March 13, 2009

Courtesy Washington (St. Louis) Athletics

Bloomington, Ill., March 13, 2009 – The No. 5 Washington University women’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2009 NCAA Division III Championship with a 56-43 victory over the College of St. Benedict on Friday, March 13, at the Shirk Center in Bloomington, Ill. Washington U. will face either No. 1 Illinois Wesleyan University or No. 4 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for a berth into the 2009 Final Four on Saturday, March 14, in Bloomington, Ill., at 7 p.m.

The Bears advanced to the sectional finals for the second time in three years and the ninth time in school history. Washington U., which is making its NCAA-record 20th-consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, improved its all-time postseason record to 47-17, and will aim for its eighth trip to the Final Four on Saturday night.

It is the second time in school history Washington University defeated St. Benedict in the NCAA Tournament. Friday night’s sectional semifinal was a rematch of the 1999 NCAA Division III Championship Game, which WU won, 74-65, to win its second of four-consecutive NCAA Championships.

Friday’s game got off to a bit of a slow start as the two teams started to get a feel for one another, and Washington U. was the first to get on the scoreboard when Janice Evans drained a 12-foot jump shot nearly four minutes into the game. The Bears extended their early lead to 6-0 thanks to baskets from junior Zoë Unruh and senior Shanna-Lei Dacanay, and the Red and Green defense held St. Benedict without a field goal for nearly the first seven minutes of the game.

Another jumper from Dacanay at the 11:23 mark began what turned into a 10-0 Washington University scoring run, allowing the Bears to assume control of the game. A three ball from sophomore Kathryn Berger gave WU its first double-digit advantage, 15-5, and Unruh’s second basket of the game made the score 18-5.

St. Benedict (26-4) finally recorded its second field goal of the half when Danielle Frank hit a lay-up with 6:56 to play to pull her team back within 10 points, but a fast-break lay-up by senior Jill Brandt and a three-pointer from Unruh a minute later put Washington U. back in front by 15 points.

The Blazers cut their deficit to 10 points with a little over three minutes to play in the half when Ariel Tauer put in a lay-up, but they never pulled any closer and went into the break down by 12 points, 32-20. Washington U. held St. Benedict to 27.6 percent (8-of-29) shooting in the first half, and the Blazers started the game just 2-of-16 from the field.

"I think that both teams were playing some pretty good defense and it really reflected in the shooting percentage," Washington University head coach Nancy Fahey said. "Going into the half with the lead is huge at this time of year. I felt we executed pretty well in the first half."

Berger led all scorers in the first half with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, and Dacanay and Unruh both chipped in seven. The Bears shot 42.9 percent from the field and dominated the glass with a 23-15 advantage in rebounding.

St. Benedict came out strong to start the second half, needing less than five minutes to cut the Washington University advantage to fewer than 10 points. A pair of free throws from Amy Stifter made it an eight-point game, 36-28, and the Blazers made it a two-possession game when Heather Gillund converted two free-throws to make the score 39-34.

In danger of losing the lead for the first time since early in the game, the Washington University defense tightened and forced St. Benedict into a field goal drought that lasted nearly 10 minutes of the second half. A 13-2 scoring run that included a Brandt three and ended with a lay-up from sophomore Kelsey Robb resulted in a 16-point lead for the Bears, who would not trail by fewer than 12 points for the remainder of the game.

Berger finished with a game-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and was the only player from either team to score in double-figures. The Bears held St. Benedict to 26.3 percent shooting for the game, yielding just seven second-half field goals. The 26.3 percent shooting was the lowest total by a WU opponent since Case Western Reserve University shot 25.0 percent from the field on Feb. 15.

"When they made the push in the second half we really put it into our minds that we had to regain control and keep our tempo and play our game, and I really think we did that," Berger said. "Our team was passing the ball well tonight and there were several passes that hit me right in the hands and I was able to make the shots."

Senior Jaimie McFarlin finished with a game-high 11 rebounds in 18 minutes of action, and Washington University controlled the glass for the duration of the contest, finishing with a 43-33 edge in rebounding. WU continued to convert from the free-throw line, shooting 12-of-15 on Friday, and the Bears are now 55-of-68 from the charity stripe during the 2009 postseason.