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After great season, Women end at Elite Eight

By Hannah Vickers

Section: Sports

March 20, 2009

WBBALL: Brandeis’ Morgan Kendrew ‘12 (No. 31, left) looks on while head coach Carol Simon speaks with the team during a time out.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

WBBALL: Brandeis’ Morgan Kendrew ‘12 (No. 31, left) looks on while head coach Carol Simon speaks with the team during a time out.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

The Brandeis women’s basketball team finished out their remarkable season this past Saturday in Amherst. In addition to reaching 20 wins for the fifth season in six years, the Judges also made it farther in the NCAA Division III tournament than they ever have before. In Sweet Sixteen play in Amherst last Friday, Brandeis came out on top of the Muhlenberg College Mules with an 82-70 victory. They advanced to play the Amherst College Lord Jeffs in the Elite Eight the following evening, but were unable to keep their momentum going and fell to their hosts 68-54.

The game against Muhlenberg Friday started off slow, with the teams trading baskets for the first few minutes. The game changing run started at 15:32 and, over the next eight minutes, Brandeis scored twenty points to make it 29-10. Coach Carol Simon said her team found a “groove [and] a confidence” that helped them. Cassidy Dadaos ’09 and Jessica Chapin ’10 led the Judges during that run with three buckets each and a total of six players helped push up the score while forcing Muhlenberg to commit three turnovers and miss 10 straight shots. With 4:32 left in the half, the Mules picked up a bit of momentum and, down 36-16, came back to score the last eight points before the break, narrowing the gap to twelve points.

Both teams came out in the second half determined to win. The Judges never gave up their lead, but Muhlenberg has been a dangerous team in the past. In one game against Ursinus College they came back from a 12-point deficit, scoring an impressive eight in the last minute of play. Brandeis was able to hold them off, however, even when the Mules went on a 10-3 with 9:12 left and closed to within seven points. The Judges battled back again with the help of Diana Cincotta ’11 and Chapin who, with a lay-up and three-pointer respectively, got the lead back up to 12. Despite the fight put up by the Mules, Brandeis held on to finish with an 82-70 victory.

The Judges had a balanced attack against Muhlenberg where all five of the starters scored in double figures. Chapin led Brandeis with 17 points after going 5-of-12 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line. Dadaos followed with 10 points in the first half and 14 overall in addition to seven rebounds, the most of the team. Lauren Orlando ’09 added 13 points to the score while Cincotta had 12 as well as a team-high three assists. Morgan Kendrew ’12 rounded out the group with 11 points, nine of which came in the second half. “We’re battle tested,” Chapin told reporters after their win. When the team was asked whether they would prefer to play New York University or Amherst College in the Elite Eight, Coach Simon dodged the question. She responded, “I’m really looking forward to playing the purple team.”

The Judges held Muhlenberg to just 38.3% from the field while shooting 50.9% themselves. This disparity, coupled with their rebounding advantage of 41-30, allowed Brandeis to move past their opponent fairly easily. The Mules coach Ron Rohn admitted it was a tough game. He thought emotions got the better of everyone and that they were, “trying so hard [they] weren’t playing as well.” They were led by Kelly McKeon ’09 who had a very impressive performance by leading all players with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. She fought hard to bring Muhlenberg back in the second half, where she scored 21 of her points. Alexandra Chill ’12, the second-ranked three-point shooter, had 15 points in the game but hit only 2-of-7 three pointers when she averages 3.2 per game. “I wasn’t as open as I usually am,” she said after the game.

Despite their impressive showing against Muhlenberg the night before, Brandeis couldn’t repeat their success when it came to Amherst Saturday night. The host team made it through to the Elite Eight after defeating New York University Friday night 74-51. After two hard fought halves against Amherst, the Judges fell 68-54, ending their NCAA run as the Lord Jeffs went on to their first Final Four.

Amherst lived up to their ranking of second in the nation in scoring defense, though the Judges did score nearly six more than the 48.4 average the Lord Jeffs allowed. Interestingly, they are also one of the youngest teams Brandeis faced this year, with three sophomores and two freshmen making up their starting five. Coach G.P. Gromacki doesn’t think their youth affects them, adding, “Our team is mentally tough… nothing fazes them.” That certainly seemed to hold true in a game where the Judges couldn’t catch much of a break and Chapin was held to only nine points, five below her season average.

Brandeis held only one lead of the game, and that was the first basket of the matchup by Dadaos. After that Amherst did not trail again, putting up a three-pointer on their next possession and never looking back. Dadaos kept Brandeis in the game in the first half, scoring half of the Judges’ 22 points. Fellow senior Orlando also contributed six points, but unfortunately that was not enough. With 11:44 left in the first the Judges trailed just 15-12, but back-to-back three-pointers by the Lord Jeffs brought the score up to 21-12. After trading a few more baskets, a buzzer-beating lay-up by Orlando closed the gap to nine once again, as the Judges went into the break down 31-22. Chapin was held scoreless in the first half, a rarity to say the least. “They put great pressure on me the whole game,” the co-captain said in the pressroom later.

The Judges came out of the break with everything they had and scored six of the first nine points, including Chapin’s first basket of the game. With 15 minutes left to play Amherst held only a six-point lead of 34-28. Just when Brandeis’ momentum was really going, the Lord Jeffs called a timeout to regroup and responded with a 13-2 run, bringing their lead to 47-30 with 10:02 remaining. The Judges made numerous attempts to fight back into the game, but the closest they got was 11 points away.

Despite some very impressive performances by Brandeis players, they could not compete with the Amherst squad who had two players score over 20 points. Shannon Finucane ’12 scored a game-high 22 points, and while she only went 5-of-15 from the field she was 10-of-10 from the line and had five assists. Jaci Daigneault ’11 contributed 21 points and six boards. Coach Simon was impressed with the team as a whole, especially Finucane. “She’s smart, the brain of the team… [and] really poised for a freshman.” Finucane attributed her ability to play at such a high level the whole game to being so young, saying that, “coming from high school when you don’t always have a full squad” gets you used to that level of play.

The final score of 68-54 meant the end of their playoff run for the Judges, but it meant a lot more for some players. Lauren Goyette, Cassidy Dadaos, Amanda Wells, and Lauren Orlando, the seniors of the squad, found it hard to come to terms with the end. “[There is a] feeling of surreal-ness…we dedicate our lives to this,” Dadaos said. “But we couldn’t have asked for a better way to end.” In the game Dadaos, a co-captain on the team this year, had her second career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 5-of-9 from the field in the first half alone. Orlando had a team-high 14 points, eight of which came in the second half, and hit 6-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from the line. Wells had four points on the night as well as one rebound. The four finished their Brandeis basketball careers with 79 wins in addition to reaching the NCAA tournament all four seasons, the first senior class to do so in a decade. “We’re truly an NCAA program,” Orlando said proudly. While they were certainly reflecting on their careers at Brandeis, they were also looking towards the future. Wells added that, “there will be expectations every year from now on.”

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