St. Louis, Mo., March 7, 2015 – The No. 8-ranked Washington University in St. Louis women's basketball team shot 53.3 percent from the field and outscored Wittenberg University 24-2 in the final 6:40 of the first half to earn an 80-58 win over the Tigers in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Division III Championship Saturday night at the WU Field House.
WashU improved to 25-2 overall with the win, while Wittenberg finished its season with a 24-7 record. The Bears will face No. 1 Thomas More College in the Sweet 16 Friday, March 13, at a site to be determined. The site for the Sectional will be announced Sunday, March 8.
After a slow start offensively for both teams, WashU grabbed a 10-6 lead on a coast-to-coast layup by junior Jordan Thompson with 13:31 to play in the first half. The Tigers scored the next seven points to take a 13-10 lead, but a jumper and a three by freshman Natalie Orr quickly regained the lead for the Bears at 15-13 with 9:51 to play. The teams traded baskets until senior Melissa Gilkey converted a three-point play, and after a turnover by Wittenberg, Gilkey scored another layup to extend WashU's lead to 22-18.
"They stalled us early with the 2-3 matchup zone, but we changed our offensive attack and that helped us get moving," head coach Nancy Fahey said. "Defensively, we adjusted into another defense that gave them some problems."
Wittenberg's Darbie Zirkle hit her third three-pointer of the half to cut the deficit to 22-21, before Thompson made a pullup jumper for the Bears. Katelyn Haralamos made a basket to again make it a one-point game (24-23) with 6:42 remaining in the half. WashU finished the half with a 24-2 run, including 12 points by Gilkey and a 35-foot shot (WATCH) that Thompson banked in at the halftime buzzer, to put the Bears ahead 48-25 at the break. WashU forced five turnovers by Wittenberg in the final six minutes of the half, and held the Tigers without a field goal over the final 4:38 of the half
"It was great going into the locker room after hitting the shot," Thompson said. "It got us all hyped up and it was awesome to head into halftime on that kind of a note."
The Tigers used a stingy full-court press to force WashU to commit 12 second-half turnovers. Wittenberg cut the deficit to 20 on a pair of free throws by Enri Small with 15:26 remaining, but layups by Gilkey and Thompson extended the lead back to 24. A three-pointer by Haralamos brought the Tigers within 60-39 with 10:34 remaining, before a layup by Gilkey and a three-pointer by senior Maddy Scheppers gave the Bears their largest lead of the game at 68-39 with 8:25 left.
"I said at halftime that Wittenberg was going to come out and change something, and thought they were going to press," Fahey said. "They are a senior-laden group, and they weren't going to roll over. They were coached up that way and I respect that."
WashU shot 53.3 percent (32-60) from the field in the game, including 8-of-16 from three-point range. Wittenberg finished with 37.9 percent (22-58) shooting from the field, and was 9-of-19 from beyond the arc. The Bears finished with a 35-30 rebounding advantage, and forced 20 turnovers by the Tigers.
Gilkey led all scorers with 25 points and eight rebounds, while Thompson had 12 points and four assists. Junior Katybeth Biewen added a season-high 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. Scheppers added nine points on 3-of-4 from three-point range, and also pulled down six rebounds, while senior Alyssa Johanson added eight points and equaled her career-high with four assists. Senior Steph Vukotic chipped in with six points and six rebounds off the bench.
Zirkle led Wittenberg with 20 points, including 14 in the first half. Haralamos finished with 18, while Small added 14.
Bear Notebook: It was the first-ever meeting between WashU and Wittenberg … The win was WashU's 65th all-time in the NCAA Tournament (65-23) … The Bears improved to 22-6 all-time at home in NCAA Tournament play, and 14-0 at the WU Field House this season … WashU is 22-0 this season when leading at halftime … Gilkey increased her season scoring total to 519, moving her past Alia Fischer's 1999-2000 total for fifth on the Bears' all-time single-season leaderboard … Scheppers passed Stacy Leeds (1990-94) for third on WashU's all-time career three-pointers list with 145, and also moved past Kathryn Berger (2010-11) for fifth on the Bears' single-season leaderboard with 64 … It was Gilkey's 13th game of 20 or more points this season, and the 28th of her career.