WALTHAM, Mass. – Over the years, the Bentley University women's basketball team has reached the Northeast-10 Conference championship game 25 times in the event's 34-year history.
On Thursday, the Falcons will look to make it 26 in 35 years when they host Southern Connecticut State in one of two semifinals. Tip-off at the Dana Center is set for 7 pm with a free webcast available at www.northeast10.tv.
Bentley, which would host the championship game Sunday if it advances past Southern, captured the conference's Northeast Division and ran its record to 23-5 with a hard-fought 54-50 win over Stonehill in the quarterfinals, the 1,000th victory in program history.
Southern Connecticut, the number two seed out of the Southwest Division, advanced with a 70-60 win over Assumption Sunday. It was the fifth straight win for the Owls who'll be making their second trip of the season to the Dana Center. Back on Jan. 30, they fell by four points, 60-56, after the Falcons closed with a 9-2 run over the final 1:35.
In Bentley's quarterfinal win, the Falcons received a dominating performance from junior forward and NE-10 Player of the Year Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) as she scored a career-high 34 points, 63 percent of her team's total, while coming within one of the Kim Brennan's school record. The six-footer made 10 of her 17 attempts inside the arc and knocked down a career-best three triples in five tries.
Gemma, the East Region's top scorer, is averaging 20.3 points a season after setting a school record of 19.5 ppg. She's reached 20 in seven of the last eight games, a stretch in which she's averaged 23.8 a game.
In the first Southern game, the Owls contained Gemma, limiting the six-footer to a season-low nine points on 3-for-10 shooting. She did have ten rebounds, one of 14 times this winter she's had at least that many.
Bentley was led by its perimeter players in that contest with sophomore Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) scoring 14, freshman Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) 13 and senior co-captain Jane White (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan HS) a season-best 11.
For the season, Green and Lewis are second to Gemma on the scoring list, at 9.4 and 9.0 respectively. Both were recognized when the NE-10 handed out its postseason awards with Green a third-team All-Conference selection and Lewis named to the All-Rookie team.
The other constant in coach Barbara Stevens' starting five has been freshman post Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy). She's averaged 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in the last four games.
Southern Connecticut will bring Division's fourth most prolific rebounder into the Dana Center, senior forward Jackie Beathea. She averages 13.3 a game, along with a team-best 12.9 points, and has 20 double-doubles to her credit. No one in Division II has more offensive boards than her 174, an average of six a game.
Danielle Powell, also a senior forward, and junior forward Taylor McLaughlin, also score in doubles for the 19-10 Owls. Powell nets 12.3 a game and McLaughlin follows at 10.6.
Junior guard Maria Weselyj is the NE-10's most accurate three-point shooters, having made 37 of 80 for 46 percent. Bentley has three who are making at least 40 percent of their long-range attempts with Green second in the conference at .407, Gemma 23 of 57 (.404) and freshman guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS) 21 of 43 (.488). Neither Gemma or McConnell have made the requisite one a game to be included in the rankings.
Bentley leads the NE-10 in scoring at 67.6 points per game while Southern is fourth (65.8). The two are 1-2 in assists and the Falcons own a conference-best .365 mark from three. Defensively, the Falcons give up 59.4 a game and coach Kate Lynch's Owls 60.5.
These two programs, each of whom own a Division II national championship, have met three times previously in the NE-10 championships with Bentley winning two, 56-50 in the 2005 semis and 79-52 in the 2012 championship game. The lone Southern victory came in the 2006 semis, 55-36.
In the other semi, American International College, the Southwest Division champion, is hosting New Haven, which upended Saint Anselm in the quarters.
Sunday's championship game, which carries an automatic berth to the NCAA East Regional, will tip at 1 pm.