March 6, 2009

Courtesy Washington Athletics

St. Louis, Mo. - The No. 5 Washington University women's basketball team hung on to defeat Capital University, 77-72, in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday, March 6, at the WU Field House in St. Louis, Mo. Senior Jill Brandt led Washington University with 19 points and she was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line

Washington University (22-4) will face Transylvania University (23-5) out of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in the Regional Championship on Saturday, March 7, in the WU Field House at 7 p.m. Transylvania University defeated defending NCAA Division III champion Howard Payne University, 65-52, earlier on Saturday to secure a berth into the regional final.

Washington U., which is appearing in its NCAA-record 20th-consecutive NCAA Tournament, will play in the regional final for the 12th year in a row. With the win, the Bears improved to 45-17 all-time in NCAA Tournament action, the second-highest postseason win total in NCAA Division III history.

Washington U. led by as many as 10 points in the second half against Capital, but the Crusaders battled back to create a down-to-the-wire finish. A lay-up from Heather McAlpin at the 1:19 mark of the second period brought Capital within a single possession, as WU clung to a 71-68 lead.

Capital's Tara Harper hit one-of-two free throws with 33 seconds to play to pull the Crusaders within two points, 71-69, but the Bears held on for the win with stellar free-throw shooting down the stretch. Washington University sunk all six free throws it attempted over the final 31 seconds of the game and the Red and Green were 28-of-32 from the line in the physical battle.

"That was a great first round game and I am not at all surprised that it went down to the last five minutes of the game," Washington University head coach Nancy Fahey said. "Capital is an experienced team with five seniors and we expected a tough game. But when they made their run, some of our seniors stepped up too and made some big shots and big free throws."

The Bears stormed out of the gate, taking a quick 6-2 lead in the opening moments of the first half, prompting a capital timeout. The Crusaders gathered themselves and weathered the early storm, never trailing by more than six points in the first until the closing play of the period.

Senior Shanna-Lei Dacanay drove the lane and sunk a lay-up to give the Red and Green that six point lead, 15-9, with 11:56 to play in the first. Capital responded with back-to-back buckets from Kristen Richardson to once again pull within two points, and two teams seeming exchanged field goals until a free throw from Hilary Kuhns knotted the score at 27-27 with just over five minutes to play in the half.

Washington University sophomore Alex Hoover drained a three on the next possession to begin what turned into a 13-6 scoring run to close the half for the Red and Green. Sophomore Hannah Cusworth found sophomore Kelsey Robb under the basket with two seconds to play in the half, and Robb banked in a lay-up to push the WU advantage to 40-33 at the intermission, the team's largest lead of the half.

Richardson led all scorers with 13 first-half points, and junior Janice Evans had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting for Washington U. The Bears were dominant on the glass through the first 20 minutes of action, out-rebounding the Crusaders 21-11, and the Red and Green held a 7-0 advantage in fast-break points.

With 14:34 left to play, Robb scored once again to provide WU with its largest lead of the game, 49-39, but Capital scored 17 of the next 27 points over a stretch of 6:49 to come all the way back and tie the score at 58-58.

Once again Washington University buckled down on the offensive end and never allowed Capital to take the lead. Brandt converted a three-point play on the ensuing WU possession, Evans hit a lay-up 34 seconds later, and a free throw from senior Jaimie McFarlin made it a 6-0 Washington U. run. The Bears led by as many as seven points down the stretch, before icing the game at the free-throw line.

"We finished shots down the stretch, and that was the most important part of the night," McFarlin said. "With all of the nerves we were able to settle down and make shots, and that is something we have to carry with us for the rest of the tournament."

Evans ended the game with 14 points, and McFarlin filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds and a team-high five assists. Richardson led all scorers with 26 points, Caitlin Elsass put in 17, and McAlpin finished the game with 11. Washington U. held a 13-4 edge in points off turnovers, forcing the Crusaders to give the ball away 10 times.