The women’s basketball team is just one game away from pay dirt.
Behind four three-pointers from freshman guard Lindsay Kimmel and 14 points from senior guard Ashley Morris, the Owls defeated Dayton, 56-51, to advance to the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship game.
Senior center Lady Comfort added a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds and junior forward Shenita Landry came off the bench with nine points and five rebounds. The Owls also pulled down 14 offensive rebounds as a team in their semi-final win over the Flyers.
The Owls advanced to their seventh A-10 title game in program history and their fourth in the past five years. But for coach Dawn Staley, this year was a little different. Due to having a young team and a lot of inexperience, her past accomplishments really didn’t factor into her expectations for this season. So having a loose team that’s always joking around and having a good time only helped things.
“We didn’t know exactly what type of team we had,” Staley said. “Of course, you want the goal of being here and being able to compete for an [A-10] championship…But this was actually a fun year. Fun, frustrating, you can never take this team too, too seriously. They’ll say anything that would make you laugh in the middle of a game. They’ve done that on a number of occasions, even today.”
One of the leaders of all that joking around is Morris, but her mindset had already shifted to tomorrow’s game. Even though she is playing in the third A-10 title game of her career, the 5’5 guard didn’t look back on the past or try and focus on the program’s accomplishments when assessing this year’s squad.
“We’re just going to come out and play,” the Owls co-captain said. “Whatever team wins [the George Washington/Xavier game], we’re going to be ready to play for 40 minutes.”
The game itself was a back-and-forth affair for the first 26 minutes, with the teams answering each other basket-for-basket. Neither team held a lead larger than six, as the score was an even 28-28 at halftime.
But mid-way through the second half, Kimmel struck. The Binghamton, N.Y. product nailed back-to-back three’s to help propel the Owls go to a 14-5 run that lasted over eight minutes. Playing her best game since Jan. 19 against George Washington, Kimmel began the game by nailing a trey from the left wing might, which may have helped her have this kind of day.
“Confidence wise, when I hit the first [three], it helps,” Kimmel said. “But I know mentally I’m going to miss a few down the stretch, it happens. But I just keep positive, coach always tells me ‘don’t worry about the last shot, worry about the next one.'”
However, the Owls almost had a monumental collapse.
Leading by 13 with 3:41 to play, the Flyers struck for a 9-0 run to cut the lead to four with under a minute to play. But the Owls never wavered, coming up with a big stop when they really needed it, which put an end to Dayton’s miracle comeback attempt.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Morris said. “This is what we do. We play in games like this and we hold people off. We’ve become that way, in the past, we couldn’t [hold the lead]. But now, we’re built like that.”
The Owls will play Xavier Monday at 5 p.m in the A-10 championship. The Musketeers downed George Washington 63-59, in the other semi-final game to advance to their second straight A-10 title game. The Owls can secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a win, but even if they lose, most projections still put them into the Big Dance.
Just don’t tell that to Staley.
“I think we were really fortunate last year to get an at-large bid,” she said. “And it’s tough, it’s tough. Like the [South Eastern Conference] and the [Atlantic Coast Conference], they get it-six, five [at-large bids].”
Tomorrow’s game will be televised nationally on ESPN2…Junior forward Shanea Cotton had three fouls-all offensive…Sophomore guard LaKeisha Eaddy shot just 2-13 from the field…Freshman forward Marli Bennett only made an one minute appearance, and when coming into the game, she delayed the pace a bit by not knowing what to do with her warm-up gear, before finally giving it to the exiting Kimmel.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.