Amherst's Title Hopes Dashed With 86-75 Loss to Wash.U. in National Semis

Sarah Leyman led Amherst with 16 points and
12 rebounds in the effort.

BLOOMINGTON, IL – The top-ranked Amherst College women’s basketball team’s hopes for a National Championship were dashed this evening with an 86-75 overtime loss to Washington University in St. Louis.  Amherst held a ten point lead at halftime, but could not hold on as the Bears forced overtime at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill. Wash. U. scored the first 12 points of overtime and held on for the win.

This is the second straight season that Amherst and Wash. U. have met in the national semifinals, with the Bears ending the Lord Jeffs’ quest for the 2009 Championship last year with a 65-49 result in Hope, Mich. Amherst fell to TCNJ the following day in the Consolation Game, while Wash.-U. lost to George Fox in the Championship Game.

Amherst took the floor in front of a packed house for semifinal number one with a starting lineup that led the Jeffs into the Final Four undefeated. Guards Shannon Finucane (Cortland, NY) and Caroline Stedman (Walpole, MA) joined forwards Jackie Renner (Newton, MA), Lem Atanga McCormick (Chicago, IL) and junior captain Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, OH) to start the game.

Leyman scored the first basket of the game one and half minutes in, before Atanga McCormick nailed a pull-up jumper to put Amherst up 4-0. Leyman pulled down an offensive rebound for a put-back on a Stedman miss, putting Amherst on top 6-0 early. After a Wash. U. turnover, Amherst got three looks on its next possession, ultimately leading to a pair of Atanga McCormick free throws to open up an 8-0 advantage at the 16:07 mark. Leyman made it 10-0 with 15:41 to play, forcing the Bears to call a timeout.

The Bears responded with a 6-1 run to close the gap to five points, before Stedman drove the lane and drew a foul with 13:13 remaining in the first half. Stedman made both at the free throw line, putting Amherst up 13-6. Just before the 12-minute mark, first-year Marcia Voigt (Skillman, NJ) pulled down a pair of offensive rebounds on one possession, setting up Leyman for another score inside. The bucket put the Jeffs up 15-6 heading into the game’s second media timeout at the 11:55 mark.

With 7:27 remaining, Amherst forced another turnover from the Bears which led to an Atanga McCormick score on the right block. The Bears answered with a score inside from Kathryn Berger, before a Janice Evans put-back closed the gap to 22-16 with 4:52 remaining. Berger scored on a drive to the right, but junior co-captain Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT) scored for Amherst in response.

At the final media timeout of the first half, Amherst held a 24-18 advantage with just 2:31 remaining before halftime. Following the stoppage, Wash. U. forced a shot-clock violation from the Lord Jeffs, but Amherst took possession back when Finucane caused a jump ball. After a stop on the defensive end, Voigt hit a jumper in the lane for the final basket of the half. With the shot, Amherst took a 28-18 lead into the locker room.

Lem Atanga McCormick had a double-double with
13 points and 10 rebounds against Wash. U.

At the break, Leyman led all players with 10 points and nine rebounds, while Atanga McCormick was close behind with seven points and six boards. Both players had a pair of blocks in the first half. Berger was the leading scorer in the first half for Wash. U. with eight points. In the frame, Amherst held a 29-15 edge in rebounds.

The Bears started the second half on an 8-4 run, closing the deficit to 32-26 on a Zoe Unruh jumper from the elbow. Amherst responded with another offensive rebound and put-back from Leyman with 15:01 remaining. Leyman was fouled on the play but could not convert the three-point play, and with 13:52 remaining, Leyman scored again to put the Jeffs up 38-28.

Just before the 12-minute mark of the second half, Finucane and Wash. U.’s Alex Hoover traded three pointers. Finucane’s triple was just Amherst’s second make of the night, while Hoover’s long ball was Wash. U.’s first. The exchange left the Lord Jeffs up 43-34 heading into a media timeout with 11:49 to play.

After a Stedman three from the left wing, Unruh scored for Wash. U. The three was Stedman’s first of the night after four misses from deep to start the game. With 8:31 to play, Wash. U.’s Jamie McFarlin took a steal at mid-court in for a three-point play to cut the margin to seven points. The two teams traded scores, and with 7:27 remaining Amherst held a 52-45 lead heading into another media timeout. After the stoppage, McFarlin scored inside on a reverse, before Stedman answered with a pair of free throws.

Unruh and Claire Schaeperkoetter hit back-to-back threes for the Bears, and with 6:15 to play, Amherst’s lead was down to 54-53. The triples capped a 15-4 run over a 2:18 span, and forced Amherst head coach G.P. Gromacki to call a timeout. After the timeout, Stedman scored a pair of buckets on either side of a Hoover score.

Unruh responded with a three to tie the game at 58-58, and after Leyman gave Amherst a lead, McFarlin scored again to tie the game at 60-60. Neither team scored before the final media timeout of the game was called with 3:27 to play. On the first possession after the stoppage, Berger made a pair of free throws to give the Bears their first lead of the game at 62-60, and just 3:08 remaining.

All-American Caroline Stedman had 15 points for
Amherst in the National Semifinals.

Renner tied the game at 62-62 with a pair of free throws, and neither team scored again until a Hoover layup in transition with 1:13 remaining. Atanga McCormick scored for the Lord Jeffs with just under a minute to play. The Bears ran 15 seconds off the shot clock, but threw the ball away late to spring Stedman for a steal alone at half court. Hoover chased Stedman down and fouled her to prevent a go-ahead transition score and send the sophomore All-American to the line with 26.4 seconds remaining.

Stedman was unable to make a free throw, and the ensuing possession went to the Bears. Hoover ran the clock down to hold for the final shot. Hoover’s turnaround in the lane did not fall, but after Atanga McCormick grabbed the rebound, and was called for a travel as she hit the floor. The call gave the Bears the ball in Amherst’s end with just 4.4 seconds to play and the game tied 64-64. Wash. U. went to McFarlin, but her jumper at the buzzer was defended well by Atanga McCormick, and rimmed out to force overtime.

The Bears took the first shot of the extra session, with Unruh hitting a three to take a 67-64 lead. Finucane tried to respond with a three of her own, but the shot would not fall. McFarlin scored in the lane on the next Bear possession. McFarlin found Hoover for a back-door layup, and with 3:11 remaining in overtime Amherst was trailing 71-64. After another Amherst possession ended without a score, Berger had a three-point play for the Bears that also sent Atanga McCormick to the bench with her fifth and final foul.

Stedman picked up her fourth and fifth fouls seconds apart, leaving Amherst without its top two scorers, down a dozen in overtime. Down the stretch, the Bears made free throws to hold off any Amherst hope for a comeback. With the final whistle, Wash. U. advanced to tomorrow’s Championship Game with an 86-75 win, while Amherst will await either Rochester or Hope College in the Consolation Game at 12 p.m. (EST).

At game’s end, Leyman led Amherst with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Stedman added 15 points, while Atanga McCormick had a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. McFarlin and Unruh carried the Bears back in the second half, as each player finished with 19 points. McFarlin pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds, including 12 after halftime.