Women's Basketball Puts Clamps on Catholic to Advance to 2nd Round

Friday, March 2, 2012

Playing in the first NCAA Tournament game in program history, the Catholic women’s basketball team definitely felt the pressure.

It wasn’t so much the pressure of playing on the national stage as it was the pressure applied by the Muhlenberg guards.

The Mules (23-5) put forth their third straight outstanding defensive effort of the postseason in beating the Cardinals, 63-54, to advance to the second round

Katy Rossino
Rossino (above), Caldwell and Rush combined for 10 assists and five steals.
of the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. They will play host Mount Union, a 73-63 winner over La Roche, on Saturday at 7:00.

Junior Alita Zabrecky led the offense with 19 points, and senior Alexandra Chili added 18 to break another scoring record.

Catholic made two field goals in the first minute, part of a game-opening 7-0 run, then connected on only five the rest of the half. The Mules held the Cardinals to 23.3-percent shooting in the first half.

The key was the in-your-face defense provided by Muhlenberg’s point guard trio of senior Katy Rossino, sophomore Colleen Caldwell and freshman Hannah Rush.

“We tried to take them out of their comfort zone. We noticed that whenever we pressured them, they made bad decisions or backed up,” said Rossino. “When they backed up, we were able to play defense the way we wanted to.”

The offense was playing the way it wanted to at the beginning of the game, except for making shots. After the Mules missed their first six tries, sophomore Leeann Lanza connected on back-to-back baseline jumpers to kick off an 11-0 run, and Muhlenberg never trailed again.

“We were getting good shots. We knew we were doing what we needed to do,” said Chili. “Everyone stayed aggressive, and that opened up the court for all of us.”

Ahead 29-23 at halftime, the Mules scored the first eight points of the second half to open up a double-digit lead

Alexandra Chili
In a career filled with highlight-reel plays, Chili made another one midway through the second half when she batted an inbounds pass under the basket, caught the deflection and beat everyone else down the court for a layup.
for the first time. The first two came on a baseline jumper by Chili that gave her 1,974 points – the most by any Centennial Conference player, male or female. She finished the game with 1,984, just 16 shy of 2,000.

Muhlenberg eventually upped its lead to 17 before the Cardinals made a mini-comeback. An 8-0 run cut the Mules’ advantage to seven with less than six minutes to play, and a three-pointer with 50.2 seconds on the clock made it 57-51.

Zabrecky made both ends of a one-and-one with 39.5 ticks left, and Chili found Lanza wide open down the court on a press break for a game-clinching layup.

Lanza finished with 12 points, one of three double-figure scorers on a Muhlenberg offense that recorded 19 assists (against only nine turnovers) on its 22 baskets.

“A lot of games where it’s close and we feel pressure, we rush our shots or drive and try to play one-on-one,” said Rossino. “Tonight, it seemed almost every play we got a lot of reversals and got an open shot. We really ran our offense very well and very effectively.”

And then there was the defense, which held the Cardinals to 28.6 percent from the field and forced 14 turnovers. In their current eight-game winning streak, the Mules are holding opponents to 27.9-percent shooting.

“We decided we needed to improve our defense if we wanted to be successful in the postseason, because that was one of our weaknesses,” said Chili. “You can’t win in the NCAAs without playing defense.”

And Chili, Rossino and fellow seniors Kimberly Mui and Kathleen Naddaff know all about winning. The victory against Catholic gave them a school-record 93 for their careers, breaking the mark set by the Class of 2009.

“It’s really exciting to see how well we’ve done for four full years. We know how much of a tradition there is here,” said Rossino, before somewhat reluctantly adding, “I hope next year’s class breaks it.”

Then, with more enthusiasm, she said “I hope we win some more.”
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