March 13, 2009

Courtesy of Hope

Only one game separates Hope College from playing on its home court next weekend at the NCAA Division III women’s basketball Final Four at DeVos Fieldhouse.

On Friday night, the Flying Dutch rode a strong second half effort to defeat host Thomas More College, 67-51, in the NCAA sectional at the Connor Convocation Center.

Hope (28-1) , which advanced to the sectional final for the second straight year and the fourth time in seven years, will meet unbeaten George Fox, Ore. (29-0) with a trip to the Final Four on the line at 7 p.m. Saturday night. The Bruins, who Hope defeated in last year’s sectional round, advanced with a 71-56 victory Friday over Oglethrope (Ga.) University, which had played in the Final Four at DeVos last spring.

Trailing 29-26 early in the second half, the Flying Dutch went on a 19-4 run, highlighted by eight points by sophomore forward Erika Bruinsma, to build a 45-33 lead with 12 minutes to play.

"The bench saved our bacon when our starters couldn't score," observed coach Brian Morehouse. "Luckily, when we were missing shots we continued to play good defense."

The Saints, who won the Presidents Athletic Conference championship, stormed back to cut the lead to 48-44 on Jayme Thiem’s 3-pointer with 9:11 remaining.

But then Hope guard Jenny Cowen took over. The junior from Dexter scored 13 of the Flying Dutch’s final 17 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, as they pulled away down the stretch.

"Our shot selection was excellent down the stretch," said Morehouse. "And it's a good thing because Thomas More was as good as any team in defending us this season."

Cowen led three Hope players in double figures with 18 points. Sophomore Carrie Snikkers had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds, and Bruinsma added 11 off the Flying Dutch bench.

"This is where we have wanted to be all season, playing for a chance to get to our home court in the final four," said Cowen.

Nicole Dickman led Thomas More (28-3) with 15 points.

Hope shot 37 percent from the field (24-of-65), including 6-of-12 on 3-pointers, while limiting the Saints to 29.6 percent shooting from the floor (16 of 54). The Flying Dutch committed just seven turnovers while forcing 17 Thomas More miscues.

Thomas More dominated the boards in the early going, but the Flying Dutch hung in there against the Saints. Thomas More built a 16-11 midway through the first half, but with most of its starters on the bench, Hope responded with a 10-2 run, capped off by a Rachael Kutney basket that gave the Flying Dutch a 21-18 lead late in the half. Hope led 26-25 at halftime.