By Aaron M Smith
ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – The ability to close games can often be the last piece to develop in a young basketball team. It can be the difference between a winning or losing record, and even a trip to the postseason.
With a stifling defense and opportunistic offense, the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team built a sixteen point second half lead only to hold off a last minute rally by the University of Massachusetts, and claim their first Atlantic 10 conference victory of the 2012-13 season, 61-49.
Emily Michael started the scoring for the Brown and White on the first possession of the game when she took at pass from Alaina Walker and buried a jumper for the quick 2-0 lead.
Katie Healy continued the scoring on the next possession for the Brown and White when the freshman drove baseline, spun in the lane, threw a pump fake, and stepped through for the easy lay-up giving the home team a 4-2 lead.
The teams quickly settled into the rhythm of the game and exchanged baskets until Walker found a wide open Ashley Zahn for a three pointer from the wing, giving SBU a 13-8 lead.
About a minute later with the Minutewomen back on offense, Aisha Rodney received a pass into the post. Rodney guarded by Walker, lowered her shoulder as she made her move to the basket. A member of the Atlantic 10 All-Defensive team, Walker, stood her ground and drew the offensive charge.
On the ensuing possession, Zahn returned the favor, feathering a bounce pass into the paint for a cutting Walker. The Pomona, NY native finished the lay-up and was fouled. The old fashioned three point play gave the Bonnies a 15-9 lead.
UMass tried to engineer any kind of offense to cut into the lead, but the Brown and White’s defense was relentless, forcing the Minutewomen into 9 first half turnovers, holding them to 33 percent shooting and allowing the visitors to score just 10 points in the last eleven minutes of the first stanza.
Michael drained a triple at the top of the key to give SBU a 20-13 lead.
After another Walker layup gave the Brown and White a ten point lead, Kiara Bomben responded with a trifecta to help UMass cut the lead back to 27-20.
The teams exchanged baskets before heading to their locker rooms with SBU leading 29-22.
If there were questions whether the Bonnies defense would carry over into the second half, they were quickly answered in the opening moments, when Emily Michael picked the pocket of an unsuspecting Rashida Timbilia leading to another Walker basket and a 31-22 lead.
After another triple by Kiara Bomben cut the SBU lead to 35-27, the Brown and White quickly responded with an 8-0 run thanks in part to a pair of three point plays by both Doris Ortega and Zahn.
After a layup by Walker gave Bona a 43-27 lead, UMass called timeout to regroup. Whatever was said during the timeout worked as UMass refused to go away quietly and countered with a run of its own.
A pair of three pointers by Niggeling cut the Bonaventure lead to just six, 45-39.
After a miss by Bonaventure, Carolann Cloutier made of pair of free throws to bring the Minutewomen within four, 45-41.
Jasmine Harris countered a Doris Ortega basket with a triple of her own, to bring UMass within three, 47-44.
A Nola Henry lay-up cut the lead to just one, but the Bonnies defense would end all thoughts of a UMass comeback allowing just one basket over the last four and a half minutes of the game.
Ortega determined to put the Brown and White on her back scored eight of the home team’s last eleven points to help seal the victory.
“I was really, really pleased with the way we handled their run, ” Coach Crowley confirmed. “I thought we started the second half really well, got ourselves a lead, they made shots which is going to happen in a lead. Very rarely are you going to blow somebody out. We have been in that situation the last two games and our kids really responded. I thought Alaina had kinda brought us to that point and I thought Doris did an amazing job of wanting the basketball, making plays and really trusting the execution and just coming through when we really needed her to.”
Alaina Walker led all scorers with a career high 21 points and Ortega added 19 points for the Bonnies.
UMass shot just 32 percent from the field. St. Bonaventure is now 8-1 on the season in games in which they hold the opposing team to less than 40 percent shooting in a game.
Jasmine Watson, who entered the game averaging 12.5 ppg for UMass, was held to just eight points in the game.
Massachusetts falls to 3-15 overall and 1-2 in conference play. The Minutewomen’s next game is at home on Wednesday against Butler. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
With the win, St. Bonaventure improves to 8-10 overall and 1-2 in Atlantic 10 conference play. SBU is back in action at the Reilly Center on Wednesday against Rhode Island. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Aaron Smith can be reached on Twitter @PicknSplinters