Preview: Women's Basketball Seeks Third Straight Title

Thursday, February 21, 2013

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Alita Zabrecky
Zabrecky had 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the second game against Swarthmore. She is third in the CC with a 15.2 scoring average in league games.
A potentially deflating shot had exactly the opposite effect for the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team.

Playing at Centennial Conference-leading Swarthmore in late January, the Mules had come back from a 12-point deficit in the final nine minutes to take a one-point lead with a minute left to play. The victory was snatched away, however, when the Garnet banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 68-66 win. Instead of moving closer to the top of the standings, Muhlenberg dropped back into a tie for fourth place.

“Yeah, it was heartbreaking, but it made us realize that if we could win that game, we could beat anyone in the conference,” said senior Kate Clawson. “We really just started picking up the energy after that game. It’s been a ‘can’t lose’ mentality, especially for the seniors – we said, we are NOT going to lose again.”

They haven’t.

Since that game, Muhlenberg has reeled off six straight wins to earn the third seed in the CC playoffs. And tomorrow night, the Mules will not only begin their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive CC championship, but they will do it against the team that handed them that last-second loss.

Muhlenberg (17-8, 14-6) plays Swarthmore (19-6, 15-5) tomorrow at 8:00 in the second CC semifinal game at Gettysburg. The top-seeded Bullets face Johns Hopkins, a 64-59 winner against Haverford in last night’s first-round game, in the first semi. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 7:00.

The late surge is nothing new for the Mules: Over the last three seasons, they are a combined 22-1 in February after going only 14-14 in January. This year, it has been accompanied by an increase in offensive productivity. The Mules are averaging 73.3 points in their current six-game streak, and after a stretch in which they failed to score more than 53 points in four straight games, they are averaging just under 70 points in their last 10.

“It just kind of took a while for us to get into a rhythm and find an offense that works for us,” said Clawson, who has thrived in the new offense, raising her season scoring average from 6.7 to 9.1 over the last seven games. “Now we’re comfortable with our offense and more confident in our offense.”

Colleen Caldwell, Hannah Rush
Point guards Colleen Caldwell (left) and Hannah Rush (right) combine to average 6.8 assists per game. Rush is fifth in Division III in assist-to-turnover ratio.
That confidence has the Mules in position to lead the CC in scoring for the sixth year in a row. They are currently averaging a league-best 65.7 points per game, which stands out in a CC season marked by low-scoring games – 42 in which the winning team didn’t make it past 60 points, including 11 where the winner scored no more than 50.

Tomorrow’s game shouldn’t add to those totals, as Swarthmore is second in the CC in scoring. The Garnet leads the CC by a wide margin in three-pointers per game but is shooting only 26.1 percent from behind the arc and has struggled with the long-range shots since going 13-for-30 against the Mules. Swarthmore has split its last six games, falling to second place in the standings.

And even though Swarthmore swept Muhlenberg during the regular season (winning 66-56 in November), the Mules have a huge advantage when it comes to postseason experience. Whereas the Garnet is making its first playoff appearance since 2005, Muhlenberg brings a long history of CC and NCAA playoff games. Clawson and fellow seniors Alita Zabrecky and Julie Kelly have been part of 12 postseason games – almost an extra half-season.

“It’s such a different atmosphere. It’s louder, you have the adrenaline going. You have to focus more,” said Clawson. “That will work against teams that don’t have that experience. It’s going to be exciting, and we’ll be nervous, but hopefully we’ll calm down quicker than most teams because we know what it feels like.”
Click here for the tournament page.