Women’s basketball fall short vs. Duquesne in A-10 semifinals

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Women’s basketball fall short vs. Duquesne in A-10 semifinals

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The women’s basketball team put together an impressive performance in the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship on March 4-6 with a first round win against Rhode Island, but could not find a way to come out on top after a loss in the semifinals to Duquesne.

The no. 2 seeded Billikens, with one of the strongest offenses in the conference, entered as one of the tournament favorites, and they clearly showed their strengths in a 70-59 win over Rhode Island.

The first quarter started off in favor of the Billikens, with the first four points from junior center Sadie Stipanovich.  SLU had a comfortable lead at the halfway mark, 15-7, and kept the lead at 10 points or more for the remainder of the first quarter.  SLU scored a staggering 27 points in the first quarter to Rhode Island’s 13, and 10 of the Billikens’ points came from their bench.

A layup from Stipanovich and two pairs of free throws from sophomore guard Jackie Kemph gave SLU a 33-14 advantage.  Two three-pointers brought the Rams within 15 points.  A pair of fouls later gave Rhode Island a stronger chance to get themselves back in the game, trailing by only 12 points, 38-26.  Senior guard Jamesia Price nailed a three-pointer on the next possession, but Rhode Island found an answer in the last thirty seconds and scored a three-pointer of their own.  SLU entered intermission 41-29.

The Rams finally found some energy at the onset of the third quarter.  They went on a 7-0 spurt to draw within five.  Kemph and freshman guard Jordan Frantz earned three free throws, and Price put in a three-pointer with a minute to go in the quarter to expand their lead back to eight points.  However, Rhode Island took the momentum in the last minute of play by scoring five points.  SLU still had the lead, but Rhode Island was hot on their heels, 48-45.

Both teams kept the game close in the fourth quarter.  Sophomore guard Jenny Vliet turned things around for the Billikens with two baskets to start the Billikens’ late offensive spurt.  Kemph added to that with another layup, making the lead 58-50. Sophomore guard Aaliyah Covington scored a layup to give SLU their first double-digit lead since the third quarter.

Rhode Island could not find a response, as the closest they came to SLU for the remainder of the game was seven-point deficit, 62-55, with a minute and a half left to play.  They were then forced to foul, which gave SLU an easy opportunity to take an even bigger lead, sinking eight free throws in the last minute.  SLU finished the game with a 70-59 victory over the Rams, and they advanced onto the semifinals to face Duquesne.

SLU’s discipline carried them through the game, only conceding six turnovers.  They outscored the Rams 27-5 in points off turnovers.  SLU tied their season high of 23 free throws and was 92 percent from the line.  Kemph moved to third place on SLU’s all-time single-season scoring list with 493 points.

The women’s goal of winning the A-10 tournament, however, came to an end when they lost to Duquesne in the semifinals, 56-52.

They struggled to find a groove in the first quarter, going down 9-0 in the first four minutes.  Their first basket finally came at the halfway point in the quarter with a three-pointer from junior forward Olivia Jakubicek.  Even with a small spark from her, SLU still could not find a way to convert anywhere on the court.  They were able to slow the Dukes down defensively, allowing only eight points in the last part of the quarter.  SLU trailed 17-13 going into the second quarter.

Vliet gave the Billikens hope that things would turn around on the first play of the quarter with basket behind the arc to come within one point.  SLU took their first lead of the game with a layup from Frantz off a rebound from sophomore forward Maddison Gits to make it 22-21.  Another layup from Frantz and a free throw from Covington gave the Billikens a four-point lead, and SLU took the upper hand going into the half, 25-21.

Duquesne made it clear they were not going to go down without a fight, though.  Within four minutes, the Dukes found a way to tie the game up at 29.  Jakubicek sank a jumper to break the tie after a scoreless minute of play.  Frantz tallied another basket, and Kemph sealed two free throws to keep the lead for SLU.

The momentum swung back to the Dukes as they went on a 7-0 run to take the lead back once again, 38-35.  SLU needed to find a way to rally going into the last quarter of play.

And Jakubicek did just that, hitting a three-pointer right off the bat to again tie up the game.  However, Duquesne had no problem regaining composure and not letting the Billikens back into the game so soon and took a five-point advantage, 43-38.  Two free throws and a layup from Kemph put SLU back on top, and Jakubicek continued to push the offense with yet another three-point basket to lead the Dukes, 48-45.

Both teams exchanged baskets up until the 1:34 mark, and a Billiken foul gave the Dukes a late lead, 51-50.  They sealed the deal with a three-pointer on their next possession after a turnover from the Billikens.  SLU could not push past Duquesne’s defense to regain the lead, and the game ended in favor of the Dukes, 56-52.

Despite the disappointing end of the conference season, SLU still made major strides.  They smashed their own school records for three-pointers (191) and assists (525).  They also established the standard for conference wins (13), conference winning percentage (.813), and road victories (10).

Even past the conference spectrum, Kemph and head coach Lisa Stone collected national honors.  College Sports Madness selected Kemph to the All-High Major First team and Stone as its High Major National Coach of the Year.  This adds to Kemph’s A-10 co-Player of the Year and Stone’s A-10 Coach of the Year.

They may have not made it to the big dance this year, but they do have a chance to make their mark in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which will run from March 16-April 2.  This will be their second time competing in this tournament since 2003.  They will play Arkansas-Little Rock on March 17 at Chaifetz Arena with a tip-off time of 7 p.m. AR-Little Rock is from the Sun Belt Conference and finished the season with an overall record of 20-12, placing second in their conference. The winner will move on to play the winner of the Iowa-Ball State game also scheduled for the 17.