Amherst in Search of Second Straight NESCAC Title


From a NESCAC Release

AMHERST, MA – Amherst College will face Tufts University in the NESCAC Women’s Basketball Championship semifinal round on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. at Bowdoin College's Morrell Gymnasium, while the top-seeded Polar Bears will host fifth-seeded Trinity College at 2 p.m. The conference tournament concludes on Sunday, Mar. 1 with the final game getting underway at 1 p.m.

Fans unable to attend the game will be able to follow both of Saturday’s semifinal games as well as Sunday’s championship game via live statistics and live webcasts. Tickets for each day are $5 for adults and $2 for students, while children under 12 will be admitted free of charge. Advance tickets will be sold in the Bowdoin Athletic Department Office. Doors to Morrell Gymnasium will open at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.

Although Amherst (24-1, 8-1 NESCAC) missed out on securing the number-one seed due to the Jan. 30 setback to Bowdoin—the only loss the Jeffs have suffered this season—the defending NESCAC Women’s Basketball Champions managed to finish the conference slate with a better conference record than they did during their title run a year ago (7-2). The Jeffs picked up right where they left off after last season’s impressive 27-3 showing, setting a program record for best start to a season and consecutive winning steak by taking their first 18 outings of the current campaign.

After the loss to the Polar Bears, Amherst nearly faltered the next night but managed to edge an upset-minded Colby, 65-64. The Jeffs would go on to win their next five contests, including a 77-36 victory over the Mules in the quarterfinals on Saturday. Amherst’s convincing quarterfinal victory set NESCAC Championship records for most points scored in a half (53) and fewest points allowed in a game (36).

It may come as no surprise that Amherst’s dominance on the court has also translated into dominance on the stat sheet. The Jeffs are at or near the top of nearly every major statistical category in the conference, leading the league in scoring offense (72.2 ppg), scoring defense (48.7), average margin of victory (+23.5), field goal percentage (.431), field goal percentage defense (.326), steals (11.76) and rebounding margin (+10.0).

Champs_Lord Jeff
Amherst claimed the 2008 NESCAC title with a 59-53 win over Tufts.

Two sophomores have driven Amherst this winter: Jaci Daigneault and Sarah Leyman. The two have combined to lead the Jeffs in scoring in 10 of their last 11 outings and are among the league’s best in shooting percentage, as Daigneault is second with a .538 percentage and Leyman is third at .527. Daigneault leads her team with 12.0 points and 7.2 boards per game, having recorded seven double-doubles so far this season with five occurring in Amherst’s last six contests. Leyman is second only to her classmate in scoring for the Jeffs, averaging 10.7 points along with 6.0 rebounds per game.

Saturday’s late semifinal will be a rematch of the 2008 title tilt when Amherst faces third-seeded Tufts (21-3, 7-2 NESCAC) in what will be the second meeting between the two squads in tournament history. The Jumbos reached the conference championship last year for the second-straight time but were dealt a 59-53 loss and denied their first NESCAC title. The 2007-08 season was a record-setting one for Tufts as they won a program-best 26 games and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.

This season, the Jumbos have lost only three games, all by six points or less. One of those three losses came at the hands of the Jeffs, 54-48 on Feb. 7 in Amherst. Tufts heads into the final rounds second only to Amherst in scoring offense, scoring on average 70.6 points per game, while the defense is fourth at 56.2 points allowed.

The Jumbos have the top two scorers among this weekend’s championship field in the form of junior forward Julia Bailey and sophomore guard Colleen Hart. Bailey is sixth among all conference players in scoring and second in rebounds as she leads her team with 13.4 points and 8.0 boards per game. Hart, the 2008 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, ranks 10th in the NESCAC in scoring, averaging 12.1 points, and is fourth in assists with 4.54 per game.

Bowdoin won the first seven NESCAC titles before handing the crown over to Amherst last year, while Tufts and Trinity are each looking to win their first conference championships. Seventh-ranked Amherst and 15th-ranked Tufts looked poised to return to the NCAA Championship regardless of this weekend’s outcome, but Bowdoin and Trinity will be battling for the NESCAC’s automatic bid in order to ensure a spot in the national tournament.

Quarterfinals - Saturday, Feb. 21 at Higher Seeds
No. 1 Bowdoin 85, No. 8 Williams 52
No. 2 Amherst 77, No. 7 Colby 36
No. 3 Tufts 71, No. 6 Wesleyan 57
No. 5 Trinity 76, No. 4 Bates 71

Semifinals - Saturday, Feb. 28 at Bowdoin
No. 5 Trinity vs. No. 1 Bowdoin - 2 p.m.
No. 3 Tufts vs. No. 2 Amherst - 4 p.m.

Championship - Sunday, Mar. 1
Semifinal winners - 1 p.m.