The Elite Eight? Why not? The Carthage College women's basketball team (23-7) won its sectional-semifinal game in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship, 71-61, over No. 22 Centre College (26-4) on Friday, March 9 at the University of Mount Union's McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex in Alliance, Ohio.
CCIW-champion and No. 16 Illinois Wesleyan University (25-5) outlasted No. 6 Mount Union (28-2), 70-69, on a last-second layup by Olivia Lett in the other sectional-semifinal game on Friday. Carthage meets Illinois Wesleyan in the Saturday, March 10 sectional-championship game, beginning at 7 p.m., EST.
Centre opened an early, 11-4 lead at 15:50 first half. Carthage turned it around with a 13-2 run to take a four-point lead, 17-13, at 12:23. Back-to-back field goals by Stephanie Kuzmanic, a layup and a three-pointer capped that 13-2 run. The game stayed close the rest of the half before the Lady Reds inched away to five-point lead, 34-29, with 57 seconds left, and that was the halftime margin.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Dani Ripkey gave Carthage a 10-point lead, 40-30, at 17:35 second half, and back-to-back layups by Diana Jacklin made it a 12-point game, 44-32, at 15:47. The Lady Reds led by 14 points, 57-43, at 8:10 after Cailee Corcoran connected on a jumper. Leading by 10, 53-43, at 9:07, Carthage took off on a 12-0 run to all but put the game away with a 22-point lead, 65-43, at 4:45. The Colonels managed to pull to within 10, 65-55, at 2:18. The Lady Reds went back up by 15 points, 70-55, at 1:36 and won by 10, 71-61.
Carthage shot 54 percent (29-54), including 64 percent in the second half (16-25) and six-of-14 three-pointers, while Centre shot just 31 percent (21-67) for the game, including six-of-19 from three-point range. The Lady Reds converted seven-of-14 from the free-throw line, while the Colonels shot 13-of-17. Carthage had a 42-35 rebounding advantage. Cailee Corcoran (Jr., Oak Lawn, Ill./Chicago-Marist) led the way with 24 points on 11-of-14 field goals, along with two-of-five free throws and nine rebounds. Diana Jacklin (Sr., Berwyn, Ill./Morton West), held scoreless with two fouls in the first half, scored all of her 13 points in the second half and collected eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Dani Ripkey (Sr., Deerfield, Ill.) celebrated her birthday with 10 points and three assists, while Stephanie Kuzmanic (So., Mount Prospect, Ill./Wheeling) had 10 points with a game-high nine rebounds. Maggie Prewitt led Centre with 24 points on nine-of-24 shooting, including three-of-six three-pointers, along with three-of-four free throws, six rebounds and four assists.
"When you get this deep into the tournament," pointed out Carthage coach Tim Bernero, "everyone is a quality opponent. Centre's Maggie Prewitt is a fantastic player, an All-American-type player and hard to guard, but Dani Ripkey did a pretty good job on her. The game kind of played out like I hoped it would in that we defended them better than they defended us. Stephanie Kuzmanic really helped us, offensively, in the first half when Diana Jacklin got into early foul trouble. I couldn't really see the scoreboard in this gym very well, so I didn't realize how many points Cailee Corcoran had—I was more interested in the bigger number. Centre did a nice job at preventing us from getting into a flow, when we get into a flow in the second half, we were kind of hard to stop. Diana Jacklin found Cailee Corcoran down low a bunch of times, and Cailee didn't miss. Diana is such a presence on the floor, and she has to be accounted for. Defensively, if our kids stick to the plan, which is usually something like 'don't let your opponent do this,' then I think we have something to do with the low opponent shooting percentages that we've seen this year and this month."
"We've talked about the team that's tougher this time of year survives," concluded Bernero, "and we found a way in the second half to survive and play another night. The team was screaming and yelling after the game, naturally, but I told them we have another game to play on Saturday. Until you lose a game in this tournament, next season isn't here yet. We're one win away from a trip to the national championship, and that would be a great step for our program. Two weeks ago, not many people thought we'd still be playing, but here we are."
The Lady Reds advanced to the sectional championship by eliminating No. 4 DePauw University (27-2), 53-48, in a second-round game on March 3 at DePauw's Neal Fieldhouse in Greencastle, Ind. Carthage knocked off No. 19 Wisconsin-Whitewater (22-7), 74-68, on in a March 2 first-round game,
Carthage has made two other appearances in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship. Coach Tim Bernero's 2010 team advanced to the sectional semifinals in St. Louis, Mo., before losing to the George Fox University. Coach Rich Fanning's 1996 squad made the Lady Reds' first-ever NCAA appearance but lost to CCIW-opponent Wheaton College (Ill.) in a first-round game in Wheaton, Ill.