Final Four Preview: Jeffs Set to Chase Second Title

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Contact: Ben Badua

AMHERST, Mass. - The sixth-ranked Amherst College women's basketball team resumes its quest for a second national championship this weekend when it travels to Holland, Mich. for the final rounds of the 2013 NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship.

The Jeffs will square off against No. 22 Wisconsin-Whitewater on Friday, Mar. 15 at 5:30 p.m. in the first of two national semifinal games at Hope College's DeVos Fieldhouse. No. 1 DePauw University and No. 15 Williams meet in the night's other semi slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday's winners return to the court at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 16 for the national championship game, with the consolation game slated for 4 p.m.

TICKET INFORMATION: Single day general admission tickets are set at $10 for adults and $5 for students. Fans can also opt for general admission combos which includes tickets for both days ($20 adults, $10 students), while reserved seat prices are set at $12 per day. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling (616) 395-7890 from Monday-Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

LIVE COVERAGE: Each of this weekend's games will feature live stats and a free webcast.

VIEWING PARTY: Can't make it to Michigan and looking to watch this weekend's games on campus? You're in luck because the Friends of Amherst Athletics invites you to join fellow fans for Friday's semifinal game against Wisconsin-Whitewater which will be streamed live in Stirn Auditorium. Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 tip-off. Should the Jeffs advance to the title game, a live stream will again be made available in Stirn.

Please note that a viewing party will not be made available for Saturday's consolation game.

BEHIND THE SCENES: Hope College will post practice day and post-game press conferences on the tournament webpage approximately one hour following each event. For additional coverage be sure to check out our Final Four blog as Amherst Sports Information gives you an inside look into Championship Week with photos, videos, interviews and more live from Holland.

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HOW THEY GOT HERE
Opening the year with a 22-0 record, the Amherst women’s basketball team showed little signs of slowing down despite losing a senior class that posted an NCAA Division III record 124 wins en route to four consecutive Final Fours. The Jeffs suffered their only setback of the season on Feb. 10 against archrival Williams, ending the team’s record 41-game conference win streak dating back to 2009. Amherst responded by reeling off eight straight victories, capturing a fourth consecutive NESCAC title in the process.

Cruising past Trinity (80-34) and Bowdoin (60-45) in the first two rounds of the conference tournament, Amherst avenged its loss to the Ephs on Championship Sunday, posting a 53-38 triumph over Williams to secure another conference crown. The Jeffs carried that momentum into the NCAA Tournament, earning lopsided wins over Farmingdale State College (67-39) and the University of New England (71-34) before edging out Tufts (47-42) and Widener University (59-45) last weekend. With the win over Widener, the Purple & White extended their home win streak to 86 games (just two shy of tying the DIII record), while the Class of 2013 set a new national benchmark for victories over a four-year span with their 125th triumph.

Despite being the conference’s highest scoring team, defense has been Amherst's hallmark, ranking among the league’s elite in several categories. Holding opponents to 46.5 points per game and 32.3 percent shooting on the season, Amherst has been especially stingy during this year’s NCAA run, giving up just 40.0 points per game on 25.5 percent shooting.

FINAL FOUR HISTORY
Posting a 25-6 all-time mark in NCAA Championship play, the Jeffs will be making a fifth consecutive appearance in the Final Four. Despite its deep postseason runs, Amherst has only returned to campus with one championship (2010-11), after going just 1-3 in its previous four national semifinal games.

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SCOUTING No. 6 AMHERST
(30-1, 9-1 NESCAC)

Amherst’s success this season has largely hinged on the play and leadership of seniors Marcia Voigt, Jasmine Hardy and Bridget Crowley. Forming an experienced backcourt, Voigt and Hardy give the Jeffs versatility on the perimeter, complementing Amherst’s inside-out game.

The team’s leading scorer (12.7 ppg), Voigt has worked wonders as the squad’s point guard, leading the NESCAC in assists (4.4) en route to first team all-conference honors. Coming through in a big way against Widener in the Elite 8, she netted 12 of the team’s last 19 points, scoring 16 of her game-high 19 in the final 17:32 to help stave off the Pride's comeback bid. Ranked 12th all-time on the program's scoring list (1,069), Voigt is also just the sixth player in program history with at least 300 career assists (307).

With Voigt acting as the team’s primary ball-handler and distributor, Hardy as asserted herself as a potent spot-up shooter, averaging nearly 10 points per game. Shooting close to 40 percent from beyond the arc for her career, Hardy has helped Amherst spread the floor, knocking down 69 triples on the season, while leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5).

Meanwhile, Crowley has formed one half of a formidable front-court duo, blossoming into a strong presence in the post after averaging just over 11 minutes per game last year. Putting up an average of 10 points and seven rebounds while starting all 31 games in 2012-13, she has been a force during the postseason, averaging 15.5 points and 10.8 boards in the Jeffs’ four tourney games. Recording four of her five double-doubles in the last month, Crowley is coming off arguably her best performance to date as she tallied 17 points and a career-high 16 rebounds against Widener.

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Bursting onto the scene as the NESCAC Rookie of the Year in 2011-12, Megan Robertson ’15 has continued to develop as one of the league’s premier post players this season. A second team all-conference selection, Robertson has put any fears of a sophomore slump to rest, averaging 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per outing. Already fifth on the program’s all-time blocked shots list (124), she currently leads the NESCAC in field goal percentage (52.0) and rebounds (8.7), while sitting second in rejections (2.7).

Rounding out Amherst’s usual starting five, Cheyenne Pritchard ’16 has logged extensive and invaluable minutes as a first-year (30.4). Her offensive numbers (4.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) hardly tell the tale, as Pritchard's defensive intensity has helped the Jeffs rank first in the league in rebounding margin (+9.4), second in scoring defense (46.5) and third in opponent field goal percentage (32.3).

Capable of giving Amherst a spark off the bench are forward Savannah Holness ’15 and point guard Haley Zwecker ’16. Having played many important minutes this season, Holness enters this weekend’s play averaging 7.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while Zwecker has recorded almost 17 minutes per game in 29 appearances, capably spelling Voigt at the point.

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SCOUTING No. 22 UW-Whitewater (25-6, 14-2 WIAC)
Winning the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) regular season title, the Warhawks finished as runners-up in the conference tournament before earning an at-large bid to their 13th NCAA Tournament. With a 19-12 all-time record in Championship play, Wisconsin-Whitewater will make just its second appearance in the Final Four, having last reached the national semifinal in 2008.

Enjoying a nine-game win streak before dropping an overtime thriller to Wisconsin-Stevens Point (76-71) in the WIAC championship, the Warhawks cruised past Wisconsin Lutheran (68-48) and Carthage (71-51) to open NCAA play. After a 76-63 Sweet 16 win over Simpson (a team which Amherst edged 62-60 in December), Whitewater denied Hope a chance to play a Final Four game on its home floor, ousting the Flying Dutchmen 65-60 in the Elite Eight.

Headlining the WIAC’s highest scoring offense (70.3 ppg) is all-conference honoree Cortney Kumerow ’13. Just the second player in school history to tally at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks, she is in the midst of a stellar senior season, averaging 13.1 points, 7.9 boards and 1.5 rejections per game. Scoring 14 points with 10 boards against Hope, Kumerow averaged 10.0 points and 11.0 rebounds during the sectional rounds.

With Kumerow serving as a powerful presence inside, guards Kaitlyn Thill ’14, Sam Quandt ’13 and Mary Merg ’14 give the Warhawks balance on the perimeter. An all-conference honoree as well, Thill also picked up a third consecutive nod to the WIAC all-defensive team after leading the league in steals per game (3.45). The program’s career steals leader (304), Thill has also shown the ability to generate offense, ranking second on the squad in scoring (11.9 ppg), while leading the league in assists (3.42) and assist-to-turnover (1.47) ratio.

Emerging as the team’s third option, Merg enters the Final Four averaging 10.0 ppg after scoring 17 in the sectional semifinal win over Simpson and 14 on 5-for-10 shooting against Hope. Quandt, who ranks second all-time on the program charts in career three-point percentage (39.1), has also proven to be capable of doing damage offensively after netting a team-high 19 points in the win over the Flying Dutchmen.

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SCOUTING No. 1 DePauw
(32-0, 16-0 NCAC)

The nation’s only remaining unbeaten, top-ranked DePauw has steamrolled the competition en route to a third Final Four appearance. Defeating Kenyon 63-49 in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) championship, the Tigers routed La Roche (73-43) and Maryville (78-51) to open NCAA Tournament play before handling perennial power Washington-St. Louis in the Sweet 16, 59-42.

Shooting 52 percent in a 76-55 win over No. 17 Christopher Newport, DePauw punched its ticket to the national semifinals. The NCAC leader in numerous categories including points per game (71.9) and points allowed (45.1), the Tigers carry a plus-12.9 rebounding edge over their opponents into Holland, along with an impressive 26.8-point margin of victory.

First team all-conference honorees Alex Gasaway ’14 and Kate Walker ’13 pave the way for a balanced DePauw attack. Second in the league in field goal percentage (54.0), Gasaway also sits among the NCAC leaders in points (13.6) and rebounds (6.1) per game. A senior guard, Walker sports the conference’s highest assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7), while ranking second in helpers (3.8). Shooting 44.1 percent from the floor and 57.9 percent from long distance, she is averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists during the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament run.

Garnering second team recognition, forward Ellie Pearson ’13 and Savannah Trees ’15 have also established themselves as solid contributors. Each netting a game-high 21 points against Christopher Newport, the duo combined to go 14-for-20 from the field, while adding nine rebounds. Currently third in the league in field goal percentage (50.0), blocks (0.9), steals (1.9), and rebounds (8.1), Pearson averages 7.9 points per game, while Trees sits second on the squad in scoring (11.6), first in the NCAC in three-point shooting (45.0) and fourth in overall field goal percentage (49.3).

Honorable mention all-WIAC pick Ali Ross ’14 gives the Tigers yet another option on the offensive end, netting almost eight points per game, while Alison Stephens ’14, who had 11 rebounds against the Captains, averages 6.2 points and 6.8 boards per outing.

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SCOUTING No. 15 Williams
(26-5, 9-1 NESCAC)

Winners of 10 of their last 11, the Ephs earned an at-large bid to this year’s championship field despite falling to Amherst (53-38) in the conference title game. Opening NCAA play with a 79-59 victory over Scranton, Williams upset second-round host Rochester (68-60) before edging out a 64-60 overtime thriller against Ithaca in the sectional semifinals. Securing a 63-53 victory over Whitman last Saturday in Williamstown, the Ephs earned their first-ever berth into the Final Four.

NESCAC Player of the Year Claire Baecher ’13 has predictably played an instrumental role in Williams’ postseason run, averaging 17.8 points and 10.5 rebounds during the course of tournament play. The league leader in blocks (2.8), she also ranks fourth in rebounding (7.3) and fifth in the conference in scoring (14.1). Getting the Ephs off to a great start in round one, she poured in 23 points and 14 rebounds against Scranton before later tallying 19 points and 10 rebounds against Ithaca in the sectional semifinals.

Joining Baecher up front is senior forward Danny Rainer, who currently sits second in the NESCAC in field goal percentage (50.9). Averaging 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds on the year, she had 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting against Rochester in the second round. Coming alive in the Elite Eight, she netted a career-high 22 points, hitting 10 of her 17 field goal attempts to lead the Ephs to victory over Whitman.

Spreading the floor around Williams’ dynamic forwards are three of the NESCAC’s best shooters. Jennie Harding ’13, Grace Rehnquist ’13 and Ellen Cook ’15 all rank in the top five of the conference in three-point percentage, with Harding leading the way thanks to an impressive 47.5 percent clip from behind the arc. Second on the team in scoring, Cook averages 10.2 points per game, while Rehnquist and Harding combine for nearly 18 points and seven rebounds per outing.

For more information about this weekend’s games, use the links provided below.

2013 NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Hope College (Holland, MI) * DeVos Fieldhouse

National Semifinals - Friday, Mar. 15
5 p.m. --- Amherst (30-1) vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater (25-6)
7 p.m. --- DePauw (32-0) vs. Williams (26-5)

Final Round - Saturday, Mar. 16
4 p.m. --- Consolation Game
7 p.m. --- Championship Game

TOURNAMENT BRACKET

*** Check out photos, videos, interviews and more in our FINAL FOUR BLOG ***
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NCAA Championship Website * Hope College Championship Website

Live Webcasting * Live Statistics

DePauw Website * Williams Website * UW-Whitewater Website * Amherst Website