March 21, 2009

By Greg Chandler

HOLLAND, Mich. – The College of New Jersey capped off its most successful season in school history Saturday, rallying down the stretch to defeat Amherst (Mass.) College, 82-74, to claim third place in the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament.

The Lions (28-5) trailed 66-62 with 5:39 remaining, but came on strong down to pull out the win. Alyssa Michella’s 3-point basket from the left wing with 3:30 remaining put TCNJ ahead to stay at 71-69. A three-point play by Hillary Klimowicz and four free throws in the final minute iced the win for TCNJ, which was making its 12th NCAA tournament appearance, but playing in the Final Four for the first time in school history.

“For our seniors, it was really important to play well, to play hard, to play together,” Lions coach Dawn Henderson said.

TCNJ’s three seniors combined to score 55 points, led by Klimowicz, who was named national player of the year Thursday by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. The 6-foot-3 Klimowicz dominated inside with 25 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots. Michella, another senior, added 17 points, including four 3-pointers, and Lisa Koch, the third senior, chipped in 13.

The Lord Jeffs (29-4), who set a school record for victories and advanced to the Final Four for the first time, rallied from a nine-point deficit early in the second half with a full-court press that rattled the Lions. Point guard Shannon Finacune scored five points of her team-high 16 points during a 13-3 burst that gave Amherst a 66-62 lead.

“I hope they get a taste of what it’s like to be at a Final Four, and what we need to do to win the whole thing, because that will drive us for next year and years to come,” Lord Jeffs coach GP Gromacki said of his team.

Amherst All-American Jaci Daigneault, who had 14 points and eight rebounds, scored the game’s first seven points for Amherst, but with TNCJ consistently getting the ball inside to Klimowicz and Alex Gregorek, who had 14 points, the Lions rallied to take a 27-21 halftime lead.

Lem Atanga McCormick added 12 points for Amherst, while Kim Fiorentino added nine rebounds.