Women’s basketball (20-7) took advantage of its at-large NCAA tournament bid, winning two games to advance to the last round of the tournament. The women edged out Mount St. Mary 62-56 on Friday, and then ramped up their game for Saturday’s matchup against DeSales: The Ephs scored their highest point total of the season, downing the Bulldogs 94-77.
The women took control of the game right out of the gates on Saturday. DeSales couldn’t get a point on the board in the first seven minutes as Williams pulled ahead, and the Ephs led by as many as 15, 19-4, in the early going. The women were able to stay ahead throughout the half; though two separate Bulldog runs pulled the Ephs’ opponents within five, the Ephs rallied both times and led 43-33 heading into the locker room.
Williams posted strong first half statistics, netting 46.7 percent of its field goal attempts and knocking down 12 of 13 free throws. Meanwhile, the women held Desales to 37.5 percent field goal percentage at the half.
The situation only got better for the Ephs coming out of the half. DeSales simply watched as Williams pulled further ahead during the first 20 minutes of the second half, as the Bulldogs couldn’t come within single digits of taking the lead for the final 18:45 of the game.
The Ephs’ already-dominant offense ramped up its game in the second half, recording a 57.1 percent field goal percentage while holding the Bulldogs to 43.8 percent on the game. Williams also out-rebounded DeSales 40-28, with Jennie Harding ’13 pulling down nine boards on the game.
Chessie Jackson ’11 and Taylor Shea ’11 led the Ephs in trampling the Bulldogs’ defense, with 24 and 23 points, respectively, on the game. Grace Rehnquist ’13 and Claire Baecher ’13 also figured heavily into the women’s advantage, posting 17 and 12 points, respectively.
Friday’s victory over Mount St. Mary was a triumphant one for a Williams team that didn’t expect to play in NCAAs following a NESCAC quarterfinal loss to Bates on Feb. 20. Jackson, who was named to the Second All-NESCAC team this past week, scored 12 points on the win to push her past the 1000-point career benchmark. At the end of the weekend, Jackson had brought her total to 1,028 points. Shea dominated the Mount St. Mary’s offense, grabbing 14 rebounds, holding her opponents to just 44 percent shooting on the night. Harding and Jill Greenberg ’12 led the Ephs offensively, posting 13 and 16 points, respectively, with Baecher just behind with 10.
“It was a great weekend,” said Head Coach Pat Manning when asked about the back-to-back wins the women put together for their first two rounds of NCAAs. “You want to be peaking at the right time, and this is definitely the right time. Those two games were some of the best play that we’ve had all season and the team was very together and excited.”
Manning attributed the Ephs’ powerful NCAA performance to a sense of needing to make the most of their second chance after their disappointing NESCAC tournament loss. “When we lost to Bates in the NESCAC tournament and our fate was basically left up to the committee, there was a lot of uncertainty and there was the chance that our season could have been over,” Manning said. “That second chance has given everyone a renewed focus and excitement … We just want to make the most of it.”
Williams will continue into the Sweet Sixteen this Friday when they travel to Amherst to battle it out against its archrival. The Ephs have fallen to the Jeffs twice this season – at home on Jan. 9 and away on Feb. 12 – but are ready to redeem themselves now.
“We’re not going to get too wrapped up in the hype of the Williams-Amherst rivalry,” Manning said. “We know that we have to put together two solid halves and we did that, especially against DeSales on Saturday. That goes for anyone we play. We’re striving for consistency right now.”
The winner of the Williams-Amherst game will go up against the victor of the Babson-Gettysburg matchup, which will be played on Friday night as well. The winners will face off on Saturday in the last round of NCAA play before the Final Four.