March 14, 2009

AMHERST, MA - The Amherst College women's basketball team earned a 68-54 win over Brandeis University in the NCAA Division III Championship Quarterfinal Round Saturday evening in LeFrak Gymnasium to punch a ticket to the program's first Final Four.

The Lord Jeffs (29-2) will travel to Holland, Mich., to take on either Illinois-Wesleyan or Washington-Saint Louis on Friday, Mar. 20, in the national semifinal round at Hope College's DeVos Fieldhouse. The Judges' outstanding season comes to a close at 20-8.

After setting several program records last year, which included a 27-3 record and a first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the Jeffs have continued to take the program to new heights. Head coach G.P. Gromacki has led Amherst to a remarkable 56-5 record in his two seasons at the helm.

Amherst earned a spot in this evening's Sectional Final with a convincing 74-51 win over NYU yesterday, while Brandeis pulled out an 82-70 win over Muhlenberg in its Sectional Semifinal. The Lord Jeffs and Judges have never met before in regular season, or postseason history.

After Brandeis scored the game's first points, Amherst sophomore Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT) responded with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Amherst took a 5-2 lead with a score inside from Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, OH) on the next possession. Daigneault put home an offensive rebound on a Leyman miss soon after, putting Amherst up 9-6.

Morgan Kendrew scored for Brandeis on a strong drive to left, cutting Amherst's lead to 11-8. Daigneault put Amherst back up five points at 13-8 with a short make in the lane, a score that would remain on the board when the Judges called a timeout with 13:07 to play.

After Brandeis cut the Amherst lead down on a score from Cassidy Dadaos, Amherst sophomore Courtney Long (Norwich, CT) made a three from the left wing. On Amherst's next possession, rookie point guard Shannon Finucane (Cortland, NY) banked home a desperation three from the right side as the shot clock expired. The heave off the glass put the Lord Jeffs up 21-12 with 9:48 to play.

Coming out of another Brandeis timeout, Amherst senior co-captain Amanda Otieno (Gloucester, MA) got into the scoring mix with a hard drive through the lane. At the seven-minute mark, Finucane found classmate Lem Atanga McCormick (Chicago, IL) for a mid-range jumper on the right baseline.

With just 1:45 to play, Finucane knocked down a jumper from beyond the right elbow to put Amherst up 31-20. In the final minute of the half, Amherst turned the ball over the Brandeis on a jump-ball, allowing the Judges to take the final shot of the frame. At the end of a scramble that saw both teams turn the ball over, Lauren Orlando made a last-second lay-up to send Brandeis to the locker room trailing 31-22.

Finucane Shannon Finucane '12 picked a good time to record a career high in points, as she poured in 22 thanks to a 10-for-10 performance from the line. At the break, Dadaos led all players with 11 points and nine rebounds, while Finucane and Daigneault paced the Jeffs with nine and seven points, respectively.

Long scored the first bucket of the second half on a jumper, before Dadaos and Jessica Chapin scored back-to-back baskets for the Judges. After a Daigneault free throw with 16:12 to play, Amanda Wells scored inside to cut the deficit to six points at 34-28 with 15:00 to play. Amherst responded with an 11-2 run over the next four minutes.

Daigneault and Leyman continued to have their way inside, and a pair of consecutive scores from the Lord Jeff sophomores put Amherst ahead 45-30 with 11:04 to play. Over the next two minutes, Brandeis was unable to cut into the Amherst lead any further, but around the nine minute mark the Lord Jeffs had back-to-back scoreless possessions.

Orlando drew a blocking foul on Leyman with 8:10 to play, before the Brandeis senior center made just 1-of-2 at the free throw line. With 6:51 remaining Finucane returned the favor, drawing a foul before making both free throws.

Daigneault made a pair of free throws with 5:58 showing on the clock, putting Amherst up 53-36. Orlando responded for the Judges with 4:35 to play, finishing off a three-point play the old fashioned way. On Amherst's next trip, the Judges forced a shot clock violation, before Chapin scored to cut the deficit to 56-43.

With two minutes to play, Orlando played some tight defense on Leyman to force a miss and grab a defensive rebound. Brandeis pushed the ball up-court, leading to a pair of Chapin free throws.

Brandeis continued to play full-court defense, but the Lord Jeffs maintained their composure, and score baskets in transition. With 57 seconds to play, Finucane made two free throws to put Amherst up 64-49. The Judges would creep to within 12 points, but Amherst continued to knock down its free throws to earn the 68-54 victory.

After scoring 18 points with eight assists in Friday's Round of 16, Finucane once again stole the show with a career-high 22 points and five assists. Finucane made all 10 of her free throw attempts, as Amherst shot 76.9 percent (22-for-28) from the charity stripe.

Daigneault was close behind with 21 points, adding six boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal on 7-for-9 shooting from the floor. Leyman chipped in with nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and three steals. The Jeffs shot 39.6 percent from the floor and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.

Lauren Orlando had 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting to lead the Judges, adding five rebounds. Cassidy Dadaos recorded a double-double with 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, while Jessica Chapin had nine points, seven boards and three assists while playing all 40 minutes. The Judges shot 36.1 percent from the floor, 1-for-8 from beyond the arc and 69 percent from the line.