AMHERST, Mass. – Amherst will make its third appearance in the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Championship Final Four in as three years thanks to a 68-49 win against Babson on Saturday evening in the national tournament’s quarterfinal round.
Amherst will head to Bloomington, Ill., to take on Christopher Newport (28-4) in the national semifinals.
The Lord Jeffs improve to 30-1 and will go down as the only team to defeat Babson during the 2010-11 season, as the Beavers (30-1) entered the game as the lone unbeaten team remaining in Division III.
Jaci Daigneault stole the show on Saturday by leading all players in scoring (24) and rebounding (9), as she used a dominant first-half performance to match her career high in points. Amherst built a 20-point halftime lead and never let the Beavers get closer than 16 in the second period.
Nicki Wurdeman scored six of Babson’s first eight points to help the visitors jump out to an 8-4 lead, but the Jeffs got going with a great seven-point sequence that featured an inside move by Daigneault, a pull-up 3-pointer from Shannon Finucane and a lefty lay-in by Kim Fiorentino that made it an 11-8 game.
Leading 18-13, Amherst went on a 15-2 run that featured 11 points from Daigneault, who kicked her game into a new gear and completely took over. Daigneault looked unstoppable as she opened her arsenal to help the Jeffs take a 33-15 lead with 7:26 to play in the half.
Wurdeman got the Beavers back on track with a jumper from the foul line, but the Jeffs went down low for four quick points by Sarah Leyman, who bumped Amherst’s advantage to 20 (37-17) and continued to perform in the paint despite being out-sized. The hosts led by as many as 21 in the period after a pair of free throws and would head into the locker room with a 41-21 cushion.
Leyman and Daigneault combined for 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes, as the Jeffs held a 19-10 edge on the glass. Daigneault led all players with 15 first-half points, while Amherst shot 57.1 percent as a team and held Babson to 36.4 percent.
Babson scored the first four points of the second half to cut its deficit to 16, but Amherst did not let the Beavers get any closer. Wurdeman used another nice move in the paint at the midpoint of the second period, as the Jeffs held a 53-31 lead with 10:00 to go. Amherst’s lead hovered between 20 and 25 until Damisi Adewumi hit a jumper to bring the score to 66-47 with 2:33 to play, and the Jeffs held on for the 66-47 win.
In addition to Daigneault falling just shy of a double-double, Fiorentino and Finucane had 12 points apiece for Amherst. Wurdeman finished with 16 points and eight boards to lead Babson, while Kathleen King chipped in with 14.
With 3:48 remaining in the game, head coach GP Gromacki put his four seniors back into the game to receive one last standing ovation from the home crowd. Daigneault, Leyman, Kristyn Dunleavy and Courtney Long are 118-9 as a group, including 74-1 in LeFrak Gymnasium. Amherst bumped its winning streak to 17 games and is unbeaten in its past 49 home contests.