WALTHAM, MA – Senior guard Lauren Brittingham scored a game-high 21 points, but the No. 8 seeded University of the District of Columbia women's basketball team succumbed to top-seeded NCAA East Regional host Bentley University, 77-58 on Friday night at the Dana Center.
District of Columbia's 2011-12 season comes to a close with this loss as the Firebirds finished with an overall mark of 21-7 and the school's first NCAA Tournament berth in three years. Meanwhile, the No. 5 ranked team in the country, Bentley, advances to tomorrow night's semifinal round where the Falcons will take on the winner of the No. 4 Franklin Pierce vs. No. 5 Pace quarterfinal game that tips off later tonight. This tournament marks the Falcons' NCAA record 29th appearance in the East Regional, and this is the defending East Region champions' seventh straight NCAA Tournament victory at the Dana Center.
Brittingham (Washington, DC – Potomac HS), a First-Team All East Coast Conference selection, playing in what was to be her final game in a Firebird uniform, made an impressive 12-of-12 from the free-throw line to compensate for an otherwise poor shooting night (4-of-16 FG, 1-of-9 3-Pt. FG) as she came in and out of the game with foul trouble for most of the second half. Janelle Junior (Riverside, CA – La Sierra HS) shot 3-of-5 from the field to finish with nine points, and Jasmine Rich (Willingboro, NJ – Willingboro HS) and Snezana Blagojevic (Kragujevac, Serbia – Towson Catholic HS) added seven points apiece.
Bentley featured a much more balanced and efficient offense with five Falcons scoring in double-figures, including Courtney Finn and Lauren Battista with 16 apiece. Jacqui Brugliera and Katherine Goodwin each dropped in 14 points and Caleigh Crowell added 12. Also, point guard Christiana Bakolas handed out a game-high seven assists and turned the ball over just once.
Both teams had slow offensive starts, but the Falcons eventually asserted themselves with a 10-0 run to take control with a 12-2 lead a little over five minutes into the action. At that point, Junior gave the Firebirds a spark, driving to the basket and drawing contact as she tossed a layup high up off the glass and got it to go for the conventional three-point play. Then, following a Crowell layup, sophomore Julissa Anderson (Greensboro, NC – Southeast Guilford HS) buried a three-pointer off of an assist from Rich to make it a six-point game (14-8) approaching the 13-minute mark.
Around the 11-minute mark, Brugliera knocked down a pair of free-throws to up Bentley's lead back to eight when UDC went on a 5-0 run that included another Junior jumper and another three-pointer by Anderson to bring the Firebirds within three, 18-15 with 10:09 left in the half. But Bentley answered with a 5-0 surge of its own, and the Falcons controlled a 25-17 advantage as the clock hit the seven-minute mark.
A steal by Blagojevic resulted in a fast-break for UDC, and senior forward Stacy Griffith (Fredericksburg, VA – Riverbend HS) capitalized on a putback after a Firebird miss at the 6:22 mark. After a missed layup by Bentley on the ensuing possession, Rich went coast-to-coast for a layup to cut the deficit to four, 25-21 with just under six minutes left in the first half.
At that point, a Battista layup ignited an 11-0 Falcon surge over the next three minutes that was highlighted by five consecutive points by Goodwin, and Bentley grabbed its largest lead of the first half, 36-21 with 2:08 left before intermission. Still, trailing by 15 with only two minutes left before halftime, the Firebirds fought their way back into the game with a 5-0 run to close out the half, and they headed to the locker room trailing the No. 5 ranked team in the country by only 10 points (36-26).
The Falcons wasted no time in putting the game out of reach in the second half, as they opened the final stanza with a 6-0 run and never allowed the Firebirds with 14 points the rest of the way. The Bentley lead ballooned to as many as 22 in the waning moments of regulation before the Falcons eventually settled for the 77-58 win.
Neither team shot well from the field, but the host's had a slight 36-percent to 31-percent edge in field goals and made 7-of-23 from long-range compared to UDC's 5-of-21. District of Columbia was very impressive at the free-throw line (19-of-21, 91-percent) but Bentley made out like bandits at the stripe with 28 made free-throws in 33 attempts. The Falcons, led by 14 combined rebounds by their two forwards Battista and Brugliera, held a 47-31 rebounding advantage, outscored UDC 22-16 in the paint, and turned 18 offensive boards into 14 second-chance points compared to just four by the Firebirds. UDC managed to stay in the game as long as it did in large part because of exceptional bench play as Firebird reserves combined to score 27 points on the night.
Head coach Lester Butler, who has coached UDC for three 20-win seasons, said goodbye to seven quality seniors – two of which, Jasmine Rich and Stacy Griffith, were freshmen on the last Firebirds team to make the NCAA Tournament in 2009. UDC returns nine players for next season, including East Coast Conference All-Rookie Team selection, Denikka Brent.