WALTHAM, Mass. – The Bentley University women's basketball team, owners of a 28-3 record under the direction of 1,000-game winner Barbara Stevens, will launch its bid for its 15th NCAA Division II regional championship, and first since 2016, against a familiar foe Friday afternoon at 2:30 pm at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Pa.
Bentley, the number two seed, will begin their record 35th NCAA tournament against a team that they've already faced and defeated three times this season, the seventh-seeded Saint Anselm College Hawks. The game can be seen on the CACC Digital Network (caccnetwork.com or on your smart TV).
The Falcons swept the Hawks during the regular season, 60-51 and 69-54, and prevailed 74-59 a week ago in the Northeast-10 Conference semifinals.
It'll be the 17th time that Bentley will be facing an opponent four times in a season and the Falcons have a 13-3 record in those situations, including 3-1 against Saint Anselm. Five times a Stevens' team has faced an opponent a fourth time after winning the first three and they have won all five, including in 1999 against the Hawks.
Bentley, which will be playing in its record 101st NCAA tournament game, will be looking to bounce back from a miserable shooting performance in Sunday's Northeast-10 championship game at Le Moyne College. The 67-45 loss that halted a 15-game winning streak saw the Falcons make only one of 20 three-point attempts and allow the Dolphins to connect on nine of 16 from downtown.
While as a program Bentley has competed in more NCAA tournaments than any other Division II institution and Stevens has coached 103 NCAA games, most of the players on this year's Falcon squad don't have a lot of tournament experience.
Senior center Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy) has played and started in eight NCAA games, and averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds in two games last year. Senior guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) has been in seven games, averaging 12.1 points while shooting 50 percent overall and 44 percent from three. The third senior captain, point guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS), has come off the bench six times in the NCAA tournament, playing a total of 71 minutes.
The remainder of the roster has combined for 29 minutes in regional play.
Stevens, who received NE10 Coach of the Year honors for the record 16th time, has five double-digit scorers to call upon with the above three joined by sophomore guard Katie Meriggioli (Waunakee, Wis./Edgewood HS) and junior forward Monica Viapiano (Holden, Mass./Holy Fame HS). Lux and Meriggioli top the scoring list, with averages of 11.6 and 11.4 points, respectively, and are also 1-2 on the team in rebounds.
Viapiano was Bentley's top scorer in the conference championships, averaging 16.3 points on .629 shooting. She made nine of 11 shots against Saint Anselm in the semis and finished with a career-best 22 points.
McConnell, who averages 10.5 points and is among the conference leaders in assists and three-point accuracy, was voted second-team All-Northeast-10. Lux was a third-team honoree and both Lewis and Meriggioli were recognized as honorable mention All-Conference.
The top eight in Stevens' rotation also includes junior guards Maddy Springfield (Jaffrey, N.H./ Conant HS) and Julia Ford (Charlton/Noble and Greenough), along with sophomore forward Marissa Fontaine (Franklin/Bishop Feehan HS). Springfield is one of four who have started all 31 games, a group that also includes Lux, McConnell and Meriggioli.
Saint Anselm, 19-9 under second-year head coach Corey Boilard, had two players voted for All-NE10 honors with junior center Shannon Ryan voted to the first team and sophomore guard Peyton Steinman to the third team.
The six-foot-four Ryan ranks second in the conference in scoring, rebounding and blocks this season but was kept in check in the first three games against Bentley. Her season norms of 19 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 rebounds compare with 11 points, 7.7 rebounds and four rejections against the Falcons.
Steinman has been the Hawks' top scorer against the Falcons with her 14.3 average slightly better than her season mark of 14.0. However, she's shot only 32 percent in the three games, including 7 of 25 inside the arc.
In the three meetings to date, rebounds have been close and both teams have made 15 three-pointers. However, the Falcons have shot better (39-32 percent), committed ten fewer turnovers (46-56) and made 17 more free throws (66-51).
Saint Anselm has competed in seven previous NCAA regional tournaments, but their appearance in 2016 was their first since 1999. That year, they lost to the Falcons 62-54 and only one player who saw action in that game is still active, reserve Emma Daly. She played one minute that day and currently averages 3.6 points and 11.0 minutes.
The Bentley-Saint Anselm game will be the second of four first round games Friday. Action will get underway at noon with third-seeded Jefferson University (29-2) taking on number six Stonehill College (19-9). Top-seeded USciences (29-2) will take on number eight NYIT (23-8) at 5 pm and the day will wrap up with fourth-seeded Le Moyne College (24-5) meeting the fifth seed, St. Thomas Aquinas College (26-4), at 2:30 pm.
The Bentley-Saint Anselm winner will face either Stonehill or Jefferson in a 5 pm semifinal Saturday and the other semi will follow at 7:30. The regional championship, with a trip to the Elite Eight in Columbus, Ohio, will be Monday night at 7 pm.
How to watch
The CACC Network is also available on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV. Just search for "CACC Network" and you can download the app to watch the games. Also, the CACC Network app is available to download through iTunes and Google Play stores.
The CACC Network will go on air 10 minutes prior to the start of each game with a pre-game show.