Bears win fourth straight title
DANBURY, Conn. — Senior Tasha Rodgers has always saved her best for her biggest games and she saved perhaps the very best in the last game of her career as the recently crowned Division III Player of the Year scored a career-high 36 points and added a career-high 13 rebounds and six steals to lead the Bears to a fourth-straight NCAA title with a 67-45 win over Messiah on Saturday night.
With the win, the Bears become just the second team in NCAA women's basketball history to win four straight titles, matching North Dakota State's run from 1993-96. Washington U. wraps up the season with a 28-2 record and extends its NCAA Tournament winning streak to 20 games. The Bears' five seniors, Rodgers, Lindsey Merrill, Kjersten Kramer, Sara Ettner and Rachael Krakoff wrap up their four years together with a four UAA titles, four NCAA titles and a 116-4 record.
Washington U. jumped on top 6-2, but Messiah answered with a five-point burst to take a 7-6 lead just over four minutes into the game. That would be the last time the Falcons would have the advantage as the Bears went to work. WU ripped off the next 10 points to take a 16-7 lead with 12:52 left. Messiah dropped in a bucket with 9:16 to go to cut the margin to 18-11, but it would be the Falcon's last field goal of the half. Another Washington run, this time 9-2, made the score 27-13 with 4:46 as the Bears rolled into halftime with a 33-18 edge.
Rodgers was unstoppable in the first half, dropping in 18 points and pulling down eight rebounds with two steals. Meg Sullivan added seven points and two blocks as the Bears hit 44% from the floor and held a 23-17 edge on the boards. The Bear defense was also on its game, holding Messiah to just four field goals and 17% shooting.
Messiah had no plans to go quietly, though, as the came out firing in the second half. Opening the period with a 10-3 run, the Falcons cut the margin to 36-28 at the 15:26 mark. And as the Bears' shooting began to cool, Messiah was beginning to heat up. A pair of layups and a three-pointer cut the margin to 40-35 at the 12:05 mark. Washington U. wasn't going to be denied its chance at history, though, as the Bears answered with 16-straight points to take a 56-35 lead. Rodgers was the highlight of that run as well, ripping off three consecutive steals and converting them all into layups. Messiah scored eight of the next 10 points, but it was too little, too late as WU's largest lead was the final 22-point margin.
Rodgers was named to the all-NCAA Tournament team for the third-straight season and was named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Performer. She was joined by on the all-Tournament team by sophomore Jennifer Rudis, who finished the championship game with 15 points and five rebounds. Meg Sullivan had nine points and Sara Ettner added seven rebounds.