ROCHESTER, Minn. – Defense has been the hallmark of the Amherst College women's basketball team all season, and on Saturday night, it was the difference maker in a 65-45 victory over Bowdoin College as the Mammoths completed an undefeated season with their second consecutive undefeated national championship.
Amherst (33-0) opened the fourth quarter on a 16-0 run to put a stranglehold on a game that they led by just four after thirty minutes. They eventually would outscore the Polar Bears by a 23-9 score in the final ten minutes, an identical margin by which they closed out Thomas More in the fourth quarter of their semifinals game.
Emma McCarthy '19 scored a career-high 25 points and was named the NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four Most Valuable Player. McCarthy finishes her two-year Amherst career having never lost a game for the Mammoths, who are on a program-record 66 game winning streak.
Sophomore Hannah Fox was also named to the All-Tournament team, finishing the game with 12 points, three assists, two steals and seven rebounds, including four on the offensive glass.
Bowdoin (29-3) continually battled back and held a two-point lead on several occasions in the third quarter, but Amherst's defense run to start the fourth helped the Mammoths open up the first double-digit lead for either team on a three-point play by McCarthy a minute into the period.
McCarthy (9 points in the fourth quarter) and the Mammoths continued to pour it on, and a layup by Hannah Hackley '18 put Amherst up by 20 points with two and a half minutes remaining.
"It's an incredible feeling. I'm so proud of our team and how they handled themselves all weekend," said G.P. Gromacki, who has now won three national titles in his eleven years with Amherst. "All the credit goes to the team. They fought through thick and thin. This is a special group that was the most resilient team I've ever coached."
Much like their semifinals game against Thomas More last night, Amherst fell behind early, and tonight they failed to score before the media timeout more than five minutes into the game.
Again like their semifinals game, they looked inside for points, specifically to McCarthy, who answered the call again with eight straight points to give Amherst their first lead of the game.
Bowdoin tied the game at 8 by the end of the first quarter, but in the second, Fox and Cam Hendricks '20 found their touch, hitting back to back three-pointers to put the Mammoths up 20-13. Amherst shot a perfect 5-5 from the floor to start the second quarter, including 2-2 from three-point range, and though Bowdoin clawed back, Amherst took a 26-23 lead to the break.
Amherst shot nearly twice as effectively from the floor, going 24-50 (48%), while holding a Bowdoin team that normally shoots 46% and averages 80.9 points per game, to just 15-55 (27.3%), right in line with Amherst's nation-leading defensive field goal percentage.
The Mammoths finished the season holding opponents to just 38.8 points per game, breaking the previous NCAA Division 3 women's basketball record for scoring defense of 39.2, held by New Rochelle (1999).
McCarthy recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 12 rebounds, a game-high, as Amherst smothered Bowdoin on the glass, 45-30.
"This game really encompassed what she has done all year with her leadership," said Fox of McCarthy. "She knows all our plays and all our opponents plays like the back of her hand, and is such a vocal leader. I'm so proud of how Emma played."
Hackley echoed those sentiments: "The stats really show Emma's ability on the offensive end, but she's calling out opponent's plays on defense. She's a great leader. She's vocal, and just a great leader all around."
Hackley ended her career with eight points, nine rebounds, three blocks and four assists. Hendricks had two more big three-pointers after finding her touch in the national semifinals.
Sophomore Madeline Eck added eight points, seven boards, three assists and three steals, as Amherst won a battle of NESCAC teams for the second straight year.
NESCAC play is super competitive. We played Tufts last year, and just played Bowdoin, so I think that's a testament to that," said McCarthy, who also praised the work of Gromacki, who is now 328-24 at Amherst. "Coach is super prepared, and he really gives us an opportunity to take the reins and come out and play. I think that's a testament to our team why everyone has such a powerful voice."
The national championship was much like many games throughout this undefeated season – in the end, Amherst always found a way to win. "We didn't always blow teams out, and people thought we would lose a game, and every time this team stepped up and made a play," said Gromacki. "It's a special team. It's a team I'll treasure forever."
Amherst will return from Minnesota on Sunday morning, and should arrive on campus between 2:00 and 2:30 PM. We hope to see you at Alumni Gym to welcome back the 2018 National Champions!