SAN ANTONIO, Texas –While Bentley University's Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach Barbara Stevens is no stranger to taking a team to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, last year's trip to St. Joseph, Mo. was a new experience for all the players.
That won't be the case when the 2012 Elite Eight is held this week at St. Mary's University's Greeley Arena. Of the 14 players on this year's Bentley squad, eleven are making a return trip to the Elite Eight and eight received game experience in a first-round loss to eventual national champion Clayton State.
Four of the five starters from that contest, including Northeast-10 and Daktronics Division II Player of the Year Lauren Battista (North Easton, Mass./Oliver Ames HS) are expected to also be in the lineup when Tuesday's quarterfinal game against Wayne State College (Neb.), the current number one ranked team in Division II, tips off at 12 noon CT (1 pm ET).
Wayne State, one of five teams making its Elite Eight debut this week, comes into San Antonio with a 32-2 record and a 17-game winning streak. The Wildcats are big, with three starters at least six-foot-one, but have been outrebounded for the season by 0.5 per game. They play primarily zone, a defense Bentley rarely sees during the season, and limit their opponents to a .330 field goal percentage.
In the Central Regional tournament, Wayne State edged by Minnesota State Mankato 78-74 in the opener and yielded a total of 76 points in its final two games (Augustana in the semis, Metro State in the finals).
Bentley, ranked fifth in the most recent USA Today/ESPN/WBCA Division II coaches poll, earned its 12th regional championship a week ago by staging two major comebacks during the regional. The Falcons, who are 30-3 with a 13-game winning streak, needed to score the final seven points for a 54-52 victory over Franklin Pierce in the semifinals and overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to best Holy Family University 83-74 in the East final.
Battista, an Academic All-America who was selected as the top player in the regional tournament, comes into the Elite Eight with averages of 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds, both team best figures. Her production in the regional was very close to those numbers (16.7 points, 8.3 boards) and the six-footer is only two points shy of becoming the 31st 1,000-point scorer in Bentley annals.
Also expected to be in the starting five on Tuesday will be sophomore post Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg. HS), junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop, Mass./Winthrop HS), senior guard Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H./Governors Academy) and sophomore point Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS).
Finn, a second-team All-Northeast-10 selection and Brugliera, a third-team All-Conference honoree, are Bentley's other two double-figure scorers. Finn comes into the Elite Eight at 11.8 points per game, Brugliera follows at 11.0, and both are grabbing over six rebounds a game. Rebounding has been a forte of the 2011-12 Falcons with the team unbeaten in the 27 games they've controlled the boards and 16th in Division II in rebound margin (+7.8).
Goodwin averaged 10 points in the regionals, and Bakolas combined with junior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington, Mass./Arlington Catholic HS) for 25 assists and only seven turns in the three East Region games.
Amongst the bench players, junior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy) is the top scorer with an 8.7 average. She has drained a team-best 38 three-pointers, making about two a game since early January.
Six-foot-two forward Ashley Arlen, who became Wayne State's first-ever All-America a year ago, has had an outstanding senior year for the Wildcats. She averages 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds, and her contributions this year have also included 37 three-pointers, 67 assists, 56 blocks and 52 steals.
Senior Clare Dewelius is the Wildcats' other double-figure scorer (10.4) and is one of three Wayne players who shoot very well from outside the arc. Dewelius (81-175, .463 from downtown), is the only Division II player in the country with at least 75 three-balls and a 44 percent accuracy mark from beyond the arc.
Freshman guard Ashton Yossi is a factor off the bench, with her 8.3 scoring norm third on the team, and guards Ali Schwartzwald and Alisha Brown have combined for 231 assists and a 1.74 assist-turnover ratio. That latter number is almost identical to what Bakolas and Roberson have for the season (1.79).
In looking at the team stats for this season, Wayne State has shot better and holds the opponents to a lower field goal percentage. However, Bentley has a significant edge in shots allowed (over four less a game than the Wildcats), fewer offensive rebounds allowed (2.6 less per game) and turnovers forced (3.7 more per game).
Bentley and Wayne State are two of the four Elite Eight teams that have won at least 30 games this season, and coincidentally, the other two, Ashland (31-1) and Alaska-Anchorage (30-4), are also on the Falcons' side of the bracket.
The quarterfinal pairings on the other side have 26-6 Shaw University, the only other team that was also in the 2011 Elite Eight, taking on 27-5 Pittsburg State, and 27-5 Rollins College paired with 24-7 Lander College.
Tuesday's quarterfinal games will be webcast over www.ncaa.com.