March 7, 2007
WORCESTER, Mass. - The American University women's basketball team fell just short in its quest for a first-ever trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament, losing to Holy Cross, 56-48, in the Patriot League Championship Game Wednesday at the Hart Center.
Holy Cross, playing with a roster depleted by early-season injuries, got contributions from its freshman class to overcome the Eagles. None were bigger than Patriot League Rookie of the Year Bethany O'Dell's. With just under four minutes remaining in a 44-44 ballgame, O'Dell hit consecutive three-pointers late in the game to give the hosts an insurmountable, 50-44 lead. AU got no closer than four the rest of the way.
American built itself a 29-19 halftime advantage on the strength of balanced scoring, tenacious trapping defense and hot shooting from the perimeter. The Eagles shot 40 percent in the opening period, holding the Crusaders to just 29.6 percent from the field in the opening period. Meanwhile, eight AU players scored, led by Liz Hayes' 10 first-stanza points. In contrast, just seven Holy Cross players played in the opening period.
American forced 13 Crusaders turnovers in the opening period, mostly through the Eagles' swarming trap. Talicia Jackson led the defensive effort, with three steals, part of an all-around first-half effort that also included a three-pointer, four assists and a key charge taken. Maggie Smith-Davidson also put up impressive first half numbers, ripping down eight of the Eagles' 16 opening period boards.
However, the Crusaders quickly began chipping away at the Eagles' lead once the second half began. Holy Cross got within four a little over two minutes into the period on a three-pointer by Brianna McFadden. American got its lead back up to eight on a layup by Nicole Ryan and a jumper by Liz Hayes, but McFadden hit another three-pointer, Kaitlin Foley hit a pair of free throws and O'Dell hit a trey to tie the game at 33 a piece.
While the Eagles answered again, they built up just a three-point lead with a Stephanie NGarsanet layup and a free throw by Hayes at the 11:32 mark. Brittany Keil pulled the hosts back to within one on a layup with 10:31 left, and the Crusaders took their first lead since the 8:22 mark of the first period when O'Dell hit another three-pointer.
Three-pointers were a big story in the game. American built up its 10-point halftime lead thanks in part to its five-of-nine performance from outside the arc in the opening period. However, the Eagles went just one-for-11 in the second stanza, while the Crusaders - who hit just one-of-eight treys in the first frame - hit seven-of-14 three-point attempts in the latter period. In fact, seven of the Crusaders 13 second-half field goals were from long distance.
This is the fourth league championship game in the 41-year history of women's basketball at AU, and the second in the team's six years in the Patriot League. Hayes led the Eagles with 14 points, while Nicole Ryan had 10 points. Smith-Davidson finished with 11 rebounds.
"We're going to learn a lot from this," Head Coach Melissa McFerrin said. "I had a whole team who wanted it and played like they did. I'm proud of our kids."
O'Dell had a game-high 20 points, while Kaitlin Foley scored 14 boards and added 15 rebounds for the Crusaders. McFadden had 14 points and six assists for HC. Keil finished with 10 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. The Crusaders held a 49-30 advantage on the boards.
Holy Cross' title is its 11th league title. Holy Cross Head Coach Bill Gibbons is now 35-6 (.854) all-time in the PL Tournament. Furthermore, the Crusaders are now 16-1 in the Patriot League tourney when playing in the Hart Center
Ryan and Hayes were named to the Patriot League All-Tournament Team. Foley and McFadden earned All-Tournament honors for the Crusaders, while O'Dell was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player