Tigers' surge continues into national title game

More news about: DePauw | Williams
Ellie Pearson scored a game-high 15 points for DePauw and led the Tigers with nine rebounds in the win.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com 
More photos from this game 

By Gordon Mann

HOLLAND, Mich. --  Fueled by its depth and speed, DePauw surged past Williams 59-56 and into the NCAA Division III basketball championship game for the second time in program history.

"Well, we survived. It feels like we just survived," said DePauw coach Kris Huffman. "I'm really proud of how our team finished the first half and we made runs enough in the second half to get this win."

The Tigers (33-0) faced their biggest deficit of the season late in the first half when Ellen Cook hit a three-pointer to stake Williams (25-7) to a 23-15 lead. But Williams' All-star forward Claire Baecher went to the bench after picking up her second foul and DePauw took advantage.  DePauw senior Ellie Pearson hit a jump shot and the Tigers converted three straight Williams' turnovers into baskets. Williams took a 28-27 lead into the locker room, despite outplaying DePauw for a significant stretch of the first half.

At the start of the second half, the Tigers and Ephs traded leads until Emma Ondik and Ali Ross hit back to back three pointers, giving DePauw the lead for good and sending the energized Tigers' bench onto the floor.

"It was a great feeling," beamed Ross in the postgame press conference. "It's so much fun when your teammates surround you, it's so exciting. It was an unbelievable moment."

Danny Rainer hit a jump shot to pull Williams within one,and the Tigers responded with a 7-0 run keyed by Alex Gasaway's 12-foot jumper.  It was Gasaway's only basket of the game. The Tigers' leading scorer, who continues to play through a torn ACL, also contributed three rebounds in nine minutes. Ross finished the run with another crowd pleasing three pointer. She had 13 points in 31 minutes.

"Being our only scoring threat inside with her back to the basket, we're not the same team [with Gasaway's injury]," Huffman explained.  "But we've built this team around depth all season long and we  like to play to ten if we could for this very reason. I'm really proud of how they've stepped up."

DePauw's depth and quickness created problems for Williams at both ends of the floor. On the defensive end, the Tigers aggressively jumped into the passing lanes, grabbing 13 steals. Savannah Trees and Ellie Pearson had four steals each.

On offense, the Tigers' guards used speed to motor around the larger Williams guards. Williams forwards Claire Baecher and Danny Rainer were forced to contest shots, allowing DePauw to crash the rim and grab 17 offensive rebounds.

Williams shot 46 percent from the field (24-for-52. DePauw shot 35 percent from the field (22-for-63) but only turned the ball over five times and took 20 free throws to just two for Williams. When asked how the Tigers will spend Saturday before the championship game, Coach Huffman quipped, "Shooting."

Pearson led the Tigers with 15 points and nine rebounds and Savannah Trees added 14 points. Cook had 12 points and eight rebounds for Williams.

The Tigers improve to 33-0, which ties the NCAA Division III record for most wins in a season.  Capital had 33 wins en route to winning the 1995 national championship. Howard Payne did the same in 2008.

DePauw will try to break the record tomorrow and win its second national championship. The Tigers will also try to finish the seventh undefeated season in Division III women's basketball history.  Two of the previous six teams to go undefeated won the national championship at the DeVos Fieldhouse (Howard Payne and George Fox in 2009).

DePauw will play UW-Whitewater with tip off at 7:00 pm ET. UW-Whitewater is the fourth WIAC program to play for a national championship.

Williams plays arch rival Amherst at 4 pm tomorrow. The Lord Jeffs won two of three games against the Ephs this season, including a 53-38 victory in the NESCAC title game.