By Dan Rubin
BABSON PARK, MA – Three college basketball teams remain undefeated in the NCAA for Division III women’s basketball standings. With each game, especially in postseason play, the pressure mounts. For Babson, that’s just business as usual.
The #6-ranked, top-seeded, undefeated Babson Beavers defeated the Springfield College Pride by a 82-64 count, extending their winning streak to 26-games and their conference winning streak to 41. The win also advanced the Beavers to the NEWMAC Championship on Sunday, where they will play at home looking for their third straight league crown against Smith College.
“I’m just happy for the team right now,” said Beaver head coach Judy Blinstrub. “We knew Springfield was going to be a tough opponent. We just have to come back (on Sunday) and play like we have all season, and if we do, we can get that championship.”
Although Babson outshot the Pride by a full 20%, the Beavers saw the game tied by the tenacity of Springfield’s second-chance offense. The visitors grabbed four offensive boards to match shots made with Babson, tying the game at 21-21 at the halfway point of the first half. But the home squad was able to grab the lead behind Kathleen King, who had 10-points on 5-6 shooting at that point. King would go on to shoot 9-11 in the first half, scoring 18-points, including a buzzer-beating jumper to close out the first half.
League-leading scorer and defending NEWMAC Player of the Year, Nickole Wurdeman added 10-points, as Babson built a 47-34 lead by halftime. That lead, however, did not indicate just how close it felt on the court.
“I thought Springfield did a really good job setting screens, and they were getting really good looks,” said Blinstrub. “They executed their game plan, and it never really felt like we were ahead of them. It felt like it was a two-point game that whole time.”
After opening up on that 80% shooting pace, the Beavers eventually leveled off to a slightly more pedestrian 60% by the break. But they were able to dictate some of the game pace by owning the boards, collecting 10 offensive rebounds in the first frame and 21 total. King led the way, collecting eight boards, while Wurdeman and Damisi Adewumi contributed five apiece. And after allowing four offensive rebounds in the first ten minutes, Babson allowed just one the rest of the half.
Springfield opened up the second half refusing to go away quietly, opening up with two three pointers to cut the lead to seven over the first two minutes. But Babson quickly quelled the rally behind Wurdeman. She showed why she led the league this season in points per game, heating up when the Pride began double-teaming King. This forced a switch back to straight man-to-man defense, which helped the duo pace Babson. It also allowed the Beavers to maintain the double digit lead as Springfield’s offense began finding the bucket. It was punctuated by a Wurdeman dagger three-pointer from the elbow with 14 minutes left.
The Beavers finished the game with an amazing 48-rebounds, including 25 on the offensive end. Both King (25 points and 14 rebounds) and Wurdeman (26 points and 9 rebounds, including 16 points in the 2nd half) hit the 20-point mark, while Adewumi and Amanda Grammel posted 10 apiece.
For Springfield, four players finished in double figures. Abby Connors scored 18, while Kelly Murphy added 16. Kelly Slattery finished with 17, and Meghan Biondolillo scored 10.
The Pride finished the year [13-14] overall, including a .500 season and [12-6] NEWMAC record. This included winning eight of their final nine regular season games, along with 72-58 upset over Wellesley College.
Babson improved to [26-0], including a [25-0] regular season mark that has turned into a mission to avenge last year’s postseason defeat to Amherst College in the Division III Sectional Championship. They advance to Sunday’s NEWMAC Championship with the chance to win their third consecutive conference crown on their home hardwood.
“Our girls are so focused right now,” said Blinstrub. “It’s great to have the crowd, and it’s great to have the support that we have. But the team is so focused right now on getting something done, if the gym was empty, they’d still play just as hard.”