Comeback Kids Do It Again! Bentley Comes Back from 19 Down to Reach National Semifinals
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – For the third time in as many games, the Bentley University women's basketball staged a masterful comeback with the 72-67 win over the nation's top-ranked team, Wayne State College (Neb.), Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA Division II Elite Eight propelling the Falcons into the national semifinals for the first time since 2003 and the eighth time in the program's history.
The fifth-ranked Falcons, 31-3, will be back in the Greehey Arena, on the campus of St. Mary's University, Wednesday at 6 pm CT (7 pm ET) to take on 32-1 Ashland University, which routed Alaska-Anchorage, 71-51, for its 32nd straight win. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network (856 HD and 261 on Comcast).
For a long time, it didn't look like there would be another game for the 2011-12 Falcons as they trailed the Wildcats 54-35 when the second-half game clock went under 13 minutes.
But this was a team that scored the final seven points to win its regional semifinal game against Franklin Pierce University by two and erased a 12-point halftime deficit in the regional championship against Holy Family University before the second half was four minutes old.
"We've been in that situation before. That's given us the confidence to continue to play," said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens. "We were in dire straits, but found the will to come back and win. I'm so, so proud of the team right now."
Facing the 19-point deficit, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach went to the press and it couldn't have been more effective. Wayne State turned the ball over on three straight possessions, and in span of a little more than 60 seconds, Bentley had shaved eight points off the deficit.
"We had to do something and change up what we were doing. We put the press on and obviously that paid dividends with a huge momentum swing," said Stevens after her 852nd career win.
Junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop, Mass./Winthrop HS) made one of two at the line, sophomore All-America Lauren Battista (North Easton, Mass./Oliver Ames HS) hit a lay-up after a Finn steal of the inbound, junior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy) made the first of her four second half treys, and senior guard Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H./Governors Academy) had a steal and a lay-up. And all of a sudden, it was a 54-43 game with 11:31 left.
After the run was temporarily interrupted by a Wildcat three, the Falcons ran off the next 12 points, making it a two-point game with more than eight minutes still to play. Bentley's 34th run of at least 10 straight began with sophomore guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) hitting one of two from the stripe. Crowell nailed a three, Goodwin took the ball to the basket for two after a block, Finn hit a runner, Battista scored on a lay-up and Finn hit a pair of free throws.
Defensively, that run included a Goodwin block, steals by Battista and junior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington, Mass./Arlington Catholic HS), a charge drawn by Finn and a half-dozen Wayne turnovers.
A free throw by Goodwin tied the game at 59 with 7:15 left, but Wayne put up the next six points to quiet the Bentley surge.
With the Falcons down 65-59 with 4:30 left, Roberson buried a three and sophomore forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg. HS) made two free throws to bring Bentley within one and begin a game-ending 13-2 run.
Following a lay-up by Wayne State All-America Ashley Arlen (Cascade, Iowa), a basket that proved to be the final points of the season for the Wildcats, Bentley pitched a shutout over the final 3:30 of the game. A Crowell 10-footer with 1:51 brought Stevens' team within one, and a Crowell triple 49 seconds later gave the Falcons their first lead since it was 8-6.
After a defensive stop, Bentley was called for a shot clock violation, with the ball going back to Wayne with 20 seconds left. Brugliera came up with a steal, Roberson made one of two at the line and the lead stood at three, 70-67 with 4.1 seconds left. Wayne turned the ball over yet again, the Falcons' 16th takeaway of the final 13 minutes (after only six in the first 27 minutes) and Roberson locked up the Elite Eight win with two more free throws.
All told, the final 13 minutes saw Bentley outscore the Wildcats 37-13 while coming up with seven steals and four blocks. Offensively, the Falcons had only one turnover during that stretch.
The major turnover differential (22 for Wayne, 11 for Bentley) enabled the Falcons to outscore the Wildcats in points off turnovers, 31-13.
Battista, who kept Bentley relatively close with a 12-point first half (including a buzzer-beating putback to make it 35-24 at the break), led all scorers with 18 points. Her first basket of the game, in the midst of 13 consecutive made field goals for the six-footer (the last eight against Holy Family, the first five today), made her just the second sophomore in Bentley history to reach the 1,000-point mark. She also had nine rebounds and three assists.
Crowell and Roberson followed with big efforts off the bench, scoring 16 and 12 respectively, with Roberson also providing five rebounds and two steals. Goodwin did her best to make sure it wouldn't be her final game with 10 points and season-highs in both steals (5) and blocks (3). Finn led the Falcons on the boards with 10.
Arlen powered Wayne State with 17 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Bentley, which stretched its winning streak to 14, shot only 37 percent, as compared to the Wildcats' 48 percent, but countered that with 12 more field goal attempts, 12 more free throw attempts, 15 offensive rebounds and the 11 fewer turnovers.
Wayne State finished its season at 32-3 after having its win streak halted at 17.