SAN ANTONIO, Texas – It certainly hasn't been easy, and in fact, it's required three dramatic comebacks.
But the bottom line is that Bentley University women's basketball coach Barbara Stevens has her Falcons back in the national semifinals for the first time since 2003 and the eighth time since 1989. The 31-3 Falcons will take on 32-1 Ashland University tonight at 6 pm CT (7 pm ET) at the St. Mary's University Greehey Arena for the right to play in Friday night's national championship game.
The game will be telecast live on CBS Sports Network, and will also be available online at www.ncaa.com/liveschedule.
Bentley has reached the ultimate game only once previously, that coming 22 years ago. The Falcons seemed headed for the final back in 2003, leading eventual champion South Dakota State virtually the entire regulation 40 minutes only to see a deflected, banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer force overtime. The deflated Falcons were outscored 12-5 in the extra session, and SDSU went on to top Northern Kentucky for the title.
The Falcons' road to this year's Fab Four hasn't been smooth, with the season kept alive by comebacks from five down with 75 seconds left against Franklin Pierce in the regional semis, from a 12-point halftime deficit in the regional final against Holy Family, and most impressively, from a 19-point hole with 13 minutes to play against the nation's top-ranked team, Wayne State (Neb.), in Tuesday's Elite Eight opener.
Bentley, which has won 14 in a row, and Ashland, riding a 32-game winning streak, both feature an All-America post player. The Falcons are led by versatile sophomore Lauren Battista (North Easton, Mass./Oliver Ames HS), and Ashland features six-foot-one junior Kari Daugherty, the Division II leader in rebounds and double-doubles this season.
Battista, who eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone in Tuesday's win, is one of five Falcons who are averaging in double figures during the NCAA tournament with the list also including juniors Courtney Finn (Winthrop, Mass./Winthrop HS) and Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy), sophomore Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg. HS) and senior Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H./Governors Academy).
None of the other three semifinalists (Shaw and Rollins meet in the other game) has shown that kind of balance during the NCAAs.
A quartet of players do the bulk of the scoring for Ashland, with Daugherty (23.3 points, 14.5 rebounds in the NCAAs) complemented by guard Jena Stutzman, who has 90 threes this season, and forward Ashley Dorner, a 56 percent shooter from the field. Lindsay Tenyak came up big during the Eagles' game last night, hitting five of six for 17 points in a 71-51 win over Alaska-Anchorage. That production was double her season norm.
Bentley and Ashland have met twice previously with the Falcons winning both, most recently in November 2002 in a season-opening tournament in California, Pa.