|Alicea Ulmer and her Baruch teammates know what it's like to compete against ranked teams.
Baruch athletics photo by Denis Gostev
By Sarah Sommer
NEW YORK — Baruch did not look like the team that had beaten Brooklyn by 24 points on Jan. 10 and by 14 points on Feb. 17. It was halftime of the CUNYAC tournament final on Feb. 27, and Brooklyn held a 20-16 lead.
“If there was ever a time, that was the time to speak up,” Baruch forward Alecia Ulmer said. “I feel like as a senior, as a starter, it was kind of my job to motivate the team.”
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So she spoke to her teammates about the conference final in her freshman year, a game that Baruch trailed by 10 points at halftime but came back to win by 16. Ulmer reminded the 2014-15 Bearcats to stay poised.
“We were playing our worst basketball of the season, and we were only down four,” she said. “There was no need to panic.”
Baruch outscored Brooklyn by 25 points in the second half and won 60-39, giving the Bearcats their eighth consecutive CUNYAC title and their ninth in the past 10 years.
Ulmer and Baruch’s other three seniors are now trying to make it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their careers. Baruch faces Stevens on Friday at Scranton.
In the 2011-12 season, Baruch suffered a 69-54 first-round loss to Rhode Island. In 2012-13, they lost 59-53 to No. 17 Lebanon Valley. And last year they suffered their most heartbreaking tournament loss, an 80-77 overtime defeat to Hartwick.
The Bearcats have the weapons for another competitive first-round game. Four starters — senior forward Sheridan Taylor, senior guard Francess Henry, senior guard Iyana Abrams, and sophomore guard Veronica Ganzi — average double figures in scoring, ranging from 12 to 13 points per game.
“There’s no pressure on one person to be our scorer,” interim head coach KellyAnn Barrett said.
And each of those players is capable of big games. Abrams, the CUNYAC tournament MVP, scored 20 points in the final, 14 of which came in the second half. Ganzi, who transferred midway through last season from Division II Roberts Wesleyan, scored 31 points against Lehman on Feb. 5. Taylor and Henry are 1,000-point scorers.
Baruch was the CUNYAC regular-season champion with a 16-0 conference record, winning each game by at least 14 points. This is the first year that Baruch’s seniors have gone undefeated in conference play.
“That was probably the best accomplishment, besides being ranked my sophomore year,” Taylor said.
Baruch also played well against the three ranked teams — then-No. 2 Amherst, then-No. 1 FDU-Florham, and then-No. 7 Montclair State — that it faced earlier this season, though all were losses.
“It showed us how good we actually are and can be,” Barrett said. “Those three games were tough, tough games, and we battled all the way until the end.”
Amherst and Baruch were tied 59-59 with 7:19 left in the second half. FDU-Florham led Baruch by only three points, 69-66, with 5:01 remaining. Montclair State held a 62-60 lead with 2:15 left.
“Playing ranked teams is probably the best thing that happened to us,” Taylor said. “Not to say CUNY’s terrible, it’s just, it’s a different game when we play outside. The girls are bigger, stronger, and it’s just different.”
Baruch played well against Amherst and Montclair State despite facing those teams on their home courts. The Bearcats’ only other loss came in their season opener, a 73-66 overtime defeat at Rutgers-Newark.
Baruch currently has a 20-game winning streak, a team record. On Friday, the Bearcats may add to it.
“We have an array of people who can score,” Barrett said. “It’s tough for other teams to sometimes defend us.”