Bears reach third consecutive title game
Berger's 28 points lead team past Illinois Wesleyan
No. 12 Wash. U. defeated No. 7 Illinois Wesleyan University, 87-77, on the Titans’ home court to reach the title game for the third consecutive year and ninth overall.
The defending national champion Bears will face No. 2 Amherst College for the Division III title on Saturday evening. The Bears have eliminated the Lord Jeffs from the past two NCAA tournaments in the national semifinal game.
Senior Kathryn Berger led the Bears with 28 points. Wash. U. controlled the glass, outrebounding the Titans 37-29 and outscoring them 48-20 in the paint.
Perimeter shooting kept the Titans within reach of the Bears for most of the game. Nikki Preston connected on back-to-back three-pointers to cut a 12-point Wash. U. lead to six with less than seven minutes to go.
The Bears closed off the game inside the paint and at the free-throw line, taking advantage of foul trouble from multiple Titans. Wash. U. shot 20 for 27 from the line in the victory.
“A lot of what we learned is keep a level head,” Berger said.
“The ball game was won at the free-throw line,” Illinois Wesleyan head coach Mia Smith said. Illinois Wesleyan went 6 for 10 from the free-throw line for the game.
The first half featured numerous personnel changes, with nine Lady Bears seeing action as both teams tried to figure out their foe. Illinois Wesleyan was potent from behind the three-point line, going 8 for 16 in the first half. Wash. U. held a 19-15 rebounding advantage.
The second half was all about the seniors, with Alex Hoover working inside the paint and Berger knocking down long-range shots. “We were playing our game, our style,” Berger said. “We played our tempo.”
The Red and Green found their stride with crisp passes and fluid ball movement. Wash. U. also capitalized on IWU mistakes, with 14 points off turnovers in the second half alone. The Red and Green bench outscored Illinois Wesleyan’s bench 25-6.
With the victory, the Bears have also defeated every ranked opponent to which they lost at some point earlier in the season. The Bears fell to the Titans, 73-68, at the Tip Off Tournament in Greencastle, Ind., on Nov. 20.
Wash. U. defeated the No. 10, 4, 1, 6 and 7 teams in the nation to reach the title game. Three of these wins, at No. 4 Hope College, at No. 1 Thomas More College and at No. 7 IWU, have come on their opponent’s home floor.
Wash. U. looks to defeat its sixth top-10 opponent in Saturday’s national championship game. Play against Amherst is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
“We’re so excited we’re playing in the national championship game,” head coach Nancy Fahey said.