SAN ANTONIO, Texas – An outstanding season for the Bentley University women's basketball team came to a disappointing end Wednesday night when the Falcon express was derailed by an even hotter Ashland University team that featured national player of the year candidate Kari Daugherty (Fresno, Ohio).
The six-foot-one junior powered the 33-1 Eagles to their 33rd consecutive win and a berth in Friday night's national championship game with a dominating performance in a 77-62 Ashland win in the NCAA Division II National Semifinals Wednesday night at the Greehey Arena, on the campus of St. Mary's University. Bentley, which had a 14-game win streak snapped and finished at 31-4, put up a valiant effort, reducing a 20-point deficit to four, but in the end, just ran out of gas.
Daugherty, the Division II leader in rebounds and double-doubles, put up a rare 30-20 night, finishing with 31 points, 22 rebounds (one shy of the tournament record) and six assists while never leaving the court.
The last thing Bentley needed after a hard-fought first-round win on Tuesday afternoon in which the Falcons overcame a 19-point deficit with 13 minutes left was another big hole to climb out of. But that is exactly what happened.
"We needed to be our best tonight, and I'm not sure that's what we gave tonight," said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, who admitted that the grueling comeback against number one Wayne State a day earlier had taken a lot out of her team.
Ashland couldn't miss from the start, Bentley couldn't buy a basket, and by the time of the first media timeout with 15:41 left, coach Barbara Stevens had already burned two 30-second timeouts and her team was facing a 15-2 deficit.
Daugherty only had four of the 15, but her running mate, senior guard Jena Stutzman (Berlin, Ohio), netted seven points. Ashland, ranked second nationally in Division II, made seven of its first eight shots while Bentley misfired on nine of its first ten.
"Their defense was tremendous, they took away a lot of what we wanted to do," said Stevens. "And offensively, they made big shots."
Later in the first half, Daughterty poured in nine during a 13-2 explosion that made it a 33-13 contest with more than seven minutes still to play before the halftime break.
Bentley wasn't about to go away easily, running off a press-fueled 14-0 run (the 35th spurt of the season of at least 10 straight points for the Falcons) to close to within six, 33-27 with 2:35 left in the first. It began with a lay-up from sophomore forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg. HS) and was quickly followed by a lay-up off an inbound play by All-America sophomore Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS). Senior guard Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H./Governors Academy) came up with one of her nine steals in the two Elite Eight games and took it to the basket for two.
Brugliera followed with a put-back, sophomore guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) made one of two at the line, Brugliera knocked down an eight-footer, and junior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington, Mass./Arlington Catholic HS) buried a three-ball off the fast break to cap the explosion and force an Ashland timeout.
Bentley made it a five-point game, 35-30, when Brugliera hit a three with 35 seconds left, but Ashland countered when Stutzman did the same and went into the break up eight, 38-30.
Falcon junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop, Mass./Winthrop HS) scored the first four points once play resumed, the first off a put-back and the second following a steal, and very quickly, it was a four-point spread, 38-34. After a pair of Eagle free throws, Finn connected from downtown, making it a one-possession game, 40-37.
Daughterty went to work after that with the Dayton University transfer scoring eight during a 14-4 burst that restored the Eagle lead to 13, 54-41.
"Every time we felt the momentum would swing in our direction, they would come back with a dagger," said Stevens.
Bentley still continued to fight and got it back down to six a couple times, the last at 57-51 when Battista sank two from the stripe with 7:46 remaining. After Ashland scored the next six, the Falcons would reduce the differential under ten just one more time, on a Battista basket with 3:55 left. The Eagles answered with two free throws by sophomore guard Alyssa Miller (Zanesville, Ohio) and a three-pointer from Daugherty to beat the shot clock, and that would essentially to it for the 2011-12 Falcon season.
Brugliera and Finn led the Falcons with 16 points, with Finn also leading the squad in rebounds with eight. Battista finished with ten, but was kept in check all night with only one field goal in the first 34 minutes. Roberson had a solid effort off the bench with nine points, four assists and three steals.
Daughterty's effort was complemented by Stutzman with the talented duo combining for 53 of Ashland's 77 points (and 43 of the team's 58 field goal attempts). Daugherty made 13 of 24 from the floor, including 12 of 19 inside the arc, and Stutzman was 8 of 19 with four three-pointers, all of which seemed to come at key junctures.
Ashland outshot the Falcons 50-31 percent and finished with a 44-33 edge on the boards, Daughterty's 22 accounting for half the team's totals. The Eagles were also more efficient at the line, making 14 of 16 while Bentley misfired on seven of 19.
Turnovers and bench play were the only areas where Bentley had the advantage. The Falcons gave the ball up only six times while forcing 15, a differential that produced an 18-8 edge in points off turns. Bentley also had a 17-2 edge in bench points as four of the five Ashland starters played at least 36 points.
This was the final collegiate game for five Falcons: Goodwin, Elise Caira (Wakefield/Arlington Catholic HS), Meghan Thomann (Andover, Mass./Andover HS), Shatasia Kearse (Framingham, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Reg. HS) and Lauren Massie (Fairfax Station, Va./West Springfield HS).
While they will all be missed, the future is bright for the Falcons with the top four scorers on this year's team – Battista, Brugliera, Finn and Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy) – all having two years of eligibility remaining and the experience of two Elite Eight trips under their belts.