American women thump Lafayette, advance to Patriot League semifinals

By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010

WORCESTER, MASS. -- There were too many uncanny similarities to last year to make American feel comfortable going into Saturday's Patriot League tournament quarterfinal against Lafayette.

The Eagles are the No. 2 seed, just as they were last year. The Leopards are the No. 7 seed, just as they were last year.

And just like a year ago, AU beat Lafayette by 21 points in the regular season finale before facing the Leopards in the first game of the tournament.

Only this time, there was no upset. The Eagles stormed out to an early lead and never allowed the outcome to be in doubt before winning, 77-49, at a nearly empty Hart Center.

"We needed a game to get our energy going, to show that we were confident again and to kind of prove ourselves," junior forward Liz Leer said. "This was a step to show that we're here to play this tournament time. We're not going to mess up like we did last year, and [the win is] giving us momentum."

American (21-8), which has won 15 of its past 16 games, advanced to Sunday afternoon's semifinal against No. 3 seed Navy, which beat sixth-seeded Colgate, 69-57, on Saturday night.

It was clear from the start that the Eagles were determined to avoid a repeat of last year, when Lafayette became the first No. 7 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed in Patriot League history and notched only its fourth win against AU.

The Eagles scored on their first three possessions and were ahead, 14-4, by the first scheduled timeout. At that point, AU had taken twice as many shots as Lafayette (6-23) and made three times as many.

"I was really happy with the energy," Eagles Coach Matt Corkery said. "We knocked down shots. We defended. I thought we had great energy level to begin the game. That was great to see."

Leer, a first-team all-Patriot League selection, opened the game making two of her first three shots to propel the Eagles. But it was Michelle Kirk, the Patriot League player of the year, who served notice that AU was not about to allow Lafayette to make this a game.

Kirk sank three consecutive three-pointers to put the Eagles up, 17-6. She made every shot she took in the first half -- including a pair of free throws -- and had 16 points at the break. Kirk, who didn't miss her first field goal until 17 minutes 2 seconds remained in the game, finished with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting, going 4 for 5 from three-point range. She played just 23 minutes.

"I got some open looks in the first half and just knocked them down," Kirk said. "We've been going light in our practices before here so I had my legs underneath me."

After relying on Kirk and Leer to provide offense most of the season, other AU players have begun making noticeable contributions. Sophomore guard Lisa Strack scored 14 points, her fifth double-figure scoring game in the past six. Sophomore guard Raven Harris had 12 points for her second consecutive double-figure scoring game.

"This is just a step toward our ultimate goal," Kirk said. "We have another win that we have to get tomorrow and just continually focusing on what's next."

-- NAVY 69, COLGATE 57: The sixth-seeded Red Raiders (10-19) had no answer for the third-seeded Midshipmen's outside shooting. Navy (17-13) sank a Patriot League tournament and school single-game record 15 three-pointers.

"It doesn't take much to get us going from" the perimeter, Coach Stefanie Pemper said. "We were getting some really good looks, and we have people who like to shoot them when they're open."

Seven players made a shot from behind the arc for the Midshipmen who sank more three-point field goals than two-point field goals for the fifth time this season.

Navy set a single-season school record and Patriot League record this season by making 219 three-pointers.

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