WALTHAM, Mass. – Coming off a come-from-behind win over American International College in Sunday's Northeast-10 Conference championship, the Bentley University women's basketball team will be back on its home court Friday night (6 pm) when it hosts Saint Anselm College in the first round of the NCAA Division II East Regional.
The Bentley-Saint Anselm contest will be the third of four games that will be played at the Dana Center Friday. The day will kick off with third-seeded Philadelphia against sixth-seeded NYIT at noon. AIC, the number two seed, will face seventh-seeded Bloomfield at 2:30 pm and the day will cap with the 4-5 game, Queens (N.Y.) against Holy Family at 8:30 pm. A free webcast for all games will be available at http://www.packnetwork.com/ncaadiieastw.
Bentley, which has cut down the nets following its last four tournaments, is back in the NCAAs for the first time since winning the 2014 national championship. This year's squad has posted a 25-5 record, improving on last year's victory count by 14 games.
Coach Barbara Stevens' team is 6-1 against the other regional teams this season with the only loss coming against its quarterfinal opponent, Saint Anselm, up in New Hampshire on Feb. 20. The Hawks limited the Falcons to 12 4th-quarter points on 3-of-17 shooting after beginning the final stanza down four.
Saint Anselm swatted away 11 balls, including seven by six-foot-five freshman Samnell Vonleh, and received 23 points from junior guard Candace Andrews. Freshman forward Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy) had 20 points and 12 rebounds, both career-bests, for Bentley, and junior forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy), the NE-10 Player of the Year, followed with 18 despite a rough shooting afternoon (6-24).
In the earlier meeting between the two clubs, played at the Dana Center back in December, Bentley limited Saint Anselm to .275 shooting in a 60-46 win. Gemma scored 18 and the Falcons forced the Hawks into 22 turnovers, resulting in 27 points.
Gemma, the only remaining Falcon who saw action in the 2014 national championship game victory over West Texas A&M, is one of two East Region players averaging 20 points and will enter the NCAAs a single point shy of 600 for the season. The six-footer, who is already 13th on the program's all-time scoring list, gave Bentley 22 points a game during the conference tournament while shooting .467 overall, making 5 of 11 from three and sinking 19 of 21 at the stripe.
Stevens, fifth all-time with 953 wins, has been able to go with the same starting five all season with Gemma joined by senior co-captain Jane White (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan HS), sophomore guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) and a pair of freshmen, Lux and guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England).
Lewis had a strong NE-10 tournament, averaging 13.7 points and two steals while shooting .516 from the floor with seven three-pointers. Five of those came in the championship game against AIC when she finished with 18.
Lux averaged 9.3 points in her first three postseason games as a collegian, and Green has produced 9.5 ppg for the season with 50 three-pointers.
Off the bench, sophomore guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) had a solid tournament, averaging 7.3 points and 3.3 assists.
Saint Anselm, making its first NCAA appearance since 1999, has a balanced offense with five players between 12.1 and 8.9 points a game. Andrews is a focal point of that offense as she leads the Hawks in scoring and is also second in the conference in assists, averaging nearly six a game.
Six-foot-one junior Caitlyn Abela (10.3 ppg) is the team's top three-point threat with 62 long balls and a .378 accuracy mark from deep. No other NE-10 player can match that combination of production from three.
Vonleh, the team's top rebounder (8.1), is the conference's top shot blocker with 67, including 26 in February when she made 3.3 a game.
While Bentley appeared in the NE-10 final on Sunday, Saint Anselm will be playing for the first time since Feb. 28 when they were bumped in the conference's quarterfinals, 71-52 by New Haven.
The Bentley-Saint Anselm winner will be paired against the Queens-Holy Family victor in the second of Saturday's semifinals. Those two teams played each other back in November with Queens winning by seven, 76-69 on the Tigers' home court in Philadelphia.
Queens (20-8 with an eight-game winning streak) features the Rowland sisters with Madison, MacKenzie and Merrick combining for 39.2 points and 23.4 rebounds a game. Madison tops the list with averages of 20.0 points and 9.8 boards. Holy Family (22-8) has four players who score in doubles, including senior guard Erin Fenningham at 12.8.
In the first game of the day, Philadelphia (25-6) will be looking to run its winning streak to ten games. The Rams, 13-1 away from their home court, are led by seniors Bria Young, Mary Newell and Tori Arnao, all of whom score at least 13 a game. NYIT, which ran off 16 straight wins after losing to Bentley in late November, has split its last six games. Dina Rageb, a CoSIDA Academic All-America third-teamer, has had a strong season, averaging 16.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks for the 24-8 Bears.
AIC, which had won ten straight before falling to the Falcons in the NE-10 finals, is in the NCAA field for the first time in eight years. The 25-5 Yellow Jackets feature senior guard and All-Conference honoree Brianna Bishop, Division II's premier foul shooter (.941, 80 of 85) and a 13.9 point-per-game scorer. Their first-round opponent, Bloomfield, comes in at 24-7 after losing to Philadelphia in the CACC Championship. Junior guard Tianna Smith leads the Bears with 60 3's and a 17.0 scoring average.
The semifinals will be Saturday at 5 and 7:30, and the championship is slated for 7 pm Monday with a trip to Sioux Falls, S.D. awaiting the regional champ.