March 13, 2009

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - The College of New Jersey defeated the University of Rochester 70-58 Friday evening to advance to the Elite 8 of the Women's NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Tournament, played at the University of Rochester. The Yellowjackets trimmed the Lions' lead to six points, 64-58, with 1:09 remaining, but T.C.N.J. connected on its final six free throw opportunities to seal the victory.

The Lions will play the Scranton Lady Royals Saturday evening with the winner earning a trip to the Division III Final Four. Rochester had been 8-0 in NCAA playoff games at the Palestra before falling to the T.C.N.J. Lions.

In the first half, Rochester surged to a 19-9 lead following a layup from Melissa Alwardt with 11:54 to play before the break. T.C.N.J. answered with an 8-0 scoring run spanning about three minutes, which cut the Yellowjackets' lead to 19-17. The Lions' Hillary Klimowicz started the run with a layup, followed by three two-point jumpers by Amanda Gregorek.

T.C.N.J. outscored Rochester 6-2 in the final 2:49 of the first half to claim a 30-26 lead at halftime. The Lions' defense forced the Yellowjackets into 13 first half turnovers opposed to five first half turnovers for the Lions.

After Johanna McNelis connected a three-pointer for Rochester to cut the Lions' lead to one point, 30-29, T.C.N.J. stretched its lead to 13 points, 49-36, with a 17-7 scoring run with about nine minutes to play. The Lions eventually stretched their lead to 54-40 following a three-point basket by Alyssa Michella, but Rochester went on a 7-0 scoring run to cut its deficit to seven points

Alwardt began the run with a three-point basket followed by layups by Alex Porter and Julie Marriott. The Yellowjackets had the chance to extend its scoring run, but missed the front-end of two one-and-one opportunities.

The Lions scored back-to-back baskets to reclaim a double-digit lead, 60-49 with just over three minutes to play. Rochester cut T.C.N.J.'s lead to seven points again, 60-53, but Michella connected on a three-point attempt to reclaim the Lions' double-digit advantage, 63-53.

Jessica Mastronardi then connected on two free throws to bring the Yellowjackets to within eight points. Rochester forced T.C.N.J. to turn the ball over in its defensive end, but the Yellowjackets missed a layup opportunity and the Lions kept its eight-point advantage.

A three-point basket by Jessica Mastonardi cut Rochester's deficit to six points, 64-58, with about one minute remaining. The Yellowjackets' Alwardt missed two free throws with 43 seconds left, which maintained the Lions' six-point lead.

Lisa Koch corralled the rebound from the missed free throw and connected on her two free throws to stretch the Lions' lead to eight points, 66-58. Klimowicz and Nicole Diaz each connected on two free throws to stretch T.C.N.J.'s lead to the final score of 70-58.

The Lions' head coach, Dawn Henderson, was proud that T.C.N.J. played its typical game, "You need to take care of the ball, and we did that. Only 14 turnovers is a miracle. If we play our game and we do what we need to do then we'll do well."

After the game, Rochester's head coach, Jim Scheible, commented, "I think it was a case where they won the game and we didn't lose it. I thought we battled as hard as we could." The Lions finished the second half with a 60.9 (14-23) shooting percentage from the field in the second half.

Klimowicz scored a game-high 19 points for T.C.N.J. while Gregorek and Nicole Diaz each added 14 points. Rochester's Scheible said, "We knew how good Klimowicz was, but Gregorek was a monster out there. Our goal was to keep Hillary under 20 points tonight and we did that. Those two on the floor are a tough match-up." The Yellowjackets were especially impressed with Gregorek's turn-around jumpers. Scheible noted, "At this level, you just don't see players do that."

Coach Henderson acknowledged the combined force that Klimowicz and Gregorek provide the Lions, stating, "Hillary and Alex have both grown by playing against each other in practice every day."

Rochester was led by Julie Marriott and Melissa Alwardt who tallied 16 points and 15 points respectively. Alwardt also recorded 11 rebounds. Teammate Alex Porter recorded a game-high 14 rebounds for the Yellowjackets while Alwardt added a game-high seven assists.

Rochester's Scheible said, "I think what hurts the most is that we were on our home floor. When we tried to come back, they hit shots each time we hit shots." To battle the Yellowjackets' home-court advantage, Coach Henderson said that the most important thing to do is to maintain composure.

T.C.N.J. will not have to worry about fighting the home crowd in its Elite 8 game Saturday night. The Lions will play the Scranton Lady Royals at the University of Rochester's Palestra for a trip to the Division III Women's Final Four.