Forgive anyone who was expecting yesterday to be a dreadful bore. After all, the weekend which preceded it had been marked by a near-absence of competition, and a complete lack of same in the NCAA Final Four contests. Why expect Monday to turn out differently?
And yet once the dust settled, those who chose to absorb the entire day got three championship games decided by a total of 20 points, over half of which were the result of a disqualification-induced 14-2 closing run by one champion.
|NCAA DIVISION I MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||(S2) Villanova 77, (E1) North Carolina 74||Marcus Paige (UNC), 21|
|NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||(SC1) Lubbock Christian 78, (W2) Alaska-Anchorage 73||Kelsey Hoppel (LCU), 27|
|NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT|
|CHAMPIONSHIP||Thomas More 63, Tufts 51||Abby Owings (TMC), 17|
The day started in Indianapolis, where Alaska-Anchorage ripped off a 10-point run in the final five minutes to turn a 14-point deficit into a game. But Lubbock Christian managed to hold on, completing their perfect season and winning the Division II title in their first year of NCAA eligibility. Anchorage will have to settle for another honor: their 38 wins are a Division II women's record.
The championship run was especially sweet for seniors Kelsey Hoppel and Nicole Hampton, who sat out last season specifically in order to be able to part of the program's first shot at the tournament. The pair, along with Bentley's Jen Gemma and the Anchorage duo of Megan Mullings and Jessica Madison, were named to the all-tournament team; Hampton was named Most Outstanding Player.
Division III also crowned an unbeaten women's champion -- in this case, a back-to-back unbeaten champion. Thomas More extended their winning streak to 66 games, but it wasn't easy. Tufts jumped out to a 17-11 lead in the first quarter, and successfully bottled up the Saints' star Sydney Moss, three-time Division III player of the year. But Thomas More battled back in the second, reversing the six-point deficit and taking a 32-26 lead into the break. The teams stayed even in the third quarter, but Tufts mounted a comeback in the early stages of the final period and tied the game at 49 with six and change left.
Then the wheels fell off. In dire foul trouble, Tufts had been obliged to mount that comeback with their best scorer, Melissa Baptista, on the bench with four fouls. Carla Berube got her back in the game once it was tied, but Baptista fouled out almost immediately on what even the announcer described as a ticky-tack reach-in. And as the Saints started to get buckets, Josie Lee and Lauren Dillon also fouled out; deprived of 60% of their starters, Tufts collapsed down the stretch.
Although Moss -- the tournament Most Outstanding Player -- wasn't silenced (14 points, 9 rebounds), the final push for the Saints was driven by 5'2" sophomore point guard Abby Owings. Owings scored a critical five points with Moss on the bench due to foul troubles of her own, and led the Saints with 17. Both were named to the all-tournament team along with Morgan Neuendorf of Wartburg and the NESCAC pair of Amherst's Hannah Hackley and Michaela North of Tufts.
And then the Division I men's championship game took center stage. We'll skip recapping that one, since obviously you either saw it or can get all the information you ever could want elsewhere. But good lord, what a game. A national championship ending in a tying bucket with 4 seconds to go and then the indelible call of Ryan Arcidiacono to Kris Jenkins for a buzzer-beating three? What more could one possibly ask? While North Carolina State's 1983 title is a high bar to clear, if one were to argue that last night's game may have been the greatest NCAA Division I men's title game ever, the speaker can't be dismissed as a crackpot.
And here we are. There is one more college basketball game to be played before we put a bow on the season and wait for November.
|NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Tue, Apr 5, 2016
Bankers Life Fieldhouse (18,165)
|7:30 PM CT
(30-7, 13-3 ACC)
(37-0, 18-0 AAC)
The Game: The Connecticut Huskies face the Syracuse Orange in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship Game. Connecticut has beaten Syracuse 23 straight times, 30 of the last 31, and holds a 37-12 lead in the series. It's the eleventh trip to the championship game for the Huskies; they've won all ten previous tries. For the Orange, this is not only their first crack at winning it all, but their first trip to the Final Four.
A Connecticut win would mean all three NCAA women's champions would be unbeaten, which would actually be the third occurrence (1995, UConn, North Dakota State, and Capital; 2014, UConn, Bentley, and FDU-Florham). It's unfortunate, but the likelihood of it happening is so high that tonight's game, the end of the 2015-16 college basketball season, will likely be the anti-climax to end all anti-climaxes... especially after last night.
TV: ESPN, with Beth Mowins, Doris Burke, and Holly Rowe.
Radio: Westwood One, with John Sadak, Debbie Antonelli, and Krista Blunk.
Online: WatchESPN. Additionally, an "Above the Rim" feed will be available via the service.