WALTHAM, Mass. – After completing the second undefeated regular season in program history and the first in 22 years, the Bentley University Falcons will turn their attention towards a four-peat in the Northeast-10 Conference Women's Basketball Championships.
What they hope will be a three-game run to a record 18th conference championship will begin Sunday at 3 pm at the Dana Center with a quarterfinal game against Le Moyne College, the fourth seed out of the Northeast Division.
The Dolphins earned the right to face the season-long number one in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA Division II coaches poll by rallying past Saint Anselm College in a first-round game Friday night. Le Moyne, down seven as the clock went under five, closed with a 17-5 run to register a 58-53 victory, the Dolphins' first in a postseason game since 2008.
Bentley enters the conference championships at 26-0 following a 100-57 dismantling of Franklin Pierce University in the regular season finale Tuesday night. The Falcons put up 50 in each half and shot 55 percent, including seven of nine from three-point land, to reach the century mark for the first time since the final regular season game a year ago.
Four-fifths of Bentley's starting lineup have been instrumental in the Falcons' winning each of the last three conference championships, including senior All-America and two-time Northeast-10 Player of the Year Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS). She's been the championship MVP each of those years and Bentley's all-time leading scorer will enter this year's event 52 points away from 2,000.
This season, the versatile six-footer has averaged a team-best 17.1 points while shooting 59 percent overall. In Tuesday's game against Franklin Pierce, Battista added the Bentley record for career field goals to her list of accomplishments, taking possession of a standard that had been owned by Alison Fay for the last 30 years.
Two-time first-team All-Conference guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS), currently 43 points away from 1,500 for her career, follows with a 15.2 average after putting up 19 and 22 during the last two games of the regular season. The graduate student leads the Falcons in rebounds (7.4 per game), three-pointers (58), three-point accuracy (.457), free throws (82) and free throw accuracy (.812).
The other two Falcons who have helped Bentley post a 9-0 record in conference championship games over the last three seasons are senior forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Oliver Ames HS) and senior point guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS). Brugliera, who earned All-Northeast-10 recognition for the fourth straight year, averages 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds, and Bakolas has been steady at the point, producing 5.4 assists and nearly seven points a game.
Rounding out the starting unit for 14-time Northeast-10 Coach of the Year and 908-game winner Barbara Stevens is senior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich/Worcester Academy). Her scoring norm stands at 7.5 a game.
Off the bench, freshman forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) has earned All-Rookie honors in the NE-10 while finding playing time as part of an experienced and deep frontcourt. She has given the Falcons 10.2 points a game and her rebound average of 6.8 is second-best on the squad.
Bentley enters the postseason as one of two unbeaten teams in Division II, a distinction the Falcons share with Colorado Mesa. Stevens' team leads the nation in both scoring margin (+23.4) and rebound margin (+11.8), and is also in the top nine in four other categories, including scoring. The average of 82.3 is second best in school history.
Le Moyne has turned it around under first-year head coach Gina Castelli, with the current 15-12 record an improvement of nine wins over last season. The Dolphins have won their last two, limiting Pace and Saint Anselm to a total of 98 points in the process, and were 5-3 in February.
Third-team All-Northeast-10 guard Alex Marple is a major reason while Le Moyne staged its come-from-behind win in the opening round. She finished with 21 points, including 11 straight at one stretch during the closing burst. For the season, the junior leads the Dolphins at 14.8.
Forward Emily Greer, also a junior, follows at 12.3 points per game and is the team's leader in rebounds (6.1) and three-pointers (38). Niagara transfer Kayla Strohman leads the conference in steals (64) while also producing 9.4 points and 4.4 assists a game.
The Falcons and Dolphins met only once during the regular season with Bentley prevailing 79-56 in early January out in Syracuse. Brugliera scored a game-high 17 in only 19 minutes and junior guard Kelsey Mattice (Cicero, N.Y./Cicero North Syracuse HS) followed with a career-high 15 in her return to central New York.
Bentley and Le Moyne have met only twice previously during the postseason, both coming during the 2002 season. The Dolphins upset the Falcons in the NE-10 quarterfinals, 65-59, and the results were reversed a week later in the NCAAs, Bentley winning 65-54.
In the other quarterfinal games, Stonehill is hosting American International, Adelphi is at home against Franklin Piece and Assumption is at New Haven.
The semifinals will be Thursday night with the Bentley/Le Moyne winner taking on either New Haven or Assumption.
Links to live stats and pay-per-view video will be available at www.bentleyfalcons.com.