Lord Jeffs Win First NESCAC Championship; Headed for the Big Dance

The 2007-08 Lord Jeffs are NESCAC Champions.

AMHERST, MA – LeFrak Gymnasium, on the campus of Amherst College, served as the site for the 2008 NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship this afternoon as the top-seeded Lord Jeffs took on No. 2 Tufts University. Amherst controlled the game from start to finish, and held off a late charge from Tufts to win the program’s first NESCAC title, 59-53.

Yesterday afternoon, the Jumbos advanced to their second consecutive NESCAC title game with a 67-50 win over No. 3 Wesleyan University. The Jeffs dispatched No. 4 Bowdoin in impressive fashion with a 71-47 decision. In the only meeting between Amherst and Tufts this season, the Lord Jeffs picked up a 64-62 win on a buzzer-beater in Medford, Mass. Neither program had won a NESCAC title or reached the NCAA Tournament before, both of which would be first-time milestones for Sunday's winner.

After five minutes of high-energy action, Amherst held a 7-6 lead on a great fast-break lay-up by first-year Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT). Senior tri-captain Shaina Pollack (Great Neck, NY) led the break and hit Daigneault with a pass to her back shoulder. The rookie made a great play to grab the ball and flip home a basket with a Jumbo defender closing in.

Amherst continued on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes of play, and held a comfortable 15-6 lead at the 10-minute mark. Tufts snapped the Jeff spurt with a basket by senior Khalilah Ummah (Litchfield, ME).

With just under six minutes to play in the half, Tufts’ Jenna Gomez (Norfolk, MA) buried a nice pull up jumper in the lane, but Pollack responded for Amherst with a three to put the Jeffs up 24-13.

The Jumbos got a lift from junior Kim Moynihan (West Hartford, CT) on a drive for a lay-in and the foul. She missed the free throw, but an offensive board gave the Jumbos the ball back. Tufts was unable to add on any more points during the possession, giving Amherst the ball with less than a minute to play.

Pollack had a shot blocked, allowing the Jumbos to hold for the last shot of the half. A lay-in just before time expired sent the teams to the locker room with Amherst up 29-21. Pollack finished the frame with 10 points to lead all players, while Ummah paced the Jumbos with nine points.

Tufts closed the gap to five points after just a few minutes of play in the second half. After three minutes of scoreless play by both teams, Amherst first-year Sarah Leyman (Cincinnati, OH) put the Jeffs up 34-27.

The Amherst lead stayed at seven points until the eight-minute mark, when Pollack drained her fourth triple of the day to put the Jeffs up 44-34. After a defensive stop, Leyman finished a tough three-point play the old fashioned way.

Moynihan hit the first three of the day for Tufts with just 5:33 to play in regulation, cutting the lead to eight points. The Jumbos picked up a stop, before another Ummah hook shot cut the deficit to 47-41.

After an Amherst timeout, Ummah was fouled while shooting. The senior was starting to take over the game, and had 25 points with over four minutes to go. Pollack once again answered for the Jeffs with a pull-up jumper.

The Lord Jeffs held a 52-44 lead with 1:24 to play, when Tufts went into hurry-up mode and started shooting contested threes. Amherst played tight perimeter defense and Leyman pulled down a defensive rebound and called a timeout. The Jumbos went into a full-court press with 46.7 seconds to play.

After a pair of free throws by Reiff, Tufts drained a three and then forced a turnover in the Amherst backcourt. With 25.9 seconds remaining, Katie Tausanovitch (Lyme, NH) drilled another three to bring Tufts to within four points at 54-50. After starting the game 1-for-10 from long range, Tufts hit a pair of triples just nine seconds apart.

Pollack was quickly fouled and made a pair at the line, only to have Tufts first-year Colleen Hart (Needham, MA) pull up and hit a three. Amherst made 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to close out the 59-53 win as Tufts couldn’t find anymore magic from long range.

Pollack finished the day with a career-high 22 points to lead Amherst, while Ummah led the Jumbos with 25 points. Reiff and Leyman each finished in double-digits for the Jeffs with 13 and 14 points, respectively.