WALTHAM, Mass. – Exactly four months after the two clubs opened the season against each other in a game played at UMass-Lowell, Bentley University and Holy Family University will meet once again Monday night, but this time, the stakes will be much higher.
This one, in the championship game of the 2012 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball East Regional, will be for a trip to San Antonio and a berth in the Elite Eight (Mar.20-23). Tip-off at the Dana Center is set for 7 pm.
There are some impressive numbers that Bentley can achieve with a victory. A win would be the 900th in the Falcon history, a milestone no Division II program and only five in NCAA history have achieved. It would also give Bentley its first 30-win season since 2003, and its ninth all-time.
As notable as those numbers are, the ultimate goal for the 29-3 Bentley Falcons Monday night is defending their East Region title and capturing their 12th regional championship in 24 years.
Twelve is also the length of Bentley's winning streak heading into the regional final, and is one shy of the winning streak that Holy Family currently owns.
Win number 12 of Bentley's streak necessitated a game-ending 7-0 run Saturday night against Franklin Pierce in the regional semis. That late surge, which brought back memories of the Falcons scoring the final seven points a year ago to edge Pace University in the regional final, gave Bentley a hard-fought 54-52 win and elevated the Falcons into the Sweet 16 for the 18th time in 25 years.
Bentley, which had scored only 19 points in the previous 20:45, was on the short end of a 52-47 tally with 90 seconds remaining. A straightaway three by junior captain Kelsey Roberson (Arlington/ Arlington Catholic HS) with 1:14 left and a steal and lay-up from sophomore forward Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS) made it a new game with a minute remaining.
The Falcons came up with a defensive stop, and had the ball out of bounds under their own basket with 11.9 on the game clock and three on the shot clock. It was inbounded to Battista, but when her attempt didn't fall, sophomore forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Wachusett Reg. HS) was there for the rebound. Her put-back dropped through the basket for a two-point lead with 6.8 seconds left, and a desperation three by FPU at the buzzer fell well short.
It was the second time in ten days that the Falcons stunned the Ravens late in a semifinal game. In the Northeast-10 tourney on Mar. 1, junior Caleigh Crowell (Harwich/Worcester Academy) drilled a game-tying three with 6.9 seconds, and Bentley went on to a double-overtime win.
Remarkably, in both those games, coach Barbara Stevens' club found a way to win despite shooting less than 30 percent from field.
Battista, the East Region and Northeast-10 Player of the Year, has been the team's top scorer both on the season (16.8) and throughout the postseason (16.0). She'll enter Monday's game 22 shy of becoming the program's 31st 1,000-points scorer.
Junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS) and Brugliera are Bentley's other double-figure scorers, with averages of 11.7 and 10.7 respectively.
Holy Family, a 7-6 team four days into 2012, has won 18 of 19 to reach the regional final for the third time in the last five years. The Tigers have come up short in their previous two Sweet 16 appearances, falling to Franklin Pierce in both 2008 (88-71) and 2010 (82-79 ot).
Coach Mike Miller's club averages about a 71 points a game for the season, and that is the number the Tigers have put up in their last three contests. They blasted University of the Sciences by 25 in the CACC finals, opened the regionals with a seven-point upset of Dowling, and knocked off number two Southern Connecticut by 10 Saturday night.
Holy Family features six-foot-one center Erin Mann, who is averaging 18.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and over two blocks a game following a 25-point, nine rebound effort in the semis. Five-foot-two guard Ana Cruz has been a factor off the bench in the Tigers' first two games in the regional with 37 points in 50 minutes.
Both teams are significantly different from the two squads that squared off on Nov. 12 in a tournament at UMass-Lowell. Bentley was without three of its current top seven (Crowell and starting guards Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) and Katherine Goodwin (Manchester, N.H./Governors Academy), and Holy Family was without starting point guard Lauren Peters.
Bentley won that one convincing, 82-57, with Finn burying a school record-tying seven three-pointers en route to 21 points.
The two programs have met five times previously, with the Falcons taking three of those, but this will be the first time they will square off in the NCAAs.
BENTLEY BRIEFS: Saturday's win was the 850th for Stevens as a head coach … This is the second straight year that top-seeded Bentley will take on the sixth-seed in the regional finals … The East Region champ will meet the winner of the Central Region, top-seeded Wayne State (Neb.) or number two Metro State, in the opening game of the Elite Eight March 20 … The Falcons' 12-game winning streak includes nine at the Dana Center, where Bentley is 26-1 since Jan. 20, 2011 … Bentley has also won its last eight home games in NCAA tournament competition.