Women’s basketball to host NCAA sectional round against Oshkosh
For the third straight season, the Washington University women’s basketball team is in the sectional semifinals of the NCAA tournament. But this time, they get to host.
The Bears have a perfect 14-0 record at home this season, but the road to the championship gets much steeper from here on out. On Friday, the Bears will face No. 13-ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Should Wash. U. advance, they will face the winner of No. 4 Tufts and No. 17 Scranton.
Here is what to expect from this weekend of tournament play.
How did they get here?
The Bears cruised past St. Norbert College in the opening round of the tournament with a 73-54 win. After trailing by one through the first 10 minutes, the Bears put on a defensive clinic in the next two quarters. In the second quarter, Wash. U. held the Green Knights to 2-15 shooting from the floor. Then, in the third quarter, they forced eight turnovers and held St. Norbert to just six shots. By the start of the fourth quarter, the Bears led by 17 and could settle in for the win. Senior forward Jenn Dynis finished with the team-leading 17 points and seven rebounds, while senior forward Zoe Vernon added 16 points.
A day later, the Bears faced off against Wheaton College, an offensive powerhouse. The Bears quickly jumped out to a 9-2 lead over the No. 24 Thunder, but it wasn’t easy to get rid of Wheaton when they mounted a response to every Wash. U. scoring burst.
After Wheaton took the lead halfway through the third period, Wash. U. finally went on a decisive 14-4 run to put the Red and Green up for good.
Sophomore forward Madeline Homoly finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Vernon chipped in 15 points despite battling in-and-out of foul trouble.
The Bears have rebounded well all season, but it was their plus-17 advantage and 16 offensive boards that went a long way toward keeping Wheaton chasing the deficit.
Scouting the game one
The first and last word with Oshkosh is defense. The Titans’ 49.9 points-per-game allowed ranks 12th in Division III. Couple that with Wash. U.’s 11th-ranked offense, 77.6 points-per-game on offense, and you have the makings of a, well, titanic clash.
While Oshkosh isn’t the type of team to put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard, their offensive versatility is certainly something to be cognizant of. Oshkosh’s two highest-scoring players are senior guard Taylor Schmidt with 10.8 points per game (ppg) and junior forward Eliza Campbell clocking in at 10.9. In addition, every single one of Oshkosh’s starting five averages more than five field goal attempts per game.
It’s something for the Bears to watch for, but in all honesty, Oshkosh should probably be more worried about Wash. U.’s laundry list of offensive weapons. Homoly leads the squad with 14.6 ppg, and Vernon, Dynis and junior guard Natalie Orr average over 10 ppg as well. Each one of them has shown the ability to take over the Red and Green’s scoring for periods of time.
Acknowledging Oshkosh’s slow pace of play, rebounding may loom large as a way to maximize offensive opportunities. In that regard, the Bears are better at grabbing the ball than the Titans, with 40.3 rebounds per game to Oshkosh’s 36.8.
Despite losing their chance at an automatic berth into the postseason by losing in overtime to UW-Whitewater in the WIAC championship game, the Titans were awarded an at-large bid into the tournament. Last weekend, the Titans dominated Calvin College 63-55 Friday and got the upset win over No. 11 ranked DePauw University by an impressive 64-49 advantage, a team they had lost to earlier in the year.
The Bears hold a 4-3 edge in the series against the Titans throughout their history, but Oshkosh came out victorious in their most recent matchup, with a 72-66 win in the second round of the 2014 tournament.
Tufts stormed past its first two opponents this postseason, winning both matchups by 20-plus points. In fact, Tufts has been straight-up dominant all season, with their only two losses this season coming at the hands of New England Small College Athletic Conference rival No. 1 Amherst. Both those losses came by less than five points.
Like the Titans, the Jumbos feature a pair of primary scorers. Senior forward/center Michela North owns the Tufts records in career points and rebounds and has averaged 10.8 and 7.2 in those respective categories this season. Also dominating the stat sheet is junior forward Melissa Baptista, who averages 12.6 points and 1.7 blocks per game.
When the Bears are on the attack, they will also have to pay close attention to junior point guard Lauren Dillon, who is one of the top Division III defenders in the country and was awarded NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year. Most of her skills cannot be measured in statistics, but she will certainly be matched up with one of the Bears’ stars to apply strong on-ball pressure for all 40 minutes of the game. She’s helped the Jumbos hold their opponents to a stingy 42.2 points per game and to a lowly 31.3 shooting percentage—the second and sixth-best mark in Division III, respectively.
If the Bears face Tufts Saturday, there is going to be defensive heat. The Jumbo’s 11.7 steals and 4.3 blocks per game are much higher than the Bears’ 8.2 and 2.8, respectively, indicating how aggressive they are on the defensive end of the floor.
Like Wash. U., Tufts’ roster is filled with postseason veterans. It’s the Jumbo’s sixth straight appearance in the Sweet 16. Last year, they made it all the way to the finals, falling 63-51 in the championship game to Thomas More College.
Given Tufts’ impeccable statistics and team defense, it likely will take a nearly perfect game for Scranton to overtake them on Friday. That being said, at least the Lady Royals have familiarity on their side. Scranton lost to Tufts in the Elite Eight last season in a 57-48 slog.
Last weekend, Scranton won a close game against the University of New England, 49-48, and rolled past State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, 74-63 to advance to the next weekend. They boast a 26-3 overall record and enter the weekend with a 10-game winning streak.
If the Bears face Scranton on Saturday, they will have to play close attention to senior forward Alexix Roman, who posts an average 17.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Roman is most dangerous in big-game situations, going off for 28 points in an overtime loss to conference rival Catholic University. Her staggering field goal percentage of 61.2 is the sixth-best mark in the country, so the Bears will have to play tight defense to keep her from getting hot and taking over the game.
Many of Scranton’s statistics rank higher than Wash. U.’s: Their average win margin is 2.6 points more than the Bears’, their rebounding margin is 2.8 rebounds higher and they dish out 0.9 more assists than the Bears each game.
X-factor: Becca Clark-Callender
Wash. U.’s face-off with UW-Oshkosh is likely to be a tight matchup—one of the best defenses in the country facing off against one of the best offenses. The Bears can expect excellent play from their regular offensive weapons—Homoly, Dynis, Orr and Vernon—but if this game comes down to the final minutes, Becca Clark-Callender may step in to play a big role.
Clark-Callender has averaged a quiet 3.7 points and 16 minutes off the bench this season, but in a recent game against the University of Rochester, the sophomore guard exhibited nerves of steel. In what ended up being a must-win game for Wash. U. to secure the conference championship, the Bears found themselves up by two with 30 seconds to go. In that time, Clark-Callendar sank four free throws, nabbed a steal and pulled down a defensive rebound to ice the game. She actually sank a perfect 13 of 13 attempts from the charity stripe in that game.
In games against tough defensive squads like Oshkosh and Tufts, it will be important for the Bears to spread the floor and distribute to score. Clark-Callender can do just that, particularly with her team-leading 3.3 assists per game.