Flying Dutchwomen players and coaches figured James Madison thought it had the Dutchwomen right where the Dukes wanted them Feb. 27, up 21 points with the nation’s leading scorer, CAA Player of the Year Dawn Evans, still scoreless. As it turned out, the Dutchwomen were perfectly positioned for a comeback that could still pay dividends at the CAA Tournament this weekend.
The Dutchwomen stormed back from a 23-point deficit to knock off CAA regular season champion James Madison, 75-73, before they continued to build momentum with a 91-84 win over William & Mary in the season finale. The Dutchwomen, who won their final three games to finish 10-8 in conference and earn the fifth seed, will play 12th-seeded William & Mary this afternoon in Upper Marlboro, MD (oh my God a true neutral site, does upper management know about this?!). The winner faces fourth-seeded VCU in the quarterfinals Friday, with the semifinals and championship scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
The win over James Madison was particularly important for a Dutchwomen team that had specialized in the close call during a 7-10 stretch in which it lost six games by six points or less, including narrow losses to second-seeded Old Dominion and third-seeded UNC Wilmington. “You don’t get the reward from ODU [a 79-77 loss], from VCU [an 85-76 loss], then you get the low point in the JMU game,” coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey said yesterday. “We went crazy at halftime, just screaming [that] we’re not going to sit here and back down and let somebody handle us. The way they fought in the second half was just amazing, that was the craziest game I’ve ever coached in my life. Just a phenomenal game, so proud of my team.
“That exemplified us to a ‘T.’ No way we were ever going to back down. That definitely put us up over the top and definitely got us riding high.”
Finishing fifth was an impressive feat for the Dutchwomen, who were picked to finish fourth in the CAA’s preseason poll but lost center Marie Malone to a season-ending leg injury shortly after Thanksgiving and endured their share of travel hiccups—their plane to San Diego and the Maggie Dixon Classic was the last one to take flight before the local airports shut down during the post-Christmas blizzard—this winter.
“You’re always going to have ups and downs and peaks and valleys in a season, and some of them, you wish you could stop the heartache because you know it’s coming,” Kilburn-Steveskey said. “But I certainly feel like we’re playing our best basketball right now, and now is the right time to be playing it.”
The Dutchwomen are led by sophomore Shante Evans, who earned first-team All-CAA honors after a season in which she produced 15 double-doubles—she pulled down 23 rebounds against George Mason Feb. 24, one shy of the school record—and led Hofstra in both scoring (18.6 points) and rebounding (11.1). The Dutchwomen also had a member of the All-Rookie team in Kate Loper, who won the Rookie of the Week award eight times (but didn’t win the Rookie of the Year, cough, southern bias, cough cough) in a season in which she averaged 11.7 points per game and led the team with 72 3-pointers.
But the key to the weekend for the young Dutchwomen will be their handful of veterans, including lone senior starter Aamira Terry, junior point guard Candice Bellocchio and junior shooting guard Nicole Capurso. Terry regained her spot in the starting lineup for the penultimate game against James Madison and finished the year by scoring 10 or more points in her final three games after recording just one double-digit game in the Dutchwomen’s first 26 contests.
Bellocchio led the CAA in assists per game (5.2) while Capurso, a starter earlier in the year, has provided the Dutchwomen with a boost off the bench by scoring in double figures in six of her 10 non-starts. “Our upperclassmen, they have been coming on,” Kilburn-Steveskey said.
The Dutchwomen are familiar with William & Mary, whom they have played in the first round of the CAA Tournament each of the previous two years and in three of the preceding four, and should be focused after the Tribe nearly pulled the upset eight days ago in Virginia.
“It’s not like we beat them by 30 a week ago,” Kilburn-Steveskey said. “I think it’s positive because we know we didn’t play very good defense at their place. It was their Senior Night, they did some good things, and I think we have that in the back of our minds that we’re not walking into anything here. We know we’ve got to take care of business and definitely play our best basketball now.”