CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Sunday, March 17, 2013
#1) Quinnipiac 72 (30-2, 18-0), #4 Saint Francis 33 (17-15, 10-8)
It was the perfect ending to a perfect conference season. The Quinnipiac Bobcats completed just the fifth undefeated conference campaign in Northeast Conference women’s basketball history by defeating the Saint Francis Red Flash 72-33 in the 2013 NEC Championship Game on Sunday night. The way the Bobcats won the championship game was not only the exclamation point on a ‘once in a lifetime’ type of special season, but was extremely fitting as well. Quinnipiac not just won the game, but dominated the game, by showcasing the exact same ways they’ve won games all season long, by excelling at the three D’s – defense, depth, and determination.
Quinnipiac spent the last four plus months delivering intense pressure and creating turnovers. Their defense allowed only 57.7 points per game this season, nearly four and a half points shaved off of their average from last year. Their turnover margin is among the best in the country and their ability to make other teams pay by scoring off of turnovers at such a high rate was incredible. Quinnipiac’s pressure and pace defensively has been the difference all season long and on Championship Sunday, they took it to another level. In this championship game, Felicia Barron shut down the Red Flash backcourt the same way an elite cornerback can shut down a star wide receiver in the NFL. Alli Williams was forced to bring the ball up the floor several times because they couldn’t get the ball to their guards in the backcourt. Then once SFU got into their halfcourt offense, Camryn Warner and Sam Guestella did a fantastic job defending the first team all-conference performer. Williams touches were extremely limited in the first half, as she only put up 4 shots, and missed them all. Williams, the second leading scorer in the NEC at over 17 points per game, would end up getting shut out on the scoreboard in the first half. After scoring 46 points in the first half of their semifinal against Sacred Heart, the Red Flash found themselves trailing at intermission 32-15. SFU shot 6 for 27 from the floor and 2 for 14 from three through the first 20 minutes.
At the start of the title tilt, Saint Francis knocked in a three by Alexa Heyward only 41 seconds into the game to grab a 3-2 SFU edge…the Red Flash wouldn’t score another point for the next eight minutes. The Bobcats took a 3-2 deficit and stretched it to an 11-3 lead off of a 9-0 run that spanned 8:02. After the Red Flash made the next two baskets, one of only two occasions all game they would score four consecutive points, the Bobcats would extend their lead to 21-8 on a 10-1 run that spanned nearly four more minutes. QU being so active and alert, and contesting everything, didn’t do the Red Flash any favors in trying to get on the scoreboard. SFU would go on to shoot only 23.6% from the floor for the game. They would also turn the ball over 20 times on the night, leading to 26 Bobcat points.
Quinnipiac’s first half wasn’t without a minor flaw or two. There were several missed opportunities off of offensive rebounds and missed layups. Jasmine Martin also picked up her second foul with only three minutes gone by in the game. When Martin went to the stationary bike for the remainder of the half, that’s when the second D ‘depth’ came into play. Lisa Lebak stepped in and knocked down a couple of threes, along with piling up rebounds and assists. Sam Guastella picked up right where she left off in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s semifinal, making some great hustle plays, to the tune of 5 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block in the first half. Not to mention, it was Guastella who drew Alli Williams defensively when the Gold Rush came on. She would do a phenomenal job, holding her own, and keeping the Red Flash junior in check. Nikoline Ostergaard also played 11 first half minutes, and was all over the floor. She would make the most of her extended playing time with Martin on the bench. When all was said and done, the Quinnipiac ‘Gold Rush’ tallied 31 points, 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals, and 3 blocks for the evening. The 31 points would end up being just two shy of the entire Saint Francis team.
The second half wouldn’t get any better for SFU, as the Red Flash came out and turned the ball over on their first possession, leading to a fastbreak lead pass from Barron, up head to Brittany McQuain, for the easy layup. After a McQuain free throw, she would net another basket on a terrific fade pass into the lane by Abshire. She lobbed it up for McQuain, who went upstairs and brought it down with some terrific hands. McQuain was led perfectly to the basket, extending the QU advantage to 37-15.
Quinnipiac’s knockout run would come at the 17:15 mark following a Kelley Doogan jumper to cut the defect to 20. Over nearly the next nine minutes, the Bobcats would go on a blistering 18-0 run, extending their lead to a whopping 38 points. The Bobcat lead would grow to as many as 40 points in the second half, with players on both sides looking up at the scoreboard in disbelief. Alli Williams wouldn’t net her first points of the championship game until there were about two minutes remaining. After a pair of Ellen Cannon free throws, which ensured that all 11 QU players who entered the game for the Bobcats reached the scoring column, Coach Tricia Fabbri summoned seniors Felicia Barron and Lisa Lebak to the bench, but not before a long embrace to the tune of a thunderous standing ovation. The final seconds would tick off the clock, and the journey would become complete, Coach Fabbri and her special group of Bobcats would finally have their hard earned, and long awaited tournament title.
Quinnipiac’s 72-33 victory was historic on several fronts. The Bobcats have won 30 games this year (a NEC single year record), including their last 22 in a row. Having gone 21-0 against conference foes, the Bobcats join the 1987 Monmouth Hawks, 1994 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, the 2004 Saint Francis Red Flash, and the 2009 Sacred Heart Pioneers, as the only teams to have run the table and win the championship in the Northeast Conference. The 39 point margin of victory was the largest in not just Championship Game history, but NEC playoff history as well. The 33 points they allowed now stand as the fewest ever allowed in a NEC playoff game (the Bobcats had previously scored the fewest points in playoff history when they only recorded 36 in the 2011 quarterfinals against the Monmouth Hawks). Quinnipiac will now represent the NEC in the upcoming 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Brittany McQuain was dominant inside, controlling the glass and going upstairs to bring down anything her teammates lobbed up to her. McQuain was honored as the 2013 NEC tournament MVP with 14 points and 7 rebounds in the final. The junior forward averaged a double-double, 11.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, through all three tournament games.
Now we get to the determination part. This year’s Quinnipiac were a true team in every sense of the word. A talented group of young ladies, who came together, worked hard, were selfless, and were committed to each other and to their common goal. Ever since the Bobcats were upset in last year’s semifinal, no team has been more determined to win a championship than this one.
Some of the quotes from the newly crowned champions:
“We talked about this at the beginning of the year, saying that we want to go undefeated in the conference and that we wanted to win a championship. We achieved it all and we did it together, it’s such an amazing feeling” – Sam Guastella
“It didn’t seem real...I’m so proud of my team, we all came in together and did what we had to do, and now we’re champions” – Jasmine Martin
“It’s such an amazing feeling. I’ve never won something like this in my life. I’m just so happy for my teammates and this program and to go to the big dance!” – Camryn Warner
“Those last few seconds as the clock was winding down there were so many emotions…We’ve really progressed as a team and it’s such a great feeling to see all of our hard work pay off” – Lisa Lebak
“This is everything we’ve dreamed of for the past year, and to win it and finally bring it home is absolutely amazing…All these girls on my team, they have a fire and a passion that you don’t find in every team, and because we have that, I think that’s what makes us so strong” – Brittany McQuain
“We have such an unselfish group of young ladies who really want to win. It wasn’t about themselves, it was about the team, and it was about the team being focused on one thing and one thing only – and that was getting to today and winning today. I’ve coached and I’ve had a lot of great teams and a ton of great players, but I’ve never been in a locker room with a team that is as committed to a team achieving its best. Everyone has contributed to a win this year, and that’s the beauty of it, it’s truly been a team effort.” – Tricia Fabbri
Coming out of the 2013 championship there are really two big things that stand out. First, I can’t write enough about how happy I am for Tricia Fabbri. After 18 years with the program, and 15 years coaching in the Northeast Conference, she was finally able to have her championship moment. Quinnipiac has had a lot of great players and teams come through the door, but had also suffered through a lot of tough breaks once NEC tournament time came around. I’ve covered NEC women’s basketball for 10 years, and I’ve sat in a bunch of Quinnipiac postgame tournament press conferences where things weren’t exactly all roses and rainbows. But after this long road to see her finally get to embrace players, coaches, friends, and family at center court with the confetti raining down, to see her at the top of the ladder snipping off the last pieces of the net, and to see her get those well-deserved championship moments with her team, was real special to see.
The final thing to take away from the 2013 NEC Championship Game is that we just got to witness this special Quinnipiac team cap off their long journey together with such an emphatic exclamation point. The numbers: winning 30 games, winning every conference game this year by an average margin of victory of 17 points, and only having one NEC game be decided by less than three possessions, all speak for themselves. But to watch this team play, the way everybody contributes, the way they play on defense, all of the hustle plays that they make, really make this team stand out as a special, once in a lifetime, type of group. It’s once in a lifetime because even though many players will be coming back, and they’ll still be extremely competitive down the road, this particular team, with this particular collection of players, trying to complete a goal for the first time, will never quite be exactly the same like this again.
As far as their place in history, I really hope that this team is still remembered 10-15 years down the road. It’s almost like they’re kind of caught in between a rock and a hard place because they will be starting over with a fresh new history in a new league beginning next year. Because they will no longer be in the NEC 10-15 years from now, you would think there would be no reason for the NEC to remember this group in the future unless another team comes along trying to go undefeated. I hope that is not the case. I hope 10-15 years from now people in the NEC, the MAAC, or wherever, remember the 2013 Quinnipiac Bobcats for exactly what they were…an extremely special team, and quite possibly the best women’s basketball team to ever take the court in the Northeast Conference.
1. Brittany McQuain, QU – 14 points, 7 rebounds, 21minutes
2. The Gold Rush, QU – 31 points, 23 rebounds, 10 assists, 7 steals
3. (tie) Felicia Barron, Camryn Warner, Boo Abshire, QU