Women’s basketball falls to rival Amherst in conference semifinals

Women’s basketball (21-5, 6-3 in the NESCAC) was unable to overcome a 20-point deficit to Amherst in the NESCAC semifinals on Saturday. The Ephs lost to the Jeffs by a margin of 71-64. Amherst, the top seed in the tournament, went on to win the NESCAC crown, hammering Bowdoin 72-37 in the finals.

The women got off to a poor start, going down 17-7 early in the game.

“Defensively, I think we were slow on our coverages,” said Assistant Coach Cassie Loftus. “They had transition points, which were difficult for us to defend, and I think also we struggled to execute offensively. We struggled to take good shots that put us in a good position to score.”

Jen Borderud ’13 nailed a three-pointer and tri-captain Chessie Jackson ’11 put away a jumper to narrow the deficit to seven. Despite the women’s efforts, Amherst built on its early lead, scoring the final 13 points in the half to run away with a huge lead. Williams trailed Amherst 47-26 at the close of the half.

“They were doing a good job of hitting the pick and roll. We were switching and so their big post player was kind of pinning our guard down low and we were struggling to defend that,” Loftus said.

Coming out of the locker room, the Jeffs built on their momentum, adding seven points to their decisive 21-point lead. This huge advantage lasted nearly 10 minutes and seemed to signal a complete rout of the underdog Ephs. With 13:42 left to play in the game, Jill Greenberg ’12 hit a jumper to put the Ephs on the scoreboard for the first time in the second half.

The women slowly built momentum after Greenberg’s timely field goal, and a lay-up 6:42 into the half from tri-captain Taylor Shea ’11 set the Ephs on fire and tightened the game to 66-47. Back-to-back points from Shea and a timely three-pointer from Claire Baecher ’13 helped cut Amherst’s lead to 10 points. The women showed resilience as they gained ground against their rivals.

“I think one of the great things about our team is they are always fighting,” Loftus said. “They are always playing hard, and they are a really close team. I think it is a tribute to who they are as people.”

Borderud banked another three-pointer and a jump shot in the paint to close the gap to six. With less than 20 seconds left in the game, the Ephs struggled to complete their comeback. Despite their impressive 25-5 run in the second half, the women were unable to overcome their earlier deficit, losing the game by a score of 71-64.

The Ephs’ offense was led by Jackson, who totaled 12 points, and Greenberg and Baecher, who recorded 10 points each. Borderud and Shea also contributed significantly to the women’s effort: Borderud had nine points and Shea recorded eight points and four boards.

Despite their loss in the NESCAC tournament, the Ephs’ spectacular regular season record earned them a spot in the first round of the NCAA tournament thanks to an at-large bid. The women will travel to the University of Rochester on Friday to play Muhlenberg in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.

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