Bears fall short in attempt to repeat as national champions

| Sports Editor

BLOOMINGTON, ILL. – The No. 12 Washington University women’s basketball team saw its bid to repeat as national champions fall short in the championship game, with a 64-55 loss to No. 2 Amherst in the final of the 2011 NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championships.

This marked the third straight year that the Bears were in the national championship game. After a 65-59 victory over Hope College in last year’s title game, the team was unable to repeat as champions for the first time since its run of four straight titles from 1998 to 2001.

The game began with stingy defense from both sides, as baskets by Wash. U. senior Hannah Cusworth and Amherst’s Kim Fiorentino marked the only points through the first four minutes of the game. The offenses for both teams slowly picked up as the half went on, but more good defense and turnovers on offense from both sides kept the game moving at a slower pace as the Bears found themselves down 9-5 with 10:31 left in the first half.

Wash. U. remained aggressive, drawing five fouls from Amherst in the first eight minutes, but an inability to make free throws prevented the Bears from taking the lead early. The team shot 2 of 12 (18.2 percent) to open up the game and went nearly seven minutes in the middle of the half without scoring a point.

However, the Bears’ offensive woes continued throughout the first half. The team only reached 10 points with 4:08 left on a pair of free throws from senior Kathryn Berger, though these points then fueled a 6-0 run for the Bears. Amherst then responded with a 7-1 run of their own, but a pair of baskets by juniors Dani Hoover and Brianne Monahan brought the Amherst lead down to 24-20 at halftime.

On the half, the Bears shot 26.1 percent (6 for 23) and 58.3 percent (7 for 12) from the three-point line. Berger led the team with six points, while Cusworth and Monahan had five each.

Coming out of the locker room, Berger opened up the scoring with a three-pointer, and the Bears took their first lead of the game after a basket by senior Alex Hoover. The teams continued to trade the lead through the early part of the second half, with Alex Hoover fueling the team’s run on offense.

However, Amherst began to take control once again, using two three-pointers to start an 8-1 run that forced head coach Nancy Fahey to call a timeout with her team down 35-29 with 11:16 remaining.

Out of the timeout, it was Monahan helping the Bears keep pace with the Lord Jeffs, scoring four points, providing a key block on the defensive end, and then hitting a three-pointer to tie the game at 39 with just under eight minutes remaining. Amherst, however, took the lead right back off of an 8-1 run, using even more strong three-point shooting. Meanwhile, Wash. U. struggled to make up ground, due to some struggles from the foul line.

Though Alex Hoover and Berger hit a pair of shots to bring the Bears within five, Amherst responded with what would prove to be the game-ending run, with eight straight points to make the score 57-44. The Wash. U. offense struggled again as the game reached its end, going scoreless for over three minutes after the 5:03 mark.

Wash. U. brought the lead down to eight in the closing minutes, as Dani Hoover and junior Claire Schaeperkoetter kept the Bears in it with some timely three-pointers, but Amherst sealed the win with strong free throw shooting down the stretch.

The Bears were led offensively by Dani Hoover, with 13 points, and Monahan, who had 12. The Bears were outrebounded 46-36, shot 36.2% (17 of 47) from the field, and 57.7% (15 of 26) from the free throw line.

After an incredible run through the NCAA Championship, in which the team defeated five straight top 10 teams including three host schools and two previously undefeated teams, Wash. U. ends its season at 25-6.

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