Women’s Hoops Lights Up LeFrak; Tops Previously Undefeated Tufts, Moves to 22-0
Issue   |   Tue, 02/05/2013 - 21:23
Niahlah Hope '15
At 22-0, the No. 3-ranked women's basketball team is one of only three remaining undefeated teams in Div. III women's hoops.

Women’s basketball finds itself alone atop the NESCAC after handing Tufts its first loss in a thrilling top-five matchup on Saturday. The 54-48 victory, coupled with double-digit wins over Wesleyan and Bates earlier in the week, leaves the team undefeated with just two games remaining before postseason play begins.

Wesleyan only lost by four points in its January meeting with the Lord Jeffs, but the Cardinals (9-10, 2-6 NESCAC) average the second-fewest points per game in the conference and had no answers against Amherst’s stifling defense.

While Wesleyan made just five first-half baskets, Amherst used balanced scoring to lead 17-11 before scoring 15 points in the last 5:03 to blow the game open and take a 20-point lead into halftime. Ten of those points came from free throws as the Lord Jeffs started to drive the lane and earn trips to the line.

The team came out cold in the second half, missing five shots and turning the ball over four times in the first five minutes. Wesleyan used the opportunity to draw within 12 before the Lord Jeffs’ senior co-captains got things going. Marcia Voigt ’13 made two free throws and Bridget Crowley ’13 followed with a layup before Jasmine Hardy ’13 hit her third three of the game to put the team up 39-21 with 11 minutes remaining.

Neither team shot particularly well the rest of the game, but the Lord Jeffs sealed things up by going 7-11 from the line to win 46-30. Crowley led the team with 11 points on 4-8 shooting, while Megan Robertson ’15 added nine rebounds and three blocks.

The Lord Jeffs continued their winning ways against Bates on Friday. The team took it to the Bobcats early, as Voigt, Hardy and Cheyenne Pritchard ’16 hit five three-pointers to take a 19-4 lead. Bates eventually started scoring enough to stay in the game, but Amherst went into halftime with a comfortable 45-28 lead.

The team scored 18 of the first 25 second-half points to put things out of reach, with Hardy hitting two threes while Robertson and Crowley went to work down low. The team ended up with eight different players scoring and all 10 getting playing time in a 79-52 victory that set up Saturday’s clash.

Tufts and Amherst were two of just four undefeated teams heading into Saturday, and head coach G.P. Gromacki called it “amazing” that two undefeated teams were playing each other this late in the year. The game was a rematch of last year’s NESCAC final won by the Lord Jeffs, and d3hoops.com was on hand to broadcast the affair.

The two teams were deadlocked in the first half, with both teams playing highly physical defense and combining for 16 fouls. The Lord Jeffs opened the biggest lead of the half when a Haley Zwecker ’16 jumper made it 16-11 with 7:35 to play, but the Jumbos scored the next six points to retake the lead. The half ended tied at 22 after Hardy had a wide-open corner three rim out as time expired.

The second half started with a big loss for the team as Crowley instantly picked up her fourth foul and had to sit the majority of the half. With Crowley out the Lord Jeffs lost a significant inside presence, but Savannah Holness ’15 had an instant impact off the bench and played the remainder of the game. “Bridget was plagued by foul trouble but Savannah…stepped up in a big way with many outstanding plays,” Gromacki said.

After the teams traded baskets to open the half, Holness keyed a five-point spurt with a block and two free throws at the other end before a Hardy three-pointer made it 29-24. The lead lasted until the 14:12 mark, when Tufts used two turnovers to take the lead off a three-pointer.

Amherst began to find success working the ball inside to Robertson in response, with the center getting two quick baskets in the post and hitting a pair of free throws. The inside threat combined with good offensive spacing prevented the Tufts defenders from collapsing on cutters as they had in the first half, allowing Amherst to get off better shots and shoot 50 percent in the second half against the nation’s best scoring defense. “We were able to penetrate and get the ball inside a little more in the second half,” Gromacki explained.

Tufts’ offense was just as dangerous, however, and the game stayed close. The team was up two when Voigt crashed the lane for a huge offensive rebound and quick putback, and the lead swelled to six when Voigt scored after Holness’ second steal in 60 seconds.

Pritchard hit a huge three-pointer that left Amherst up seven with 5:51 to play, and with five minutes left the team had a 49-41 lead after Holness split a pair of free throws. Both teams were active on the defensive end down the stretch, but Tufts was able to pull within three with 2:50 to go after a wide-open three in transition.

The Lord Jeffs milked the shot clock on subsequent possessions but couldn’t find open shots, and the game remained 49-46 with 40 seconds left and the shot clock winding down. Voigt emerged from a scrum with the ball and heaved a desperation three from well behind the arc that banked in to beat the block and effectively seal the win. Tufts was fouled on a three-point attempt on the other end but hit only two of three shots, and Robertson subsequently nailed her foul shots to put the exclamation point on a 54-48 victory.

Robertson and Voigt led the team with 13 points apiece, with Robertson adding four blocks and 10 rebounds for her eighth double-double while Voigt dished out a game-high six assists. Pritchard led all players in minutes as a first-year and played the whole game before fouling out with 18 seconds left.

Now sitting at 22-0 on the season, the Jeffs are ranked third nationally as of Tuesday’s d3hoops.com poll, having not lost a regular season game since Jan. 11, 2011 or a NESCAC bout since Jan. 30, 2009. The team’s home winning streak sits at 67-straight. Perhaps even more impressively, Coach G.P. Groamacki’s personal record in his five years as head coach is a whopping 141-10, or a .933 winning percentage.

The Lord Jeffs control their own seeding destiny and will be the NESCAC’s top seed if they win out at Williams on Friday and Middlebury on Saturday.