The nationally eighth ranked Lady Huskies were unable to advance to the second round of the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball National Championship last Friday in Gorham, losing 80-58 to the Smith College Pioneers (23-4). The loss concludes the season for the women’s team with an impressive 27-2 record.
Just 10 minutes into the game, the Huskies trailed behind Smith 20-17 after sophomore forward Rebecca Knight capitalized on an opportunistic steal, made by junior guard Erin McNamara, with a layup. Knight led the Huskies with a team high 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists. Knight finished the season averaging 12.5 points per game, making her one of the scoring leaders for USM.
Smith, however, soon took over with a 14-2 run with 3:23 minutes remaining, but the Huskies were able to put nine more points on the board to trail 41-28 at halftime. Smith took advantage of the 14 turnovers committed by the Huskies which contributed 17 points for the Pioneers by halftime.
The Huskies fought hard in the second half with the help of senior forward Nicole Garland and McNamara, who each scored seven points for a 18-9 run that kept the Huskies in the game with ten minutes to go. With USM trailing 64-52, Smith stole any hopes of a comeback, scoring 14 points to take the largest lead of the game, 78-53. With a little over two minutes left, the Huskies scored five more points to finalize the 80-58 loss. The Huskies shot 41.5 percent compared to Smith’s 50 percent. Smith had twenty-eight points from turnovers alone and 16 second chance points.
Garland and McNamara each had 10 points while senior forward Jordan Grant had 12 points and seven rebounds. Garland and Grant both finished the 2013 season as the top scoring leaders, averaging 13.1 points per game. Knight led the season in rebounds with 8.1 rebounds per game while McNamara led in assists with 3 assists per game.
For head coach Gary Fifield, the loss was a disappointing one, especially after an impressive one loss record in the regular season.
“You feel the pain.They feel the pain, but you really hurt for the seniors. It is very difficult to come up with words to try take the sting out of the situation,” said Fifield.
The journey to make it to the first round of the NCAA Division III Championship wasn’t an easy one.
After plowing through Plymouth State in the quarterfinals and fighting through Rhode Island College in the semifinals, the Lady Huskies stole the well-deserved 2013 Little East Women’s Basketball Championship away from UMass Dartmouth over winter break.
“The amount of work, commitment, dedication and sacrifice that goes into a season goes beyond what most people realize.” said Fifield.
This is Fifield’s 25th season as head coach for the Huskies with an overall record of 628 -114. He credits captains Nicole Garland, Haley Jordan and Meredith Reid for stepping up in terms of leadership, helping to create a special team chemistry that made them stand out this year.
“You hope that in a few days when the hurt subsides that they will realize what a great season it was and what they accomplished: a record of 27 – 2, Little East Conference regular season and tournament champions, and getting ranked 8th in the nation,” said Fifield.
And as for next year?
“Our goals never change. We always strive to be the best program in the state and to win the LEC Championship.”