WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Navy women's basketball team connected on just one field goal over the final 18 minutes of play, but strong defense and timely free throw shooting allowed the Mids to post a 52-42 victory over American Wednesday night at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C.
The victory improves Navy's record to 9-2 in the Patriot League (16-10 overall) and assures the Mids of playing host to a quarterfinal round game in the Patriot League Tournament. Additionally, Navy's win coupled with Army's 60-56 loss to Colgate moves the Mids back into first place by themselves. Army, which holds the tiebreaker with Navy by virtue of having won the season series between the teams, saw its record drop to 8-3 with its loss to the Raiders, a team Navy plays host to Saturday at 7 p.m. in Alumni Hall.
"American makes you work so hard with all of the motion in their offense," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "I thought our perimeter defenders did a pretty good job of trying to keep them out of the lane. They drive and dish really well, so we had to defend that tonight. I thought we did a good job defensively."
Navy quickly scored the first five points of the game and soon built a 19-7 advantage over the Eagles (6-5). Chloe Stapleton (So., Cary, N.C.) would soon connect on a trio of three-point field goals before Kara Pollinger (Jr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) drilled on a 25-foot shot at the halftime buzzer to give Navy its largest lead of the frame at 34-21.
The Mids built up a 15-point lead early in the second half at 36-21 on a field goal by Jade Geif (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.). Alexis Dobbs sank a three-point field goal on the ensuing American possession, then Erin Meador (So., Clifton, Va.) answered with a trey of her own. Those buckets gave Navy a 39-24 lead with 18:09 left on the clock.
Navy's next point came on a free throw by Alix Membreno (Jr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) at the 15:44 mark, which gave Navy a 40-30 lead. The next time the Mids scored also was on a free throw, and it came from M.L. Morrison (Jr., Southlake, Texas) and gave the Mids a 41-32 lead with 11:44 left on the clock.
Navy started to struggle from the field and soon a jumper by American's Ari Booth knotted the score at 41-41 with 5:42 remaining in the game. Both teams missed shots on their next respective possession, then Pollinger was fouled with 4:49 left to play. She would make both free throw attempts to tally Navy's first points in almost seven minutes and give the Mids a 43-41 lead. American missed a three-point shot on its next time down the floor, with Geif being fouled after grabbing the errant carom. She made the first of two attempts to make it a 44-41 lead for the Mids with 4:20 left to play.
American's Stephanie Anya was fouled the next time the Eagles had the ball, but she missed both free throw attempts with 3:59 left to play. Membreno grabbed the rebound after the second attempt to give the ball back to the Mids. Navy used up pretty much the entire 30-second shot clock on its ensuing possession before Geif tossed up a twisting 10-foot shot as the clock expired that rattled through the hoop for Navy's first field goal in over 15 minutes. Her basket extended the Navy advantage out to 46-41 with 3:19 remaining in the game.
The Mids forced American into a missed shot the next time it had the ball, with Membreno again there for the carom. That would lead to Pollinger being fouled with 2:40 left to play. She made both attempts to boost Navy's lead out to 48-41. Neither team scored on either of the next two times they had the ball, then Pollinger was fouled once again with 1:08 showing on the clock. She again made the two attempts from the line to push Navy's lead out to 50-41.
After Geif (:56) and Morrison (:31) made single free throws that surrounded missed shots by American, the Eagles ended a scoring drought of over five minutes when Dobbs made a free throw with 26 seconds left to close out the scoring in the game.
"Kara hit some big free throws," said Pemper, "and we got some stops when we needed to. We took some big charges and had some blocks. We made some nice plays when we had to.
"I'm not sure why the ball stopped going in for us. I liked some of the looks we had."
Navy had made 15 of 31 (48.4%) shots from the field, including 7 of 11 (63.6%) three-point attempts through Meador's triple with 18:09 left in the second half. From there, Navy misfired on each of its seven three-point attempts and on 21 of its final 22 (4.5%) shots from the floor in all. However, Navy was 11 of 16 (68.8%) from the foul line in the second half.
While Navy struggled from the field, its defense managed to limit the damage American could have caused. After tying the game with 5:42 left to play, the Eagles were 0 of 8 from the field with just one offensive rebound and missed 3 of 4 free throw attempts over the remainder of the game.
American held a slim 38-36 edge on the glass in the game, but the Mids forced the Eagles into 20 turnovers while committing just 15 turnovers of their own.
Individually, Geif led Navy with 14 points while adding nine rebounds, Membreno tallied 11 rebounds, six points, four assists and two steals, with Pollinger going 6 of 6 from the foul line to total nine points to go along with her five assists.
"I thought our team came out with really good energy and a really good attitude coming off of our loss to Army," said Pemper. "I think Kara was at the top of the list of people like that and that's what we really want from her. When she brings that I think we are hard to beat. I was really pleased; with this being a midweek game against a good American team, it was nice to see that leadership from her."
Dobbs led American with 12 points.
Patriot League Standings (3 games left)
1. 9-2 Navy
2. 8-3 Army
T3. 6-5 American
T3. 6-5 Holy Cross
5. 5-6 Lehigh
T6. 4-7 Bucknell
T6. 4-7 Lafayette
8. 2-9 Colgate