Women’s basketball (20-6, 6-4 in the NESCAC) lost a thrilling game against Vassar last Friday in the opening round of the NCAA Div. III tournament by a score of 76-75. The Ephs’ participation in this year’s tournament marks the fourth time in the past five years that the Ephs have earned an NCAA tournament berth.
“Friday’s game was disappointing, but we fought hard against a talented Vassar team,” co-captain Kellie Macdonald ’15 said.
The women pulled ahead on their opening possessions as Devon Caveney ’17 drained a pair of three-pointers to put the Ephs ahead 8-2. The Brewers kept the game close for the next several minutes, preventing the Ephs from extending their small lead. With 12:08 left in the first quarter, Macdonald and co-captain Ellen Cook ’15 teamed up to score eight unanswered points in the span of a minute, giving Williams a 25-14 lead. This 11-point advantage would be the largest for either team, with the Brewers gaining momentum as the first half came to a close. The women struggled to contain Vassar’s offense as Vassar tied the game at 34-34 with three minutes left in the first half. Although layups by Caveney and Oge Uwanaka ’16 preserved the lead, the Ephs went into the locker room with a slim 38-37 advantage.
Vassar snagged several key rebounds to start the second half and converted these chances into a five-point lead. The Ephs struggled to close the gap, with the Brewers responding to every basket made by the Ephs. Lauren McCall ’17 sank a three-point shot with 8:56 left in the game to bring the Ephs within one, and a free throw by Cook tied the score at 61-61.
“We competed hard, especially when the momentum had shifted to Vassar in the second half,” Head Coach Pat Manning said. “We fought to come back and definitely had our chances down the stretch.”
Another McCall three-pointer gave the Ephs their first lead since the start of the half, but was quickly followed by a three-point basket by Cydni Matsuoka, who scored 31 points for the Brewers. Both teams then traded fast-break lay-ups and jump shots, staying neck and neck as the clock wound down.
With just 2:44 to play, Cook made a layup to bring Williams to a 73-72 advantage, but a Vassar layup late in the shot clock put Williams behind again. Williams failed to capitalize on its next possession, and Vassar took advantage by sinking another basket to go ahead by three with just 1:23 left to play. Uwanaka was fouled on the next possession and drained her two free throws to bring the Ephs within one point.
With under a minute left, the Ephs snagged a defensive rebound, but Caveney missed a long three-point shot to give the Ephs the lead. A steal by MacDonald with nine seconds to go provided Williams with one final opportunity, but a shot by Cook in the closing seconds fell just short. At the final buzzer, Williams was on the losing end of a 76-75 nail-biter.
The women had seven players score at least six points against Vassar, led by Cook with 22 points and Caveney with a season-high 15 points. Jane Thompson ’16 added 10 points for the Ephs, while Uwanaka and McCall combined for 21
“I think our offense was impressive, and we had many different contributors. However, we did not step up on defense when we needed to and ultimately that cost us,” MacDonald said.
The Ephs end their season with a 20-6 overall record, their fourth NCAA Div. III tournament berth in five years and their second straight Little Three title against Wesleyan and Amherst. In addition, Cook was named First-Team All-NESCAC after averaging 14 points per game and ranking in the top five in the conference for steals, assists and blocked shots.
“This team made great progress over the course of the season. We
played an extremely tough schedule with a very young team,” Manning said. “To win 20 games and reach the NCAA tournament was a major accomplishment!”
After losing six Ephs to graduation last spring, the women enter this year’s off-season with no graduating seniors, hoping to return a team ready to build off of this year’s success.
“I am very excited about next season,” Manning said. “I know that our players will work hard in the off-season to improve and expand their games.”