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Tom Reisenweber | NCAA.com | March 27, 2014

Reisenweber: Using second chance

ERIE, Pa. -- Jacqui Brugliera wasn't a strong swimmer when she arrived at Bentley as a freshman.

After numerous basketball injuries and ailments have changed her workout routines, she can swim with the best of them.

“I'm a pretty strong swimmer now but I can only swim with my upper body because of my leg injuries,” Brugliera said, a star on the Bentley team. “I have a strong upper body now and some of my teammates swim with my so I have some buddies in the pool.”

Brugliera's rehab routine the pool has allowed her to fight through several injuries that could have sidelined her this season. The senior has used her second chance to contribute in a big way for the Falcons.

Brugliera had 17 points and 12 rebounds and has been a defensive standout in the post during the Elite Eight to help Bentley hold off Cal Poly Pomona 77-62 in the NCAA Division II Final Four on Wednesday in front of 1,258 fans at Erie Insurance Arena.

No. 1 Bentley (34-0 will look to cap a perfect season in the national championship at 7 p.m. Friday against No. 5 West Texas A&M.

Brugliera, a 6-foot forward, suffered a concussion during her sophomore season and had tendinitis in her right knee as a junior. She also had a floating body in her knee that was so painful that she had to have surgery. This year, she has dealt with tendinitis in both knees, another floating body in her right knee, a sprained right thumb that required her to wear a brace and on Wednesday, she bumped her elbow and will have to get it drained.

“I injured my elbow early in the game (Wednesday) but I didn't even notice it,” Brugliera said. “I've played through so many injuries that I'm just ready to play at all times.”

Brugliera is part of a senior-laden rotation for the Falcons and has been counted on to defend each opponent's top post player. It started with 6-foot 7-inch Amber Dvorak from Drury on Tuesday before she battled Jada Blackwell of Cal Poly Pomona on Wednesday.

“She's been huge for us and I think she focused mostly on defense against Dvorak on Tuesday,” Bentley coach Barbara Stevens said. “She knew that was her job, to stop Dvorak. I felt like she could be more of an offensive weapon (Wednesday) and she really stepped up. Jacqui has been a warrior and a tremendous competitor. She will battle to the bitter end and there's nothing that can keep her from playing on Friday night.”

Brugliera was 6-of-12 from the field and pulled down seven defensive rebounds to frustrate the Broncos, who are used to second and third chances on offense.

“Jacqui came up big for us not only on offense but defending Blackwell,” fellow Bentley senior Lauren Battista said. “She always defends the best post player and she's vital to our success. She had a stellar night on offense as well.”

Battista led Bentley with 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Caleigh Crowell added 21 points. Brugliera's contributions added to a loaded Bentley team that has different players step up each night.

“I think that's the biggest key for us is that we have so much depth,” Brugliera said. “It's really hard to prepare for that and if you take one or two of us out, the next two step up.”

After a yeoman's effort on defense and in the paint collecting rebounds, it was only fitting that Brugliera capped the Falcons' school-record 34th win by knocking down two free throws with 31 seconds left.

“We were able to unleash Jacqui on offense,” Stevens said. “She's very capabale of hitting big shots and when she stepped out and drilled a 3-pointer, it was icing on the cake. She's an offensive threat and will play every minute that we ask her to no matter what the injury.”

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