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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, March 12, 2009

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Women’s basketball looks to extend
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While her teammates were soaking in a one-point win that sent the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever last Saturday, junior forward Alexis Bates climbed to the top steps of Bowdoin’s Morrell Gymnasium with her parents for a family portrait in front of the large Bates banner on the wall.

Although Amherst, like Bowdoin and Bates, is a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, the Bates family will have a harder time Sweet 16 standing in front of the Bates banner this weekend: At LeFrak Gymnasium, the banners of conference rivals hang from a wire near the ceiling.

But it’s not like the Mules aren’t aiming high.

“We think, we’ve gone this far, we have to keep going,” said Bates (the player, not the college).

Muhlenberg (26-3) will take on Brandeis (19-7) in the Round of 16 on Friday at 5:00, with Amherst (27-2) to play New York University (23-4) at 7:00. The winners meet Saturday at 6:00 for the sectional title and a trip to the Division III “Final Four” in Holland, Mich.

Brandeis and NYU come from a conference (the University Athletic Association) that has produced five national champions and had two teams in the “Final Four” as recently as 2007. Amherst’s coach, G.P. Gromacki, led St. Lawrence to the national championship game in 2002.

That’s unfamiliar company for the Mules, whose two previous trips to the second round of the NCAAs resulted in losses by 24 and 20 points.

“We’re definitely in shock,” said Bates. “But we absolutely feel that we deserve it because we worked so hard.”

Brandeis, like Muhlenberg, is in the Sweet 16 for the first time. The Judges started the year with 10 straight non-conference wins and climbed as high as No. 5 in the D3hoops.com poll, then split 14 UAA games. Brandeis has played 13 of its 26 games against NCAA Tournament squads, posting an 8-5 record, including a win at then-No. 2 Rochester on Feb. 15.

The Judges were pressed in their NCAA first-round game against Little East Conference semifinalist Western Connecticut, erasing a 10-point second-half deficit by closing with a 32-9 run to win, 62-49. They carried that momentum into the second round, taking an early 16-2 lead and going on to beat Mount St. Mary, 79-52.

Brandeis is paced by All-UAA first-team guard Jessica Chapin, who leads the team in scoring (14.2 points per game), rebounding (6.7 per game), assists (3.3 per game) and steals (3.0 per game). The Judges lead the UAA in both three-pointers per game and three-point field-goal percentage, and they also start two 6-footers.

“It’s going to be really good competition,” said Bates. “They come from a tough league.”

Muhlenberg enters the Round of 16 with a 12-game NCAA basketball winning streak. In a season already marked by historic accomplishments (becoming the first team to go 18-0 in the Centennial Conference, handing Bowdoin its first-ever postseason home loss), the Mules have several more milestones on the horizon:

• A win vs. Brandeis would give the Mules a school and Centennial Conference-record 27 on the season. It would also tie the school record for longest winning streak.

• Reaching the quarterfinals would match the Johns Hopkins teams of 1997 and 1998 for the farthest advancement by a CC team.

• Senior Lauren Boyle needs six points to become the second player in Muhlenberg history (and the 10th in CC history) to score 1,500 points.

• Sophomore Kelly McKeon needs six assists and seven rebounds to become the first CC player with 150 assists and 250 rebounds in a season.

• Freshman Alexandra Chili needs three points to break the 18-year-old school record of 467 points in a season. She also needs six three-pointers to become the first freshman in Division III history with 100 threes and 100 assists in a season.
Click here for the tournament preview page, including links to live video and live stats.

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