March 1, 2014
BALTIMORE, Md. -- A game-opening 21-4 run and a 15-0 run in the second half propelled the Navy women's basketball team to a 74-50 victory over Loyola Saturday afternoon at Reitz Arena in Baltimore in the regular season finale for both teams.
The win by the Mids gives them the first outright Patriot League regular season title in school history. Navy posted a 15-3 record in league games this year to earn the solo crown after previously sharing the title in 1998, 2011 and 2013.
"Any time you can attach the word `history' to something you do, it is really special," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper, "especially this year with the 18-game season and bringing in two good teams into the league. It is a really talented league, top to bottom. This was won in a double overtime game at Bucknell, a few big home wins, a good win at Holy Cross, a big win to start off the year at Lafayette; it was won over the course of a couple of months. I am incredibly happy for the whole team and the coaching staff.
"Any coach will tell you, it is not easy to play when there is so much pressure on you, internally and externally. We have our flaws. I think the Patriot League knows them. To be able to persevere and pull out individual games and just stay healthy enough to win the first outright championship is a great accomplishment. That's not something that was expected, but something that was earned."
Navy also ends the regular season with a 23-6 record. The 23 wins ties the school record for the most wins posted in a season by a Navy team. Additionally, Navy's Class of 2014 won its 82nd career game to set a school record for the most career victories by a class.
Jade Geif (Sr., Lakeville, Minn.) was the catalyst for Navy's strong start. She connected on each of her first four shots from the floor as the Mids quickly jumped out to an 8-0 lead. After Nneka Offodile scored the first field goal of the game for the Greyhounds, Audrey Bauer (Sr., Lake Zurich, Ill.) hit a three-point shot for the Mids. Neither team scored on their next respective possession, then Alix Membreno (Sr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) scored on a basket and foul shot to give the Mids a 14-2 lead just over five minutes into the game.
Jeneh Perry would soon score for the Greyhounds, but then a 7-0 run capped by Membreno scoring on a layup boosted Navy out to the 21-4 cushion.
"I liked our players (at the start of the game)," said Pemper. "They were focused, but also relaxed. They had a good purpose, with going on the road and having so much on the line."
Loyola chipped away at the margin and soon pulled to within eight points of the Mids at 25-17 with 5:32 left before halftime. The Greyhounds had a possession with the opportunity to cut even more into the difference between the teams, but a missed shot was followed by first Membreno and then Bauer hitting jumpers for the Mids.
Navy would lead by as many as 15 points before taking a 33-23 lead into halftime.
The Mids opened the second half in a similar fashion to how they started the game. Navy scored the first five points of the half on a three-point shot from Chloe Stapleton (Jr., Cary, N.C.) and a jumper by Geif as part of an 8-2 run that gave the Mids a 41-25 advantage just two minutes into the stanza.
However, the Mids couldn't yet fully shake free from the Greyhounds. Navy held a 46-31 advantage before a 7-0 run by Loyola sliced the difference down to 46-38 with just under 13 minutes still to play in the game. A pair of free throws by M.L. Morrison (Sr., Southlake, Texas) on Navy's next possession made it a 10-point game, with Loyola's Lisa Mirarchi sinking one of two free throw attempts the next time the Greyhounds had the ball to cut the score down to 48-39..
One of the biggest plays of the game took place on Navy's next trip down the floor as Kara Pollinger (Sr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) drained a three-point shot. to stem the tide for the Mids.
"We had missed some good looks," said Pemper. "None of our three-point shooters had an especially good shooting first half. And then we came out in the second and Chloe hit one, Audrey hit one and then Kara had a good look but missed it. The whole team was happy to see her put one in. Loyola took some momentum in the first half. They were aggressive in going to the basket. Obviously the pressure then is on us, but I like how we came out in the second half. Again, we were kind of relaxed and focused. Kara's three was big because of the points, but also because she need to hit one."
Membreno followed up Pollinger's triple by stealing the ball and eventually scoring on a layup. Another Loyola turnover led to Membreno again scoring inside, then a missed shot by Loyola was followed by Membreno being fouled and sinking both attempts from the charity stripe to give Navy a 57-39 lead with 10 minutes left to play.
Neither team made a field goal for several minutes, but in the interim Membreno, Morrison and Sarita Condie (Fr., Loveland, Nev.) each went two-of-two from the foul line to help the Mids build a 63-39 advantage with 7:37 remaining on the clock.
Navy sank 45.3 percent of its shots from the floor for the game. Though the Mids didn't have their best three-point shooting percentage of the year -- 8-26, 30.8 percent -- Navy was 18 of 21 from the free throw line for a season-high tying mark of 85.7 percent.
Defensively, the Mids limited Loyola a 34.0-percent shooting for the game, including a 2 of 10 mark (20%) from three-point range.
Navy held a 36-30 advantage on the glass and committed eight turnovers while forcing 14. The Mids would score 21 points after Loyola turnovers.
"We didn't turn the ball over much in the second half (three times)," said Pemper. "It is uncharacteristic for Kara to have four turnovers in a single game, so I think for the whole team to be good at that in the second half mattered. We know we shouldn't turn it over, so it becomes a mental challenge when we do. So it was nice in the second half to just play calm."
Membreno connected on six of eight field goal attempts and eight of 10 foul shots to score a game-high 20 points while adding five rebounds and four assists. Geif would sink seven of nine attempts from the floor to score 14 points while snaring a game-high seven caroms.
"Alix definitely played really well," said Pemper. "She was smart, aggressive, made shots, took the ball to the basket, and made free throws."
Perry made 7 of 10 field goal attempts to score a game-high 17 points for the Greyhounds, while Tiffany Padgett was second on the squad with 12 points.
The top-seeded Midshipmen will begin their quest for the program's fourth-straight Patriot League Tournament title Thursday night when it plays host to the winner of Tuesday's No. 9 Colgate at No. 8 Lehigh first round game.
"It is what you always say; it is new season now, a three-game season," said Pemper, who herself broke the Navy record for the most Patriot League regular season wins by a head coach with her 60th such victory today. "We are happy to put this behind us and start a new season."
Final Patriot League Standings
1. 15-3 Navy
T2. 14-4 Army
T2. 14-4 American
4. 12-6 Bucknell
5. 10-8 Holy Cross
6. 8-10 Lafayette
7. 7-11 Boston U.
8. 5-13 Lehigh
9. 4-14 Colgate
10. 2-16 Loyola
Patriot League Tournament Pairings
First Round, Tuesday, March 4
#10 Loyola at #7 Boston U.
#9 Colgate at #8 Lehigh
Quarterfinals, Thursday, March 6
Colgate/Lehigh winner at #1 Navy
#5 Holy Cross at #4 Bucknell
Loyola/Boston U. winner at #2 Army
#6 Lafayette at #3 American
Semifinals, Monday, March 9
Championship, Saturday, March 15