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Navy Takes First Step with Win Over Lehigh

Kara Pollinger

March 6, 2014

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy women's basketball team opened the 2014 Patriot League Tournament by shooting over 50 percent from the floor and making 12-of-20 three-point attempts to record an 84-54 victory over Lehigh Thursday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.

With the win tonight the Mids, outright regular season champions for the first time in school history, broke the Navy record for wins in a season with their 24th victory in 30 games this year. Lehigh, the No. 8 seed and winners two nights ago of a first-round game over No. 9 Colgate, has its season end with a 13-18 record.

"Jade Geif (Sr., Lakeville, Minn.) said (before the game) that we need to play like we are the eight seed and they (Lehigh) are the one seed," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper, who has guided Navy to at least one win in each of her six Patriot League Tournaments, the only coach to do so over that time. "To some degree, that is how we played."

Navy held an early 8-6 lead over Lehigh tonight when the Mids slowly extended their margin out to 10 points at 21-11. The Mountain Hawks chipped away at their deficit and soon closed to within five points of Navy at 23-18 with just over six minutes left to play in the half.

Sarita Condie (Fr., Loveland, Nev.) hit a jumper on Navy's ensuing trip down the floor, then a steal by Audrey Bauer (Sr., Lake Zurich, Ill.) to end the next Lehigh offensive possession led to Kara Pollinger (Sr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) nailing a three-point shot on the other end of the court. A missed shot by the Mountain Hawks on their next opportunity on offense was snared by Condie to give the ball back to Navy. Bauer followed with a three-point shot of her own, then Pollinger tallied a steal to give the ball right back to the Mids. Geif was fouled while going up for a shot, and she made one of two free throws to give Navy a 32-18 lead and cap 9-0 run in less than two minutes time.

Elizabeth Sharlow made a field goal for Lehigh on its next possession, but Navy answered by scoring the next eight points to build a 40-20 lead with 2:20 remaining before halftime. The Mids would go into the break with a 44-23 lead.

"People just hitting shots," said Pollinger, of Navy's 21-5 run to close the first half. "Getting deflections and steals, it really sparked our offense as well as get Lehigh out of its rhythm. And we got to push in transition a little more than we do."

"We pushed the ball pretty well," said Pemper of the end of the first half. "I thought Sarita was a good spark. And Alix Membreno (Sr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) played hard. But mostly we shot the ball well."

Navy shot 53.5 percent from the floor in the field half, which included a 6-of-10 effort from three-point land, while making 6-of-8 free throw attempts. The Mids held Lehigh to 28.6 percent shooting from the field, which included a 1-of-8 showing from beyond the arc. Additionally, Navy committed just five first-half turnovers while forcing Lehigh into 12 turnovers.

The second half began the Mids turning the ball over and Lehigh's Katie O'Reilly scoring on a jumper. Navy would promptly score on each of its next five possessions on a three-point field goal by Chloe Stapleton (Jr., Cary, N.C.), a three-point shot by Pollinger, a three-point basket by Bauer, a jumper by Bauer and a pair of free throws by Bauer to take a 57-29 lead less than four minutes into the stanza.

The Mids would lead by at least 24 points over the remainder of the game.

"Obviously we have an overarching understanding of what each game really means," said team captain Pollinger, "but we also understand what got us to the No. 1 seed, what got us to this point in the season; we know it wasn't feeling uptight, it was wasn't us putting pressure on ourselves to perform, it was going out as a team and really inspiring each other to play well and holding each other accountable when we weren't."

Navy made 12-of-20 three-point shots in the game (60%) and made 51.7 percent of its overall field goal attempts on the night. Helping Navy to that shooting effort was recording 23 assists -- a season high -- on its 31 made field goals. The Mids also limited Lehigh to 34.5 percent shooting from the field, including a 2-of-14 night from three-point range (14.3%). Though Lehigh held a 37-35 advantage on the glass, Navy committed just nine turnovers while forcing the Mountain Hawks into 18.

"I thought we played really well," said Pemper. "We shot the ball well. A big focus was to not turn the ball over, and I think we did a nice job there.

"We kind of told them (our players) to play like Lehigh and get deflections. Lehigh is good at that, and tonight our kids were really good at it. I thought we had nice team defense. We executed well and made shots."

Four Mids scored in double figures on the night. Pollinger, who totaled 17 points over the last four games, was 5-of-8 from three-point range in scoring 17 points while also dishing out five assists tonight. Bauer was 5-of-5 from the field, made both of her three-point attempts and was 2-of-2 from the foul line in scoring 14 points. She also contributed two rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block. Geif was 4-of-7 from the floor and made 6-of-8 foul shots to also score 14 points. She would lead the Mids with seven rebounds while also dishing out two assists and swiping one steal. Peri Curtis (So., Coronado, Calif.) made both of her three-point attempts and was 4-of-6 from the floor in all to score 10 points.

"It's a great way for us to kickoff the tournament," said Pollinger. "Putting a lot of points on the board and getting contributions from everyone; we really had our chemistry clicking tonight. Much of our offense came from our defense play. We had a lot of steals, more than we usually do, and even more than that, getting a lot of deflections and getting Lehigh out of its rhythm."

Lehigh was led in scoring by O'Reilly, who was 4-of-5 from the floor on her way to tallying 10 points.

The top-seeded Mids will play host to No. 5 seed Holy Cross Monday night in the semifinal round of the tournament. That game will tip at 7 p.m. in Alumni Hall. The Crusaders posted a 79-66 win over No. 4 Bucknell tonight in Lewisburg, Pa. Navy defeated Holy Cross by seven points in both games played between the teams this year, and the Mids posted wins over the Crusaders in the championship game of the 2012 and '13 Patriot League Tournaments.

"We are grateful to have another game, regardless of who it is against," said Pollinger. "We know they are hungry and would love to take it from us more than have it themselves. We are going to have very focused practices these next few days and understand we are not going to just walk in (and win); it is definitely something we are going to have to earn."

"We obviously have had some really good games with them, some big games in the last couple of championships," said Pemper of facing Holy Cross. "I don't think either of us are surprised to meet up in the semis. They are a talented team."

Monday's other semifinal round game features No. 3 American playing at No. 2 Army. The Eagles recorded a 51-49 win over No. 6 Lafayette in Washington, D.C. tonight, while the Black Knights defeated No. 7 Boston University, 49-45, this evening in West Point, N.Y.



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