MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Washington (Mo.) made four free throws in the final 12 seconds to earn a 78-75 win at Rhodes in the second round of the NCAA Championship on Saturday.
Washington U. improved to 22-5 with the win, while Rhodes ended its season with a 25-4 record. The Bears advanced to the NCAA Sectional for the 15th time in school history with the win, and are scheduled to play DePauw on March 8.
“We hit some early shots,” head coach Nancy Fahey said. “I think Lucy Montgomery really busted things open for us in the first half with her 3-point shooting, and that helped everyone else relax. I’m just really proud of how we bounced back [from 0-of-12 three-point shooting Friday].”
After Rhodes took its only lead of the game 73-72 on a 3-pointer with 2:52 remaining, Washington U. answered 13 seconds later with a layup by senior forward Kristin Anda to give the Bears the lead back for good. Both teams were unable to score the next four possessions, before senior guard Nishi Tavernier drew a foul with 11.6 seconds left to put the Bears in the double bonus. She made both free throws to give Washington U. a 76-73 lead.
Rhodes got a layup with 5.7 seconds left to again pull to within one (76-75). Sophomore guard Maddy Scheppers was fouled on the inbounds, and made both free throws to extend the lead back to three with 4.2 seconds left.
“We practice free throws every day, so it was routine,” Tavernier said. “[Saturday] in practice we talked about focusing on what’s going on within the sidelines. We knew the crowd would be in it and there would be a lot going on in the stands, but we just had to keep focused on the game and what was happening on the court.”
Washington U. jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the first eight minutes of the game, behind nine points by sophomore forward Melissa Gilkey. She was whistled with her second foul with 12:09 left in the half, and Rhodes went on a 12-2 run during the next three minutes to tie the game at 19 with 9:28 left. After a timeout by Washington U., junior forward Jordan Rettig made a free throw and a layup to put the Bears back ahead 22-19. A 3-pointer by Rhodes tied the game again, but junior guard Lucy Montgomery answered with a 3-point shot and freshman guard Jordan Thompson got a putback to make it 27-22 with 6:34 left in the half.
After the Lynx got within 34-32, a pair of free throws by sophomore center Steph Vukotic and back-to-back 3-pointers by Montgomery pushed the Bears’ lead to 10 (42-32) with 1:43 to play in the first half. Avant scored the final six points of the half, including four free throws, to make it 42-38 at halftime.
“You have to expect runs,” Fahey said. “Good teams aren’t going to fold. Rhodes wasn’t going to fold. I was really proud that when they made runs – and they made several throughout the game – we responded.”
The Bears scored the first six points of the second half to push their lead to 10 (48-38). The Lynx cut the lead to seven, but Scheppers made a three-pointer at the top of the key to again give the Bears a 10-point lead (53-43) with 16:39 remaining. Rhodes rallied to cut the lead to one (56-55) with 12:33 to play. Washington U. answered with a 7-0 run, including four free throws by sophomore guard Alyssa Johanson and a three-point play by Gilkey, during the next 2:38 to regain a 63-55 lead.
Washington U. pushed its lead to 69-60 on a basket by Rettig with 7:18 left, before Rhodes hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull to within 69-66. A free throw by Tavernier made it a two-possession game (70-66) with 4:55 remaining. The Bears clung to a 72-70 lead at the final media timeout with 3:11 left, before Rhodes hit a 3-pointer to take its first lead of the game with 2:52 to play.
Washington U. shot 42.9 percent (27 of 63) from the field in the game, including 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Bears were also 17 of 22 at the free-throw line in the game, including 13 of 16 in the second half. Rhodes shot 38.8 percent (26 of 67) from the field, including 9 of 28 (32.1 percent) from 3-point range. The Lynx were 14 of 16 from the free throw line. Washington U. finished with a 50-25 rebounding advantage.
Gilkey notched her seventh double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead four Washington U. players in double figures. Montgomery got 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting from 3-point range in the first half. Rettig added 13 points and seven rebounds, while Tavernier equaled her career-high with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists. Overall, 10 different players scored for the Bears in the game. Rhodes was led by Avant’s 29 points, eight rebounds and five assists.