Lady Jeffs Headed to Fifth Straight Final Four
Issue   |   Tue, 03/12/2013 - 21:49
Niahlah Hope '15, Public Affairs Office
After topping Widener, the Lady Jeffs booked their tickets to Michigan.

Women’s basketball is headed back to the Final Four, defeating Tufts and Widener Univ. to earn their berth in Friday’s national semifinal. The team capitalized on near-perfect foul shooting to gut out a defensive battle with Tufts, 47-42, before using a trademark second-half run and huge individual performances to defeat Widener, 59-45. With the victories, the Jeffs (30-1) clinched their fifth consecutive Final Four appearance and will be looking for their second title in three years.

It was tough sledding offensively for both Amherst and Tufts on Friday, as two of the nation’s top defenses faced off in a thrilling game. Tufts (25-3), the national leader in scoring defense, held the Lord Jeffs to 26.7 percent shooting overall, while Amherst did its part by forcing their opponent to shoot at a 33.3 percent clip. The Jumbos actually made more field goals but were outdone at the charity stripe, as Amherst shot 18-21 from the line in what Coach G.P. Gromacki called a “clutch” performance.

Neither team could get anything going early on, and at the 10-minute mark the score was 9-2 in favor of Amherst. Amidst a flurry of turnovers, Marcia Voigt ’13 hit a tough off-hand shot before Megan Robertson ’15 hit just her third career three-pointer to beat the shot clock and stretch the lead to seven.

Tufts’ offense revolved around individual ballhandling and quick drives, and the Jumbos answered with a beautiful reverse layup. After Cheyenne Pritchard ’16 picked up a questionable offensive foul and had to sit, fellow first-year Haley Zwecker hit a three in transition to make it 12-6.

Savannah Holness ’15 hit four straight free throws as the Lord Jeffs grabbed some offensive rebounds to extend possessions, and she added a layup down low with 4:21 left and the score 18-10. Both teams traded layups before reaching the bonus as the half wound down, leading to Tufts getting three points and Amherst getting two from the line. A Tufts three-point attempt rattled out as time expired, and the teams went into halftime with the score 22-17.

The game came alive in the second half, and Bridget Crowley ’13 set the tone with an early post move. Tufts used a rare block of Robertson to string together four points, only to see Jasmine Hardy ’13 drill a three-pointer. The Jumbos committed an offensive foul on their next possession, and Crowley got to the line to make it 29-21 with 16:50 left.

Amherst’s lead waxed and waned over the next seven minutes, as the Lord Jeffs came up with big plays every time the Jumbos threatened. Pritchard made a key three-pointer with Tufts within four, and, when the Jumbos again came within four, Hardy converted an incredible four-point play with 11:25 remaining. Tufts found some momentum as three straight tough dribble-drives made it a one-possession game. Megan Robertson stopped the bleeding, but Tufts answered with a jumper.

Up two with four minutes to play, the Lord Jeffs closed things out by hitting seven of eight foul shots. Crowley and Pritchard combined for four points, and Voigt came up huge on defense, nabbing two steals when Tufts had the ball down four with under a minute to play. Tufts came within three after Robertson was fouled and went 1-for-2, but Crowley hit both of her subsequent free throws to seal the game.

Amherst’s scoring was spread out amongst seven players, with Crowley leading the team with 10 points. Voigt added seven assists and 10 rebounds, and Robertson grabbed five offensive rebounds.

The Lord Jeffs matched up better with Widener (24-6), who lacked the necessary size to stop both Crowley and Robertson in the paint. The Pride countered by occasionally doubling or fronting down low, which led to a feast-or-famine defense that generated lots of entry pass denials but also allowed plenty of easy layups. As a result, Crowley and Robertson both had big nights, with Robertson logging 10 points and four blocks in just 20 minutes and Crowley recording a monster 17-point, 16-rebound double-double.

“Bridget was huge for us all night long,” Gromacki said.

The game stayed tight throughout the first half, with Amherst gradually opening up a cushion but never leading by double-digits. With the score 9-7 seven minutes in, Crowley hit a nice jumper before Widener pushed the pace and nailed a deep three-pointer. The Lord Jeffs answered with a transition layup before the pace slowed again, with Robertson eventually making a layup to resume the scoring and make it 15-10.

Widener mixed in a matchup zone as time went by, while the Lord Jeffs stuck to their man-to-man defense. Amherst found openings in the zone as Hardy and Voigt forced the defense to respect the deep threat, and on the other end the Pride simply could not hit shots, shooting 23.8 percent for the game.

Widener did pull within four with under two minutes left before a Hardy three-pointer and a Crowley floater stretched the lead to 30-23 at halftime. Crowley dominated the first half, scoring 15 points off a variety of post moves.

In an effort incredibly similar to that against Williams in the NESCAC final, Voigt took over in the second half with 16 points, keying Amherst’s game-changing run and preventing any comeback attempts. The Lord Jeffs scored 11 of the half’s first 12 points and never let Widener back into the game.

The half began with Voigt finding Robertson for two and then capping off a mazy drive with a reverse layup. She continued her strong play with a tough runner to stretch the lead to 13, and after Widener went 1-of-2 from the line Roberston, playing with three fouls, used a spin move to score.

Voigt continued to orchestrate with another layup and a nice assist on a touch pass inside to Holness, but Widener responded with their biggest run of the game, cutting the lead to 10 at the 10:33 mark. The Lord Jeffs looked to their leader on offense, and Voigt answered the call with two straight pull-up jumpers, the second one coming off of a gritty steal from Holness.

Amherst held the lead down the stretch thanks to their starters, with Hardy, Pritchard and Crowley never coming out and Voigt playing 37 minutes. Widener’s last chance came with 3:23 left, as their press generated a couple turnovers and they found their shooting touch to pull within nine. On the next possession, however, Crowley grabbed an offensive rebound to milk the clock before Hardy hit a dagger of a three. Voigt put the exclamation point on the victory with two foul shots and a layup.

Crowley, Robertson and Voigt combined for 46 of Amherst’s 59 points, outscoring the Pride by themselves. Voigt led the charge with 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and fellow tri-captain Hardy added two threes.

The Lord Jeffs will head to Holland, Michigan to face twenty-second-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater (26-6) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The winner will play either number one DePauw (33-0) or Williams (27-5) on Saturday at 7 p.m.