Weekend sweep includes first ever win over Bears
With four seconds left on the clock and a sizable five-point advantage on the scoreboard, Case Western Reserve’s Erica Iafelice stepped to the line a drained two free throws to make their lead over No. 7 Washington University in St. Louis all but insurmountable.
Athletic director Dr. Dave Diles said quietly, with a smile, “That should just about do it.” He wasn’t just talking about the game.
The CWRU women’s basketball team had just pulled out a victory the likes of which it hadn’t seen in twenty-five years, a win that got the team onto the front page of ncaa.com, the website of not just of NCAA Division 3, but of Div. 1 and Div. 2 as well. With the 72-68 win against the Bears on Sunday, the Spartans ended up on top for the first time in 39 meetings.
From the opening tip, this inter-conference competition looked to be a battle. In the first two minutes, the Bears took a quick eight-point lead by hitting tough, contested shots, a trend that would continue throughout the game.
Once the Spartans got their first basket on a smooth pull-up jumper by senior captain Evy Iacono, the Spartans responded with a 17-2 run of their own that featured several highlight-reel plays.
With sixteen and a half minutes left on the clock, Iacono’s ball control was put on display as she crossed up a Washington defender, drove to the basket, and found senior forward Marissa Miles for the wide open jumper.
Miles also accounted for the next five Spartan points, putting the Spartans in the lead for the first time. She finished the game with 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.
In perhaps one of the most impressive plays of the first half, as the Spartans were struggling to get any penetration against a stifling Bears defense and the crowd was counting down the seconds on the shot clock, senior center Emily Mueller found the ball in her hands with two seconds to shoot. Over the outstretched hands of a defender, Mueller was able to nail a fade away just inside the three-point line.
As if to show it wasn’t a fluke, Mueller hit a three on the very next play to extend the Spartan lead. Mueller finished the game shooting an impressive 50% from behind the arc, with 10 points.
As the game continued into the second half, the intensity only increased as each team traded baskets, with neither able to gain momentum. Just when Washington seemed to be pulling ahead, Iacono hit a three, bringing the Spartans back to within one, with thirteen minutes left.
With 60 seconds on the clock, and the game tied at 65, Miles grabbed a loose ball and enabled the Spartans to call a timeout and set up what would be a crucial half-court possession. CWRU went with the hot hand and Iacono delivered. Iacono somehow managed to drive to the left side of the court and put up a spectacular reverse layup.
From there, the Spartans were able to come up with two huge defensive stops, capped by an Iafelice block, and three solid defensive rebounds by sophomore forward Berit Eppard.
With her performance against Washington and also her strong effort against Chicago, the previous Friday night, Iacono was named the UAA Player of the Week for the fourth time this season and fifth time in her career.
One takeaway from the game was that this game was earned by the Spartan women. It was their performance and not poor play by the Bears that gave the win to the Spartans. Tenacious defense, which often doesn’t make it onto the stat sheet, helped Case keep the Bears frustrated on the offensive side of the ball.
Although Washington had 19 turnovers, the Spartan’s defense was even better than it seems, preventing the Bears from taking easy shots. In fact, had the Bears not hit a few difficult jumpers, their shooting percentage would have been well below the 39.6% they shot from the field.
In their game the previous Friday, the Spartans defeated the University of Chicago in a low scoring, one-sided affair. The Spartans took the lead for the first and last time at the 15:17 mark in the first half and never looked back.
In front of a large crowd, the Spartans forced 25 turnovers and held the Maroons to just 27% shooting.
Both Mueller and Iafelice had standout games, as Mueller had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks, and Iafelice had an impressive 6 steals and 7 assists to go along with five points.
The Spartans continue the UAA portion of their schedule with road rematches against Chicago and Washington. Their next home games are on Feb. 8 and Feb. 10 against New York University and Brandeis University, respectively.