Washington U. 65, Hope 59
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- After nine years, nine-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and two setbacks in the national championship game, the Washington University in St. Louis women's basketball team returned to the pinnacle of NCAA Division III women's basketball, capturing the program's fifth national championship with a 65-59 victory over No. 4 Hope College on Saturday, March 20, at the Shirk Center in Bloomington, Ill.
Washington University has now won a Division III record five national championships, including a string of four-straight titles from 1998-01. Washington U., who was appearing in its Division III record 21st-NCAA Tournament and record ninth Final Four, also advanced to the NCAA championship game in 2007 and 2009.
"Once you are fortunate enough to experience a championship, and then to wait nine years for another, you realize how hard, how special, how much you have to have a little luck, how fortunate you are to have that magical chemistry," head coach Nancy Fahey said. "You realize how special this is, and that is the difference this year, realizing how much things have to come together."
Graduate student Jaimie McFarlin and senior Zoë Unruh were both named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team, with McFarlin claiming NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player accolades.
McFarlin scored 14 points with a season-high 15 rebounds in the championship win while Unruh tallied 13 points. McFarlin earns NCAA Championship all-tournament honors for the third time in her career, tying Washington University Sports Hall of Famers Alia Fischer and Tasha Rodgers for the most NCAA Final Four honors in school history.
"When the confetti started falling, and it was real confetti and not the stuff in my dreams, that was when I realized we had really won," McFarlin said. "This is how you dream, to get to the goals that you set, it feels so good."
While McFarlin and Unruh earned the NCAA honors, it was junior guard Alex Hoover who led the team in scoring during its national championship win. Hoover poured in a career-high 18 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. She was the most clutch down the stretch, scoring 14 of her points in the second half and shooting 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.
"They are a very high pressure team, so we were trying to be patient on offense and stay calm and composed with their high pressure," Hoover said. "We ran our offense well, we had a lot of pressure releases that helped, and basically running the offense is what helped me today."
With her 15 boards, McFarlin eclipsed 1,000 career rebounds and ends her career as the Washington U. all-time rebounding leader with 1,013. She finished the NCAA Tournament averaging a double-double with 11.8 points and 11 rebounds per game and posted a double-double in both of the Bears' Final Four games, increasing her season tally to eight. She also tied Kean University's Melissa Beyruti for the most games played in Division III history at 128.
Unruh averaged a team-high 17.3 points per game during the postseason run and on Saturday she passed Hallie Hutchens (2001-05) for ninth-place in scoring in school history. She ends her career with 1,096 points, also ranking fourth in school history with 128 three-point field goals.
Washington University increased its NCAA Division III postseason record win total to 55, posting a 55-18 overall record in 22 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. WUSTL is now 5-3 all-time in the NCAA championship game and incredibly in 11 of the last 13 seasons the Bears have either won the national championship or been eliminated by the eventual national champion.
The opening period was defined by the defensive efforts of both teams, as points were hard to come by during the first 20 minutes of action. Neither team led by more than two points through nearly the first 13 minutes of the game until the 2010 Women's Basketball Coaches Association Player of the Year Carrie Snikkers drained a three-pointer at the 7:20 mark to lift Hope to a 15-12 lead.
The two teams combined to miss their first 11 shot attempts from three-point range before the Snikkers make and Hope was just 3-of-18 from the field at that point.
The Bears answered right back with a 6-0 run to turn the tables and take their own three-point lead. Sophomore Claire Schaeperkoetter started the run, and WUSTL regained the lead on a lay-up from junior Hannah Cusworth. On the next possession, junior Kathryn Berger sliced down the baseline and floated a two-footer up and over the rim to conclude the run, but Hope answered with a bucket from Rachael Kutney just 15 seconds later.
Cusworth drilled a 10-foot jumper to put WU back up by three and the Washington U. margin became six as Hoover drew a foul on Allie Cerone as she made a lay-up under the basket, converting the ensuing free-throw.
Washington University went into the half with a four-point advantage thanks in large part to its stellar defense. The Bears limited to Hope to 19.4 percent shooting (6-of-31) through 20 minutes of action. The Flying Dutch did sink a pair of three-pointers while Washington U. was 0-of-9 from long range. Hope hit just two field goals over the final 7:20 of the period.
"With the quick turn around (from the semifinal game) there is not much you can do in preparation except go to what you have done in the past, and that was our point defensively, and they executed the plan," Fahey said.
Hope started strong in the second half, hitting three of its first four shots during a 7-2 run that ended with the Flying Dutch ahead, 27-26. Unruh and Hoover had the answer for Washington U., as the sharp-shooting duo combined to score 11 of the Bears' next 12 points over 4:50 of game time to help the Red and Green claim their largest lead of the game.
Hoover banked in a 10-footer and drained Washington University's first three of the game during the crucial stretch. Twice, Hoover sliced through the lane and juked a defender under the basket, leading to an open lay-up. Junior Kelsey Robb hit a free-throw with 11:27 remaining to put her team in front by seven, 40-33.
The Washington U. lead was eight as McFarlin scored her 11th point of the game with a 15-foot jumper near the free-throw line, but that was the Bears' last field goal for over 4:30. Hope climbed back into the game and came within one-possession with a three-ball from Snikkers at the six minute mark before Berger answered with a fast-break 15-foot jump shot of her own to put WU back up by five.
Down the stretch Washington U. was clutch from the free-throw line, keeping Hope from pulling any closer than four points over the last 3:30 of the game; the Bears were 15-of-16 from the stripe during that period.
Snikkers led all scorers with 22 points, en route to picking up NCAA Championship All-Tournament honors, and Philana Green finished the game with 18 points. The Bears outscored the Flying Dutch 15-6 in points off turnovers and 16-4 off the bench.
Bear Notebook: Washington University ends the season on a 14-game winning streak … The Bears improve to 2-1 all-time against Hope, and avenge a 92-89 loss to the Flying Dutch in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, before Hope went on to win the national title … Washington University has now won 18 team national championships, and the University has won five over the past three years … The Bears held 29 of their 31 opponents in 2009-10 to no better than 40 percent shooting; Hope shot 31.3 percent from the field on Saturday … Washington U. improves to 23-0 this season and won its 43rd-straight game when leading at the half.