Feb. 15, 2009

Courtesy of Washington-St. Louis

The No. 2 ranked Washington University in St. Louis men's basketball team captured the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship and gained the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament with a 71-63 win at Case Western Reserve University on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, Ohio. This marks the ninth conference title in school history for the Bears and 17th NCAA Tournament appearance.
        
Junior Aaron Thompson, Elida, Ohio (Elida) led the Bears with 19 points, and also added a season-high six rebounds, a career-best five blocks and four steals. Thompson, who was playing in front of 60 hometown-fans, increased this three-year point total to 967, just 37 shy of 1,000 for his career.
        
Senior Sean Wallis, Northbrook, Ill. (Glenbrook North) added 13 points and six assists, while junior Zach Kelly, Northbrook, Ill. (Glenbrook North) added 12 points and nine rebounds and senior Tyler Nading, Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Thunder Ridge) had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Nading also surpassed 1,400 points for his career in the win, becoming the eighth player in school history to achieve the feat.
        
Washington U. shot a season-low 32.1 percent (17-53) from the field and also hit a season-low three three-point field goals. Free-throw shooting was the difference in the game, as the Bears connected on a season-high 34-of-40 from the line. Washington U. has now won 12-straight games, and 27 of its last 28 dating back to last season.
 
The Bears’ defense set the tone early in the contest limiting Case Western Western to 0-for-6 shooting from the field and three turnovers as Washington U. scored the first eight points. A three-pointer by sophomore Caleb Knepper, Newton, Ill. (Newton) from the corner pushed the advantage to 11-0 with 14:30 remaining in the half.
        
Kevin Herring ended the drought for Case with two free-throws, and then went on to score the first nine points of the contest as the Spartans trimmed the advantage to 15-9. Herring continued to keep the Spartans in the game as he netted his 16th and 17th point of the game with a put-back at the 7:25 mark to make it 29-23.
        
WU found a way to stop Herring as the Bears put Thompson on him and he went on to block three-consecutive shots. The Bears were 2-of-10 from the field in the final eight minutes of the first half.
        
The Bears shot 34.5 percent (10-29) in the first half of play and trailed for just the fifth time this season at half, 36-35. WU also connected on one of seven shots from beyond the arc, and stayed in the game by connecting on 14-of-15 free-throws. Herring led all scorers with 17 points in a span of seven minutes in the first half.
        
With Case leading 45-44, the Bears’ clamped down and held the Spartans scoreless for almost five minutes. During that span, Washington U. scored eight-straight points, including five points by Wallis. WU took a double-digit lead at 58-48 with 6:36 to play after a three-pointer by Thompson and two free-throws by junior Cameron Smith, Noblesville, Ind. (Noblesville).
        
The Bears got the lead up to 11 with six minutes to play, but Case would not go away. A 5-0 run got the advantage down to six, and then a fast-break lay-up by Herring trimmed the lead to 64-60 with 1:41 remaining. WU hit 7-of-8 free-throws in the final 2:30 to seal the victory.
        
Head coach Mark Edwards is now just two wins shy of 500 for his career, improving to 498-234 (.680) in 28 seasons on the Danforth Campus.
        
Case Western Reserve (7-15, 4-7 UAA) also struggled from the field also hitting 34.3 percent (23-67), including 24.1 percent (7-29) from beyond the arc. Herrings finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for his second-career double-double. St. Louisian Steve Young had 12 points and five rebounds in his final home game.
        
Washington University (21-1, 11-0 UAA) opens a three-game home stand against No. 21 Carnegie Mellon University on Friday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.