WALTHAM, Mass. -- "Big time players made big time plays," said Bentley University women's basketball coach Barbara Stevens after her team rallied past Pace University, 64-61, to earn their first trip to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight since 2003.
And that is exactly what senior guard and Regional Most Outstanding Player Kim Brennan (Locust Valley, N.Y./Locust Valley HS) did in the final minute of the NCAA Division II East Region championship game Tuesday night at the Dana Center.
Brennan scored the game's final seven points to erase a 61-57 Setter lead and also came up with a key steal to carry the 15th-ranked Falcons to the win.
The regional championship was the 11th for Stevens and the Falcons since 1989, and earned the Falcons a return trip to St. Joseph, Mo., coincidentally the site of the Elite Eight when Bentley made its most recent trip.
"I've been doing this for a while," said Stevens, a Women's Basketball Hall of Famer who recorded her 821st career victory. "And this was certainly one of the most dramatic wins that I've been a part of."
With her team down 61-57 with 38.1 seconds left after the Setters reeled off six in a row, the Falcons' fifth all-time leading scorer drove to the basket for a lay-up. Brennan was fouled on the play and completed the three-point play with the free throw, drawing the Falcons to within one with 32.4 seconds left.
Brennan picked off a pass on the ensuing Pace possession and made it hurt at the other end, sinking a go-ahead 12-footer off the fast break with 12 seconds remaining, putting Bentley up 62-61. That was the 14th lead change of the night, the eighth in the second half.
Senior forward Brittany Huggins (Windsor, Conn.), Pace's top scorer with 25 points, missed a short jumper and Brennan collected the rebound with about two seconds left. She was immediately fouled, and made both from the stripe with 0.8 seconds left to essentially lock up the regional crown.
Bentley took control fairly early in the game, using an extended 20-7 run to open a 26-14 lead with 3:07 left in the first half. Eleven of the Falcons' first 17 points came off turnovers, and that run included six points from freshman forward Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS) and a three-pointer and a drawn charge by Brennan.
Pace closed to within four with a late 8-0 run, the final four scored by Huggins, but a Battista basket with about six seconds left sent the Falcons into the break up six, 28-22. Battista and Brennan led the first-half scoring with eight and seven points, respectively.
After the two teams traded baskets over the first five minutes of the second half, Pace ran off seven in a row, five by Huggins and a put back by sophomore forward Brittany Shields (Cold Spring, N.Y.) to grab a 36-35 lead.
Around the midpoint of the second half, Bentley had a 7-0 run of its own to reclaim a 47-41 lead. Sophomore guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS) nailed a three from the right corner, Finn followed with a reverse lay-up and junior guard Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H. /Governors Academy) went coast-to-coast for a lay-up after a steal.
Pace came right back, countering with a 10-2 spurt to regain a two-point advantage at 51-49, with 5:51 left. Huggins nailed a top-of-the-key three and junior guard Kerri White (Flushing, N.Y.) finished it with a three-point play after a steal.
Bentley would tie the game three times over the next two minutes, twice on free throws by freshman forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Wachusett Reg. HS) and a driving lay-up by Brennan that made it 55-all. Two more Brugliera free throws with 3:03 on the clock made it a two-point Falcon lead.
Pace (24-9) came back to tie the game on a lay-up by junior forward Maral Javadifar (Flushing, N.Y.) with 2:36 on the clock and took a 59-57 lead when Huggins knocked down a 13-footer with 1:50 left. It stayed that way until Javadifar hit a short jumper with 38.1 seconds left, making it a four-point game and setting the stage for Brennan's heroics.
Brugliera led the Falcons with 21 points, with nearly half of her points coming from the foul line where she was 10 of 11. Brennan finished with 16 points and two steals, and Finn was the team's other double-figure scorer with 11 points, along with a team-best six rebounds.
Huggins, an All-Tournament selection, led Pace with 25 points, and Shields followed with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Bentley had a slight advantage in field goal percentage (.447 to .433), but a big edge at the line. The Falcons were almost perfect at the stripe, hitting 17 of 18, while Pace attempted only five, making three.
Bentley will open Elite Eight play next Tuesday with a 1 pm ET game against 32-1 Clayton State.
At Waltham, Mass. (Dana Center)
BENTLEY 64, PACE 61
PACE (24-9) -- Brittany Huggins 11-21 0-0 25; Brittany Shields 6-13 2-2 14; Maral Javadifar 3-5 0-0 6; Allison Cleary 2-5 0-0 6; Carol Johnson 2-4 0-2 4; Kerri White 1-5 1-1 3; Kristin Connolly 1-6 0-0 3; Emily Trapani 0-0 0-0 0; Lisa Welsome 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 3-5 61.
BENTLEY (28-4) -- Jacqui Brugliera 5-9 10-11 21; Kim Brennan 5-10 5-5 16; Courtney Finn 4-7 2-2 11; Lauren Battista 4-11 0-0 8; Kelsey Roberson 1-1 0-0 3; Meghan Thomann 1-3 0-0 3; Katherine Goodwin 1-4 0-0 2; Lauren Massie 0-0 0-0 0; Shatasia Kearse 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 17-18 64.
Halftime: B 28-22; 3-point goals--P 6-16 (Huggins 3-5; Cleary 2-3; Connolly 1-4; White 0-3; Welsome 0-1), B 5-13 (Finn 1-3; Thomann 1-3; Roberson 1-1; Brennan 1-1; Brugliera 1-2; Goodwin 0-2; Battista 0-1). Fouled out--Shields. Rebounds--P 34 (Shields 10), B 27 (Finn 6). Assists--P 10 (Welsome 3), B 12 (Brugliera 3). Total fouls--P 17, B 10. Technical fouls--None