had from Friday night did not translate into Saturday, where they came up against a Hope team fresh off of a barnstorming 26-1 regular season.

Homoly picked up right where she left off, opening the game by forcing her way to the rim for a layup. While the Bears got off to a good start, they would quickly fall behind as Hope unleashed an 18-5 run over the next four-and-a-half minutes.

Wash. U. did not go away, however, and went on a run of their own to end the first quarter. Homoly got the surge started with another layup and Clark-Callender added four points, including a beautiful Euro Step layup through traffic. Schmelter and junior guard Katie Claussner capped off the 12-0 run with a textbook pick-and-roll, and Schmelter’s lay-in put the Bears up 19-18.

The second quarter was a back-and-forth affair, and the teams traded the lead three times. The Flying Dutch, however, managed to pull away again late in the half and took a nine-point lead after Swift stole a kick-out pass from Clark-Callender and raced down court for a transition layup.

That nine-point swing late in the second would prove to be pivotal, as an even third quarter left the Bears needing to a big run to save their season. That, however, played into the Flying Dutch’s hands, and their high press held Wash. U. scoreless for the first four minutes of the final quarter.

“They put a lot of pressure on our ball handlers,” Henderson said, though she also pointed out that her team missed plenty of good opportunities during that stretch. “We missed some open threes, we missed some layups and the ball just wasn’t falling in,” she added.

The Bears never got their offense going during that crucial fourth quarter, hitting just 36.4 percent of their shots.

With one full season of Randi Henderson as head coach in the books, Wash. U. will now look towards next season. After some growing pains under Henderson, the Bears managed to compile the kind of year—a 19-8 record and an NCAA playoff win—that was expected under Nancy Fahey. With only four seniors graduating, Henderson will hope that this season will be a building block towards stepping out of her predecessor’s shadow.