SEMIFINALS: Wednesday, March 13th
The road to the NEC Championship will end on Sunday in Hamden, CT, as the 2013 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship Game takes place. The Quinnipiac Bobcats will square off with the Saint Francis Red Flash for the tournament title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The NEC WBB Road Trip blog will be providing coverage each day leading up to what should be a tremendous final:
Thursday: Semifinal recap/highlights & Championship Game quick glance
Friday: Top 10 Championship Game Storylines
Saturday: Full Championship Game Preview
Sunday: Championship Game Recap
The annual conference title tilt will be on Sunday at 5pm on ESPNU. We’ll have exclusive pregame coverage on NEC FRONT ROW LIVE presented by Pilot Pen, with myself and former Seton Hall women’s basketball head coach Phyllis Mangina hosting from our set inside the TD Bank Sports Center, starting at 4pm on NEC Front Row. Once the game goes final, we’ll then be back on the air for all of the postgame festivities on another edition of FRONT ROW LIVE.
#1) QUINNIPIAC 63 (29-2, 18-0), #6) MOUNT 56 (15-16, 10-8)
The Quinnipiac Bobcats continued their march towards history, however it was anything but easy. The Bobcats had rolled up 19 straight wins against conference foes, winning those games by an average margin of about 17 points. One step away from playing for that elusive championship, the Bobcats were greatly tested by a sixth seeded Mountaineer team coming off of a first round upset, on the road, against the Monmouth Hawks.
The game got off to a frantic pace with 18 points being poured in by the first media timeout. Quinnipiac would lead by as many as seven points in the first half, but a late 16-4 Mount run over the final 6:42, put the Mountaineers up by five points at the break, 34-29. It marked just the seventh time this season that the Bobcats trailed at intermission, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their demeanor. Despite trailing, QU maintained their poise and stayed calm, cool, and collected throughout. The five point halftime deficit tied their largest of the season and marked just the second time they had trailed at half on their home court this season. On the other side, in their previous two games against Monmouth, the Mount had given up second half leads. In one case Mount allowed a large Monmouth run that allowed them to come back and win. In the second game the Hawks were able to charge back and force overtime. So I was interested to see if the Mount could withstand the QU rally once it came and stay close the game out.
Mount would maintain their level of play through the first four minutes of the second half, extending their lead to as many as eight on a Jessie Kaufman three with 16:02 to go. However, Mount would only receive one basket in each of the next two four minute stretches. Meanwhile, the Bobcats made their expected charge. With their season on the line, sophomore guard Jasmine Martin took the team on her back, helping pace a QU 10-0 scoring run. Martin scored seven of the first ten points of that run herself. The All-NEC third team performer would go on to tie a season high with 22 points, scoring 15 of the 22 in the second half. In the two games this season where the Bobcats had the most at stake, the regular season title clincher at Sacred Heart and this semifinal game where the team was down at halftime with their season on the line, it has been Martin who has come up big in all of the big spots, willing her team to victory.
Felicia Barron, whose exceptional ball pressure and defensive awareness/anticipation helped force a couple of key turnovers in the second half, made perhaps her biggest play when she came from behind and knocked the ball out of the grasp of Mount’s Sydney Henderson after the redshirt junior had brought down an offensive rebound. Barron then ran down the floor in transition, taking it right to the basket, drawing a foul on Henderson. Barron would make a pair of free throws to break a 43-43 tie and give the Bobcats back a lead they would not relinquish.
In the second half, Mount turned the ball over 11 times while the Bobcats gave it up just once. The 21 overall turnovers for the Mount on the evening led to 20 Bobcat points. In the final minute, with QU holding on to a slim lead, it would be Sam Guastella, Brittany McQuain, and Boo Abshire making the biggest plays. After Jasmine Martin converted a layup high off of the glass off of a spin move inside the paint to put the Bobcats up 57-54 with under two minutes to go, Guastella stuffed a Lonergan layup attempt. Then after an Abshire missed free throw, Guastella raced across the floor to corral the offensive rebound and call timeout, to preserve possession for her team. Off of the timeout, Barron missed an open look at three, but Brittany McQuain collected a monster offensive rebound forcing the Mount to foul. The Bobcats would make their free throws the rest of the way, going a perfect 8 for 8 from the charity stripe in the final 3:17 overall, to officially book their date with destiny and head to the NEC Championship Game for just the second time in program history.
The win marks the 21st straight victory for Quinnipiac, tied for the fifth longest win streak in the nation, and the 20th straight win against NEC foes. The Bobcats, who are one of four NEC teams to never win a conference championship, can become just the fifth team in league annals to record a perfect regular season and claim the conference crown in the tournament. In addition to Martin’s 22 point showing, the Bobcats were led by Brittany McQuain and Felicia Barron’s 10 points. Guastella recorded 6 points on two threes, five rebounds, and three blocks. For Mount, they will continue to be a team on the rise. Last year they qualified for the playoffs for the first time in a while, and this year they took that next step in winning a playoff game for the first time since 2001. Some of the biggest reasons for that improvement this year were the experience factor and the addition of Jacqueline Brewer. Brewer is a big guard, and a very talented scorer. Her talents were on full display in this semifinal, leading her team with 20 points, including six three pointers. The Mountaineers will lose Selina Mann, who can do it all on both sides of the floor, and is one of my favorite players to watch play the game. Mann finished her career with 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals before fouling out in the final minutes.
Tricia Fabbri has had so many great players and great teams come through Hamden, but never before have the Bobcats hoisted the NEC Championship. On Sunday, in the 2013 final (which will end up being the Bobcats final Northeast Conference game), they will get one last opportunity to finally claim a long awaited championship trophy for the trophy case.
#4) SAINT FRANCIS 83 (17-14, 10-8), #2) SACRED HEART 67 (22-10, 13-5)
In a matchup between the two teams who have combined to win the last four and nine out of the last eleven NEC Championships, the Saint Francis Red Flash went on the road and unseated the reigning champion Sacred Heart, 83-67. Saint Francis led from wire to wire, jumping out to an 8-1 lead and never looking back. The first eight points were all scored by all-conference first teamer Alli Williams.
In two 20 plus point losses to the Pioneers during the regular season, Saint Francis averaged 53 points per game. On this night the shots would keep falling as SFU piled up 46 points in just the first half alone. Williams, who averages a double-double on the season, nearly had a double-double on the board in the first half with 17 points and seven rebounds. Williams creates tremendous issues for opposing coaches, because if you defend the perimeter she can beat you down low, and if you double her down low she can pass out to open teammates for open jumpers or even step back and hit the three herself. And that's not even factoring in how she can cause chaos on the defensive end with blocks or steals.
The Red Flash would be tested by a frantic final Pioneer run in the closing minutes to try and keep their repeat hopes alive. Sacred Heart cut the deficit to as little as 10 points off of a Gabby Washington jumper with 5:39 to go. However, just seconds later, off of a timeout, the Red Flash would get the ball to Williams in the low post and she would take it straight to the basket, completing an old fashioned three point play. The Red Flash would extend their advantage over the final five minutes to book their ticket into the championship game for a record 15th time in history and for the fourth time in the last five years.
Freshman guard Rebecca Sparks had a career night, netting a career high 27 points and draining five three pointers. Sixteen of her points and four of her threes came in the second half of play. Williams would end the night with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and 6 steals. For the Pioneers, they fell back into their poor shooting habits from the start of the NEC season when they began the conference year 1-3. SHU shot just 7 for 26 (26.9%) from the floor in the first half. They also turned the ball over 23 times on the night, and only recorded 10 points in the paint. Washington, on a 3 for 17 shooting night, led the team with 16 points and point guard Ericka Norman finished with 14.
The victory marks the 40th all-time playoff win for Saint Francis and their 37th in their last 39. Sacred Heart, who has won three of the last seven championships, once again fell short in a repeat attempt.
2013 NEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FIRST GLANCE
#4) Saint Francis Red Flash (17-14, 10-8) at #1) Quinnipiac Bobcats (29-2, 18-0)
Game Info: TD Bank Sports Center, Hamden, CT
All-Time Series: SFU leads 17-10
2013 Regular Season Results: 1/21: QU 81-69 in Loretto, PA…2/16: QU 61-50 in Hamden, CT
Playoff History: SFU leads 2-0…SFU won 69-62 in 2004 SF and 65-48 in 2005 SF
Notes: History and an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament will be on the line when Quinnipiac and Saint Francis take the floor in the 2013 NEC Championship Game on Sunday in Hamden. The Bobcats, in their final NEC game, can become just the fifth team in league annals to run the table in the conference regular season and claim the tournament championship, joining the 1987 Monmouth Hawks, 1994 Mountaineers, 2004 Red Flash, and 2009 Pioneers. QU is appearing in just their second NEC Championship game, falling to rival Sacred Heart in the 2006 final 69-65. The Bobcats are the 21st #1 seed to reach the final in the 27 year history of the event, with top seeds ending up cutting down the nets 15 times in previous 20 trips to the finals. Home teams (not including ‘neutral site’ games) are 15-6 in the championship round. The Bobcats defeated Bryant 79-55 in the quarterfinals in a balanced team effort where 10 players took the court and no one played more than 22 or less than 18 minutes. Felicia Barron and Samantha Guastella led the team in scoring with 13 points each. The Bobcats recorded 23 assists, two shy of the single game NEC tournament assist record, and 18 steals, four shy of the single game tournament steal mark. In the semifinals, the Bobcats defeated the sixth seeded Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers 63-56. Jasmine Martin was relentless in the second half, putting the team on her back when they needed her the most. After trailing by five points at halftime, Martin sparked the team by scoring 15 of her season high 22 in the second half. Martin also scored the first seven points of a key 10-0 run, and converted a huge layup in pain the final two minutes.
On the other side, the Red Flash are no strangers to this stage. They will be participating in their record 15th championship game and fourth in five years. They can add to their already crowded trophy case by bringing their record 12th championship trophy back to Loretto. It would be the program’s third in four years and twelfth in the last eighteen. Saint Francis boasts 40 NEC playoff wins, and has recorded victories in 37 out of their last 39 tournament games. The last team to go on the road and win the NEC Tournament was the 2010 Red Flash squad that, despite being a five seed, went to Brooklyn and beat the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds on their home floor, 77-68. The Red Flash are also the last team to have a first year head coach win the tournament title. In 2004, Jill Poe let the team to a perfect 18-0 conference regular season record and a tournament championship in her initial campaign. This year Joe Haigh, the first male head coach in SFU program history, can become the next first year head coach to claim the league crown. In the quarterfinals the Red Flash, down by one in the final 30 seconds, got an Alli Williams jumper to put them in front and eventually put them past CCSU and into the semifinal round. CCSU had a chance to go in front but Jessica Babe missed her shot with eight seconds left. Williams would rebound and make two more free throws to give SFU a hard fought 66-63 win on their home court. In the semifinals, the Red Flash, who were swept in a pair of 20+ point losses to Sacred Heart during the regular season, came out on fire and never let up. Leading from wire to wire, SFU punched their ticket into the final with an 83-67 win. The Red Flash can become just the second #4 seed to win the NEC Championship, to go along with Robert Morris in 1991.