January 8, 2023
By Riley Zayas
Wow. What a day it was in the world of D-III women’s hoops yesterday. It was incredible to see so much of so many different things in these games, down to the upsets, the comebacks, the Top 25 duels in Connecticut and Wisconsin. It all formed a great slate of games that truly displayed just how deep D-III women’s basketball is right now, with so many competitive programs. I’ve broken this down into a few categories as I put down my thoughts on the way these played out…
- The Upsets
If you’re looking for a result that rocked the D-III WBB world on Saturday, you’d best look towards St. Louis. That’s where WashU, a team that was destroyed by UW-Oshkosh, 78-42, four days after Christmas shocked #10 Chicago. And it wasn’t by some narrow margin either. The Bears were hands down the best team on the floor, winning 68-49 as four starters scored in double figures. It was a three-point game at the end of the first quarter, but Chicago just could not find any sort of consistent rhythm in each of the next three, scoring just 11 points in each. I was impressed by how well WashU defended; the Bears did not force all that many turnovers (11), but played solid perimeter defense and forced the Maroons into a lot of midrange shots, rather than driving to the rim. Just five offensive rebounds for Chicago did not help much either. WashU has NYU coming up on Jan. 15 at home…the Violets better be careful.
- Amherst has been struggling in a big way as of late, and on Saturday, Middlebury proved it had enough to take down the 15th-ranked Mammoths, handing them their third loss in five games. This isn’t what we’re used to seeing from Amherst, but perhaps the rest of the NESCAC is just getting better. And as far as the previous losses to Concordia-Moorhead and Chapman, blame it on the long travel, the holidays or something else, but the bottom line is that Amherst is not playing its best basketball right now. It happens. But you have to credit Middlebury at the same time for pulling off back-to-back wins that look really good on a tournament resume against Hamilton and now Amherst. The 47-45 win for Middlebury came down to the wire, with Gabby Stuart putting Middlebury in front on a jumper with 29 seconds left. Alexa Mustafaj came up with a game-sealing steal for the Panthers as they moved to 9-5, but more importantly, 2-0 in the NESCAC play. Amherst won’t be in my Top 20 come Monday.
- The third big “upset” came in the far reaches of west Texas, where Sul Ross State took down an ETBU team that was on an upward trajectory. The Tigers of ETBU had wins over UMHB and UC Santa Cruz, and were receiving votes in last week’s Top 25. But SRSU, with its full-court press dominated in the second quarter, going on a 26-7 run. I don’t think I saw a shift in momentum quite as sudden as I saw it in Alpine, with ETBU leading 21-13 at the end of the first quarter, but trailing 39-28 at halftime. Marley Rokas is a name to remember as the 5’11 forward nearly had a double-double for SRSU with 20 points and nine rebounds. Having seen her play in person this year, I can tell you that she will be tough matchup for any opponent with her shooting ability and skill around the perimeter while still being one of the tallest players in the post.
- The close calls
A NESCAC-esque game unfolded in Dallas, where #24 UMHB was taken down to the wire against UT-Dallas. UTD first-year head coach Joe Shotland has done a great job working with what he has and creating a really solid defensive team. They challenged UMHB majorly, leading 49-46 with three minutes left. But you have to score down the stretch, and going the final 6:16 without a made field goal will certainly hurt you. UMHB put together a really solid effort defensively down the stretch, and pulled out a 53-49 win. It was the lowest-scoring day for UMHB this season.
- #21 Puget Sound actually trailed 39-25 to Willamette at the half, but used a 25-12 run in the third-quarter to claim the lead and pull out an 81-75 win. But wow, did Willamette challenge the Loggers. They outrebounded PS 37-29, shot 51.9% and had 19 assists. That will win you the game in a lot of situations, but 26 turnovers really hurt Willamette, especially in the second half, when PS began its comeback.
- Dickinson went down 19-3 against Washington College in Centennial Conference play, and after seeing Dickinson pull off a big win over Johns Hopkins earlier this week, I was surprised to see a start like that. Washington has been decent (8-4 overall, 4-3 in the CC), but not great, and Dickinson had looked pretty convincing in that previously-mentioned victory over JHU. Credit to Dickinson, they began a comeback, culminating in a 22-9 run to end the game in a 56-54 win. That was the comeback of the day, no doubt. Very impressive, but at the same time, talk about digging yourself into a hole early on the road…
- The games that rose to the level of expectation
I put a couple games in this category, and I understand this is completely subjective. But you could not watch the battle between #22 Trinity (CT) and #25 Bowdoin and not be on the edge of your seat. Especially because Trinity’s comeback in the fourth-quarter certainly rivals what Dickinson did further down the east coast. Because Bowdoin entered the fourth up 41-31, but Trinity outscored the Polar Bears 18-2, holding Bowdoin to yes, just two points, in the final 10 minutes. That is championship defense right there. Bowdoin did not score for the first four minutes of the quarter, and by the time we’d reached the 7:17 mark, Trinity had put together an 8-0 run, cutting the deficit to just two points. From that point on, the defensive intensity continued picking up, resulting in very few made shots. With 3:31 left, Reilly Campbell’s layup fell through for Trinity, putting the Bantams in front, 45-43. They held on for a 49-43 win, and should break into the Top 20 on Monday. Looking at the box score, it’s interesting how even the two teams were. Nobody seemed to dominate in any particular category. But four three-pointers from Trinity, compared to just two for Bowdoin probably was a big difference in a game with such a small margin. Take away the threes and both teams made exactly 13 shots from the field.
- The other HUGE game of the day was played in the WIAC (because…where else?) as #17 UW-Whitewater went to #9 UW-Eau Claire and took down the Blugolds on their home court, 79-69. I wouldn’t call this an upset, though. Whitewater has taken some losses, sure, but has nine wins over Massey Top 70 opponents. The second-most? Six. Whitewater is, if nothing else, battle-tested, and it showed at UWEC. A 22-11 third-quarter from the Warhawks put them in front, at one point by 15. Aleah Grundahl played all but one minute for Whitewater, putting 27 points on the board in an All-American-type performance. Kacie Carollo had 19 points, 10 boards for Whitewater as well, as the starting five accounted for all but two of its 79 points. If you remember, yesterday morning I said the matchup that would likely determine the outcome would be Whitewater’s defense against the potent offense of UWEC. The Warhawks rose to the test, despite having looked somewhat off against UWSP on Wednesday. They took away a lot of three-point looks for UWEC, which somewhat disrupted the Blugolds’ offense. They still shot 48.3%, but they were not scoring to the level they had been in previous wins over Trine and UW-Oshkosh. This is a key result for Whitewater. They really needed this win, especially on the road, and should see a significant bump in their national ranking come Monday.
- Other notables…
- #3 Transylvania won comfortably at Defiance, 70-40, moving to 14-0. It marked the 12th game of the year that the Pioneers’ defense has held its opponent below 50 points.
- Wheaton had been off to a solid start, including a win at Puget Sound, but Millikin was the best team on the floor in a key CCIW battle yesterday, winning 74-55. I didn’t expect the margin to be that wide, but have certainly liked what I’ve seen from Millikin as of late. This is a team that is now 11-3, 3-0 in the CCIW. Bailey Coffman came off the bench for 15 points in 16 minutes. Imagine what she’ll be able to do when she’s back to playing 25 minutes a game?
- UW-La Crosse continues to be a team that is going under the radar, but putting together a fairly strong resume. UWL is 13-2, and beat a good UW-Stevens Point that nearly won at Whitewater this past Wednesday, 47-45. It literally came down to the final shot, a missed three from UWSP, and was very close all the way through. Really solid effort from both teams on the defensive end, making the opponent work for every shot.
- Concordia-Moorhead and Bethel both took losses in games I was expecting they would win, and while this highlights the fact that there is quite a bit of parity in the MIAC, it also probably means that this will be a one-bid league. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on performing well in the MIAC playoffs and staying healthy over the course of the next two months in order to be at full strength for post-conference play. Right now, this is a wide-open league.
- Concordia (WI) handed Concordia-Chicago its first loss in NACC play, and I was pretty surprised it was not a closer result. 76-55 was the final, and despite Kate Benes’ 27 points for Chicago, Concordia (WI) was 11-of-19 from beyond the arc. When you shoot that well from three-point range, you’re likely going to win the ballgame.
Okay, I’m going to stop there, but this slate was so packed with key results and great games all the way around that this article went pretty long, even just touching on several of the most notable games. I have a feeling the Top 25 will look pretty different when it is released tomorrow evening. As for today, the game you’ll want to be watching tips off at 1 p.m. EST between #14 Babson and #23 Tufts. Quality non-conference action for you in January! A loss for Tufts probably drops them out of the Top 25. Have a great Sunday and be sure to come back tomorrow for my Top 25 ballot breakdown!