MEDFORD, Mass. – Reaching the Final Four of the NCAA Division III Tournament is starting to become a ritual for the Tufts University women's basketball team.
The fourth-ranked Jumbos (29-2, 9-1 in NESCAC) will be making their fourth consecutive appearance in the semifinals of the national tournament on Friday with a 5 p.m. matchup against No. 2/3 St. Thomas (Minn.). On the other side of the bracket, top-ranked Amherst (31-0, 10-0 in NESCAC) and No. 7/10 Christopher Newport (29-2, 16-2 in CAC) are set for a 7:30 p.m. semifinal-round tilt at the Van Noord Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The two winners will meet in the championship game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The Jumbos are a battle-tested group, as they have competed against Amherst twice, most recently a 41-37 setback in the NESCAC championship game on Feb. 26. The Jumbos did not hang their heads at the conclusion of the game, but instead quickly refocused on the only thing they could control, which was the future and making a deep NCAA Tournament run.
The Jumbos defeated Saint Joseph's of Maine, 65-44, in the first round at Cousens Gym on March 3, jumping all over the Monks with a 20-4 advantage in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Jac Knapp totaled a game-high 18 points, to go along with five rebounds, four assists and two steals, as the Jumbos went 10-for-22 from downtown.
The next test for the Jumbos was a matchup against Husson on March 4 at Cousens Gym. The Jumbos added a point to their lethal run in this matchup with a 21-4 advantage in the third frame, as the Jumbos ran away with the game quickly in the second half during a 64-44 triumph. Senior captain Michela North finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
In order for the Jumbos to keep extending their season, their act needed to travel and that is exactly what happened. The Jumbos, who often refer to themselves as "road warriors" in the tournament, outlasted No. 13/17 Scranton, 65-48, during Tufts' sixth straight appearance at the Sweet 16 in St. Louis. Knapp was the leader of the show, dropping a career-high 20 points, going 5-for-8 on the three-ball and 7-for-10 from the floor.
The Jumbos punched their ticket to a fourth consecutive Final Four with a hard-fought 57-43 victory over host and No. 6 Washington University on Saturday in St. Louis. The Jumbos led by only one point, 19-18, at intermission, but the squad put their foot on the accelerator in the third, winning the frame, 22-12. The Jumbos utilized a swarming and physical brand of defense, which kept the Bears on their toes all night.
Knapp Keeps Rolling
During every NCAA Tournament run, an unsung hero needs to step up, and this year it has been sophomore guard Jac Knapp. The Westfield, New Jersey, native is averaging 15.3 points per game during the four games on the national stage, while finishing with double figures in all of them.
The Jumbos will occasionally have a poor shooting night, but they never take a night off on the defensive end, as that side of the ball is their bread and butter. The team has held 28 of 31 opponents to less than 50 points this season, including 19 in a row. The Jumbos' defense ranks No. 2 in the country in scoring defense (42.5), as the squad has held top-level competition to 48 points or less in all four NCAA Tournament games. The defensive effort starts with junior captain and point guard Lauren Dillon, who works as diligently as anyone on the defensive end, as she was named 2016-17 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year.
History at the Final Four
2013-14: The Jumbos made their first-ever appearance at the Final Four during the 2013-14 season, as the team lost a low-scoring affair, 42-39, to FDU-Florham in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. North tallied 13 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench.
2014-15: Senior captain and guard Josie Lee, who was a sophomore during the 2014-15 campaign, finished with a career-high 13 points and eight rebounds in Final Four action against Thomas More on March 20, 2015, but it was not enough, as the Saints prevailed, 62-52, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
2015-16: The third time was the charm for the Jumbos, as they ousted Wartburg, 63-50, in the semifinals on March 19, 2016, behind double-doubles by North (13 points, 10 rebounds) and junior forward Melissa Baptista (14 points, 12 boards), who was a sophomore at the time. Dillon, a sophomore during the game, dropped a career-high 19 points, going 5-for-7 from the floor, 3-for-4 from 3-point range and 6-for-8 from the free-throw line. The Jumbos gave Thomas More all it could handle in the national championship game on April 4, as the scored was knotted at 49 with 6:28 left, but the Saints finished the game on a 14-2 run, claiming a 63-51 victory.
Scouting the Tommies (31-0, 18-0 in MIAC)
St. Thomas, which is makings it 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, comes into Final Four action with an unblemished record, as the Tommies defeated UW-Superior, 98-56, in the first round, Chicago, 73-69, in the second round, Marymount (Va.), 62-55, in the Sweet 16 and Whitman, 65-48, in the Elite Eight.
Senior Kaitlin Langer has been a nightmare for every opposition in the post, as the 6-foot-3 center is averaging 19.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, while shooting 54.8 percent from the floor (201-for-367) and 79.9 percent from the foul line (195-for-244). She finished with 18 points, 19 rebounds and four rejections during the fourth-round triumph over Whitman on Saturday.
The Tommies also receive consistent production from senior guard Gabby Zehrer (11.1 points per game) and junior guard/forward Lauren Fischer (9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds). Fischer has been an efficient scorer all season long, shooting 46.4 percent from the floor (98-for-211), 42.0 percent from the 3-point line (63-for-150) and 87.8 percent from the charity stripe (36-for-41).
Amherst vs. Christopher Newport
Amherst, who is making its 10th straight appearance on the national stage, will try to continue its perfect season, as the squad has won three of four NCAA games by at least 24 points. The squad is led by two captains in the explosive Doswell sisters, as Ali leads the way with 12.9 points per game, going 145-for-345 from the field (42.0 percent), 64-for-171 from the 3-point line (37.4 percent) and 45-for-57 from the foul line (78.9 percent).
Meredith just simply makes winning plays and does all the dirty work, averaging 8.3 points, 6.3 boards and 1.5 blocks, while being a top-notch defender in the post and on the perimeter. The Purple & White also prioritize the defensive end, holding opponents to 40.0 points per game, which is No. 1 among all Division III institutions in the country.
The Captains, who are making only their second-ever appearance in the Final Four, will look to pull off the upset. The underdogs will rely heavily on forward Sam Porter, as the junior standout is averaging team highs of 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds, while recording a team-leading 115 steals.
Written by Trevor Wenners, Athletic Communications Intern