Lady Bears off to NCAA record ninth semifinal

| Sports Editor

Sophomore Claire Schaeperkoetter scored 16 points off of the bench and hit her first three triples of the game to lead the Bears to a 59-52 victory over George Fox University. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

“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 the defending NCAA Division III champion George Fox University 59-52.

With the win, the Bears earned a trip to the semi-finals of the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball tournament.

The No. 5 Bruins defeated the No. 6 Bears in the NCAA championship game last year but the Red and Green capitalized on home court advantage to win the sectional and continue on to the national semifinals in Bloomington, Ill.

The Bears started the game with a 9-0 scoring run. Off an inbounds pass, junior guard Alex Hoover put the first points on the board with a triple as the shot clock ticked off its final second.

However, George Fox fought back. After Wash. U. fouls on two consecutive possessions, 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, the Bears started a run that would punch their tickets to the Division III semifinals in Bloomington, Ill. Unruh tied the game at 33 with a three-pointer. On George Fox’s ensuing possession, the Bruins committed a turnover, and a layup by senior Janice Evans gave Wash. U. a lead it would never relinquish.

“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 your 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 % 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% from the floor in the second half and just 1-10 from three, allowing Wash. U. to pull away.

The Bears advance to face No. 1 Amherst on Friday, March 19. The Lord Jeff’s (31-0) are undefeated for the season and average 76 points per game. The game will be a rematch of last season’s NCAA semi-final, which the Bears won 65-49. No. 4 Hope College (31-1) will meet UAA 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.”

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