Saturday, March 14, 2009
The IWU women's basketball team nearly proved that adage false, but their magical season came to an abrupt end Saturday night at the Shirk Center with a 58-53 loss to a talented, well-coached Washington University squad. The '08-'09 Titans finished the season 30-1, setting a team record for victories and going deeper into the postseason than any team before them.
The Bears had the Titans out of sync the entire game. IWU had just 20 points at halftime, and finished the game with season lows in points, field goal percentage (30), and assists (six). It was a defensive game all around, as IWU held Wash U. to 37% from the floor, but the Titans trailed pretty much the entire game and just couldn't get over the hump.
IWU trailed by 11 at the half, but utilized a suffocating full-court press in the second half to draw within two at 36-34. The Titans later trailed 51-49 and appeared to force another turnover an an inbound play, but a foul was called, sending Wash U. to the line. With under one minute remaining, Claire Sheehan laid one in to once again pull the Titans within two, but the Bears made five of six free throws down the stretch to seal the deal, and will take on Amherst in the Final Four (the other matchup is undefeated George Fox against unranked College of New Jersey).
Mallory Heydorn led the Titans with 18 points, and Christina Solari and Claire Sheehan added 12 and 11, respectively. The Titans were outrebounded 40-30.
Congratulations to Coach Mia Smith, to all 16 players who saw time this season, and specifically to Claire Sheehan, Mallory Heydorn, and Colleen Caplice, the three seniors who will leave knowing they provided the Titan faithful with some wonderful memories. The attendance for the team's first home game this season was 138. The count for Saturday's game? 2,150. That's the largest crowd for any IWU men's or women's game this season. And I must say, the crowd for the entire tournament, and especially Saturday's game, was incredible. During the Titans' comeback in the second half, especially when they were employing an exciting full-court press that Wash U. struggled to deal with, the crowd was loud and proud. And while the game ended in a loss, I'm sure glad IWU served as host for the regional and sectional rounds of the tournament.
Coach Smith showed great character, grabbing the mic just minutes after a tough loss in order to thank her players, the fans and the amazing IWU pep band. It has to be difficult for her to swallow the fact that the team's first misstep, their first "L," sends them home for good. I still think IWU might be the better team, but Wash U. was better on this night, and when it comes tournament time, that's the name of the game.
But it doesn't get much better than 30-1, and it doesn't get much better than a 27-0 regular season, nor much better than outscoring your opponents by an average of 22 points, nor much better than having the CCIW's Player of the Year (Solari) and Coach of the Year, nor much better than playing in the Elite Eight in front of the biggest basketball crowd the Shirk Center has seen all season. Nope, it just doesn't get much better than this year's IWU women's basketball team.