Women’s basketball to face Carnegie Mellon in NCAA third round
After a pair of emphatic victories in the opening two rounds of the NCAA tournament, the Bears set their sights on Crestview Hills, Ky. where a familiar pair of foes lie in wait.
On Friday, the Bears are slated to face University Athletic Association rival, No. 25 Carnegie Mellon University. If the Bears manage to advance, they will face the winner of No. 18 Maryville College and No. 1 Thomas More College. Thomas More ended the Bears’ season last year in the third round.
The Bears will have to soldier on, still without sophomore guard Natalie Orr, who is sidelined with a stress fracture in her foot. If last weekend is any indication, however, the Bears rotation should be in good shape as the competition gets stiffer.
Here is a primer of what to expect from this weekend of tournament play.
How did the Bears get here?
A week after suffering a disappointing 82-70 defeat at the hands of the University of Chicago in their regular season finale, the Bears barreled into the first round of the playoffs, dominating Greenville College with an 87-48 victory. The Red and Green’s stereotypical hounding press defense forced 26 turnovers and facilitated a plus-17 shot advantage. Taking advantage of those extra opportunities, the Bears shot 50.8 percent from the floor, going 11-24 from beyond the arc. Combined with the Panthers matching their lowest field goal total on the season, the Bears produced the largest margin of victory of this year’s first round of tournament play.
The next day, the Bears held the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to 25.9 percent shooting, but it took a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter to finally pull away for the 62-45 win. The Warhawks’ offense struggled all night, but only found themselves down by five points at the end of the third, thanks in part to a 12-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. A trio of steals to start the fourth gave the Bears the window they needed to secure the victory.
While the Bears’ defense has remained steady all season, their offense showed signs of dominance through the first two rounds, combining to shoot 49.1 percent through the first two games. It’s a promising display for those who believed the offense might take a hit following Orr’s injury.
Scouting the opponents
When you think of Carnegie Mellon, the first name that should pop up in your head is Lisa Murphy. The Tartans’ junior center currently averages 23.5 points per game—good enough for second in Division III—and has led Carnegie in points and rebounds each of the past three seasons. When Carnegie upset heavy favorite No. 5 Hope College 73-72 in the first round of the tournament, Murphy provided the decisive score, grabbing an offensive rebound and converting on an old-fashioned three-point play with eight seconds left in regulation. The next day against, No. 14 Ohio Northern University, she chipped in 17 points in the 68-65 victory.
An important factor in Carnegie’s offensive potency is its diversity. While Murphy grabs most of the headlines, three other players average over 12.5 points per game. Any one of them could bury a team single-handedly—just ask the Bears.
As conference opponents, Wash. U. and Carnegie meet twice a year. In their most recent matchup, it was Lisa Otto, the Tartans’ senior forward, who poured on 25 points on 10-16 shooting, while Murphy was held to just eight points. It was enough to give the Tartans a 49-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter. It took nine forced fourth quarter turnovers and eight points from junior forward Zoe Vernon for the Bears to complete a dramatic comeback victory.
The Bears won both their matchups against the Tartans this year, but if they had trouble controlling the boards against Whitewater, they may find it even more difficult against Carnegie, who owns the second-best rebounding margin in Division III.
Regardless of how the last four rounds of the tournament play out, no team has utterly dominated the 2015-16 Division III season like Thomas More. The Saints’ average margin of victory is 40.6 points. They do this by running a fundamentally airtight system, racking up the most assists and least turnovers in Division III. All of this has resulted in a 29-0 record heading into the sectional round.
At the center of the Saints’ season, right where she’s been for the past three years, is Sydney Moss. The senior forward/guard hybrid arrived in Crestview Hills her sophomore season after a year at Division I University of Florida where she led the team in assists and was second in scoring, rebounding and steals. Once she transferred, Moss took Division III by storm, earning three different national player of the year honors in both her sophomore and junior seasons. In her three years on the Saints, Moss has averaged 27.8, 26.4, and 22.3 points, respectively. With Moss on the roster, the Saints have gone 93-1 over the past three seasons, their only loss coming in the 2014 Elite Eight matchup where Moss played just 12 minutes due to injury. The Bears got a very up-close-and-personal Sydney Moss education last season when the Red and Green faced the Saints in the sectional semifinal round. Moss dropped 37 points on 13-22 shooting as Wash. U. lost 103-90.
While a couple paragraphs could be spent discussing Maryville’s strengths and weaknesses, the likelihood of the No. 18 Scots beating a team that hasn’t lost in two years is, frankly, unlikely. That makes them fairly irrelevant to the Bears. It is worth noting, however, that Maryville holds opponents to 51.3 points per game, which is 16th-best in Division III; so if any team is a candidate to slow down the saintly juggernaut, they might be the one. Speaking candidly though, if Maryville beats Thomas More, I will eat a whole issue of Student Life.
X-factor: Rachael Sondag
At this point in the season, we have a basic idea of what we’re going to get from the Bears’ starting five. Junior forward Lily Sarros and senior forward Amanda Martinez will score around 10 points apiece, senior guard Katybeth Biewen’s contributions on offense will be limited, but she will provide lockdown defense, senior guard Jordan Thompson will play distributor and Vernon will supply some diversity from range. It has been a winning formula for most of the year, but in the tournament, where points may come at a premium, look for Rachael Sondag to provide some extra offensive firepower. The freshman guard has responded well to an increased role following the Orr injury, putting up 28 points over the last three games and going 7-13 from range. This may come in handy against Carnegie, which has proved vulnerable to the outside shot in recent weeks. In their final UAA games of the season, the Tartans allowed Emory University and the University of Rochester to shoot 47.1 percent and 52.2 percent from beyond the arc. There is every possibility that defense will stifle Carnegie and deliver another classic 60-something to 50-something victory for the Bears, but if the Red and Green find themselves in need of some quick offense, Sondag is a prime candidate to give them a boost off the bench.