Amherst's Repeat Bid Denied by Bowdoin in Finals, 49-46

Amherst (25-2) will hope for an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
Courtesy of Bowdoin College sports information

BRUNSWICK, ME – The Amherst College women’s basketball team came up just short of its second consecutive NESCAC title, as the Lord Jeffs suffered a 49-46 loss to eight-time conference champion Bowdoin College Sunday afternoon in the title game. The Polar Bears (23-4) earn the NESCAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament while Amherst (25-2) will likely receive an at-large bid when pairings are announced on at 11 a.m. on Monday, Mar. 2.

The Polar Bears never trailed in Sunday’s contest, but could never put the Jeffs away as defense ruled the day. Three-pointers by Jill Henrikson and Caitlin Hynes gave Bowdoin a nine-point lead, 15-6, seven minutes into the game. Amherst chipped away at the lead later in the period, using a quick 6-0 spurt, keyed by back-to-back hoops from sophomore Jaci Daigneault (Guilford, CT), to close the gap to two points, 21-19, with 6:14 left. The teams traded buckets for the remainder of the period as the host Polar Bears carried a slim 26-24 edge into the break.

Early in the second half, Amherst was able to tie the game at 29 when first-year Kim Fiorentino (Holmdel, NJ) connected on one of two free throws. Bowdoin responded with a key 12-2 run to take a 10-point lead with six minutes to play. Maria Noucas sparked the surge with a pair of running jumpers and Alexa Kaubris buried a three-pointer to give Bowdoin a 45-35 edge with 6:14 remaining.

The reigning NESCAC champs refused to go quietly, chipping away over the next four minutes. Bowdoin went cold, missing seven straight shots and Amherst used a 9-0 run to close the gap. When first-year Shannon Finucane (Cortland, NY) connected on a jumper with 2:08 to play, the Jeffs had drawn to within one at 45-44.

Seniors Yasmine Harik and Amanda Otieno accepted the NESCAC runner-up plaque for Amherst.
A lengthy possession ensued for Bowdoin, as the Polar Bears missed a pair of shots and grabbed both offensive boards. Jill Henrikson hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to 47-44 with 1:35 to play. Finucane replied with two free throws for Amherst that trimmed the lead to one point with 1:08 to go.

After a Bowdoin turnover, Amherst had a chance to take its first lead of the game with under a minute to play, but Fiorentino missed a baseline three-pointer and Sabrina Cote clutched the rebound. Cote connected on both freebies to give the Polar Bears a 49-46 lead with 14 seconds to play. Finucane missed a late three-pointer and Amherst could not get off another shot before time expired.

Daigneault led all scorers with 22 points while grabbing 14 rebounds in addition to three blocks. No other Amherst player saw double figures and the Jeffs only got four points from the bench. Bowdoin was led by 13 points from Hynes and 11 from Henrikson. Bowdoin forced 18 turnovers on the afternoon and scored 18 points off those miscues.

With six assists on the day, Maria Noucas tied Sarah Barton’s NESCAC Championship record with 21. Other tournament records included first-year Lem Atanga McCormick’s (Chicago, IL) seven blocks, Bowdoin’s team rebound average of 50.0 per game and Amherst’s field goal percentage defense (24.0).

The tournament championship is Bowdoin’s eighth overall and first under head coach Adrienne Shibles. The Polar Bears won every tournament from 2001-07 while Amherst won the crown in 2008.

This is the second consecutive year head coach G.P. Gromacki has led Amherst to a 25-2 record through the first 27 games of the season.