Centre women on to round of 16 with 57-55 win over Washington
On the strength of two late Chelsea Benham free throws and two final defensive stops, the Centre women's basketball team pulled out a 57-55 win over No. 9 Washington University in a NCAA Division III Tournament game Saturday in Danville, Ky.
The Colonels move on to the round of 16 for the first time since 2001 where they will face Carthage, a 53-48 winner Saturday over the Colonels' former SCAC rival DePauw. The teams will meet at 5 p.m. Friday on the campus of University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio.
After a back and forth contest, Benham, a junior forward from Taswell, Ind., scored six of the Colonels' final eight points to help erase a 53-49 deficit. Benham and Maggie Prewitt (Mount Sterling, Ky.) each made free throws to tie the game with 1:33 to go, then Benham answered free throws by Washington's Melissa Gilkey with a turnaround jumper to tie the score at 55 with 58 seconds left.
After a Washington miss and rebound, Centre's Bridget Winstead (Franklin, Tenn.) came up with a steal. Benham was fouled with 14.1 seconds left and buried both free throws to give her team the lead for good.
"I've been in that position before to hit that last shot, and I like to have the ball there," Benham said. "I knew my team trusted me, and I needed to trust myself. And with the free throws, that's been a historic event with me because I've missed twice at the end of games. The girls and coach still had the confidence in me, and when we went to the bench they said 'You've got this. You've made them in practice. You know what you're doing, so just settle down and shoot,' and I did."
When the Bears tried to answer, Lauren Huter (Louisville, Ky.) blocked a Schleppers attempt for a layup, and Benham came out of a scramble on the floor with the rebound. Though Centre gave Washington one final chance with an offensive foul, a 3-pointer by Dani Hoover from the right corner sailed long, giving the Colonels the victory.
It was the earliest tournament exit since 2008 for the Bears, who finished as the national runner-up last year and won their fifth national title in 2010. Following the game, Centre head coach Wendie Austin-Robinson admitted that though the Colonels had come from behind several times on the way to posting a school record for wins this season, she was a bit concerned when trailing a team with the postseason pedigree of Washington.
"This team, whether we like it or not, it's been their forte all year to be down at halftime and find a way to make adjustments and finish in the second half," said Austin-Robinson. "More than usual, I was a little nervous (tonight) because this was a great team with a lot of tradition that understands how to play in the tournament. I didn't like our toughness in the first half and the beginning of the second half, but I liked it toward the end and our grit and desire to grind out a win."
Things didn't come easily for the Colonels, who trailed throughout most of the first half and had to claw back into the game. Centre held just a brief lead in the first half at 11-10 at the 10:56 mark. That was when Washington answered with a 16-4 run over a four minute stretch to go up 26-15. The Bears went on to push the lead to 32-18 by halftime after a Maddy Scheppers baseline jumper just before the buzzer.
As the second half opened, Centre jumped back in the game when Winstead buried a 3-point shot and Prewitt followed with a 3-point play. Those pulled the Colonels to within six, and though Washington countered, Centre rallied to tie the game at 39 after a 10-1 run.
"We're usually a second half team once we get the nerves out of us and start playing," said Winstead, who also made a 3-pointer to spark the Colonels' comeback in a first round win over Guilford. "We knew we had to buckle down and it all started on the defensive end. We knew if we got stops, the offense would come."
Centre won the game despite struggling from the field, shooting 29.8 percent (17-of-57) to Washington's 35.1 percent (20-of-57). The Colonels did make 31.6 percent (6-of-19) of their 3-pointers to Washington's 21.4 percent (3-of-14). Washington held a 42-36 rebounding edge while turning the ball over 13 times to Centre's 10.
The Colonels missed their first 11 shots of the game, but according to Prewitt, the team's confidence never wavered.
"We're a really good shooting team, and the statistics show that," said Prewitt. "If we miss 11 in a row, we still have all the confidence in the world, and we know we can make 11 in a row. You can't give up just because the shots aren't falling, because they're going to fall eventually."
Prewitt led all scorers with 21 points while Benham added 12 and a team-high eight rebounds. Gilkey had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Washington while Schleppers contributed 12 points and 12 boards.