March 7, 2014

Late 2nd-half surge sends Fords to NCAA regional final

ITHACA, N.Y. - The Haverford College women's basketball team claimed the first NCAA tournament victory in program history with a 53-48 win over Rhode Island College in opening round play at Ithaca College on Friday night.

The Fords (24-3) used a 15-2 run over a nine-minute span late in the second half to turn a five-point deficit (39-34) into an eight-point advantage (49-41) with 1:14 to go in the contest. Stephanie Prusko's three-pointer at the one-minute mark ended Rhode Island's scoreless drought at seven minutes as the Centennial Conference champions turned up the pressure defensively.

Elizabeth Lynch's layup pushed Haverford ahead by one (40-39) with nine minutes remaining for the one and only lead change of the second half.

Jacquelyne Pizzuto and Nina Voith combined to go 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 34 seconds to seal the historic victory.

The Fords and the Anchorwomen (20-9) battled in the opening 20 minutes. Both teams entered the contest with top-notch defenses that ranked among the national leaders and consequently space to operate on offense was minimal.

Rhode Island, champion of the Little East Conference, jumped out to an 8-2 advantage but Haverford responded with a surge of its own to take a 9-8 lead on Hope Rainey's three-pointer from the corner with nine minutes remaining until the break.

Rainey continued to be a factor as the junior effectively boxed out Rhode Island's leading scorer Vandell Andrade at 8:13. A frustrated Andrade went over Rainey's back and earned a seat on the bench with two fouls for the remainder of the half. Rainey's ensuing free throws pushed the Fords' advantage to three (11-8) but the lead would change hands nine times over the final eight minutes before intermission.

Ahead by three at the half, Rhode Island extended its cushion to a game-high seven points (29-22) with the first two buckets of the final 20 minutes of play.

Haverford, playing in its first NCAA tournament game in program history, remained composed however and patiently chipped away at the Anchorwomen's lead. Two driving layups by Pizzuto sandwiched a basket from junior Shannon Smith to help the Fords move within three with 11 minutes to go in the game.

Two minutes later Smith nailed a jumper to make it a one-point game. When Rhode Island's Ashleigh Greaves tried to answer back, it was Smith who stood tall with her third block of the game setting up Lynch's go-ahead layup.

Voith led all scorers with 16 points while Pizzuto also reached double figures with 12. Smith was a factor in the paint with a team-high 11 rebounds to go along with seven points and a game-high three blocks.

Haverford was an impressive 18-for-24 from the free throw line with Pizzuto, one of the top foul shooters in program history, going a perfect 8-for-8. Rhode Island only went to the line seven times and made five.

Seniors Cara Paladino and Stephanie Prusko paced the Anchorwomen with 13 and 12 points, respectively. Andrade tallied a game-high 18 rebounds but was limited to just 10 points as the Fords blanketed the sophomore forward each time she touched the ball.

The Fords will look to add another chapter to their record-setting season against host Ithaca in the regional final on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Bombers (24-4) advanced with a 67-30 victory over The Sage Colleges in Friday's second regional semifinal.