The second-seeded Navy women’s basketball team kept its bid to win a third consecutive Patriot League tournament title intact by blunting a second-half rally and nearly getting a triple-double from Alix Membreno to complete a 60-48 semifinal victory over Bucknell in front of 579 at Alumni Hall on Monday night.
Membreno finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds and a career-high eight assists. The junior guard also added two blocks. Junior forward Jade Geif chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds, and junior forward Audrey Bauer had 13 points and five rebounds for Navy, which became the second team in league history to reach the championship game three straight times.
“It’s nice to play like that, especially this time of the year,” said Membreno, who has logged consecutive double-doubles. “I think we’ve really been working hard. We’ve really been trying to get on the same page. We definitely were clicking on all cylinders.”
The Midshipmen will play for the title Saturday night in Annapolis against No. 4 seed Holy Cross (18-13), which defeated Colgate, 59-38, in Worcester, Mass.
Navy shot 56 percent in the second half, had 18 assists on 25 field goals overall and committed 10 turnovers, its fewest in seven games. The Midshipmen (20-11)also limited their fourth-seeded opponent to 21 percent shooting in the first half, during which they crafted a double-figure lead that grew to 15 when Membreno made a layup for the first points following intermission.
The Bison (15-16)responded with more determination going to the basket, and that change in attitude from the first half helped yield a 13-4 burst that got them within 39-35 with 9 minutes 53 seconds left in regulation. Navy Coach Stefanie Pemper called timeout 13 seconds later, and the Midshipmen came out of the stoppage re-energized.
Bauer hit a jumper off a pass from Membreno to push the lead to six before Geif corralled a rebound when junior guard Shelby Romine, Bucknell’s leading scorer, missed a shot in the lane. Junior guard Kara Pollinger moments later sank a jumper, and the Bison called timeout with 8:17 to play.
But momentum never swayed. Bauer collected a pass from Membreno and converted a three-pointer. Pollinger followed with her only three-pointer of the game, and Navy’s lead had expanded to 49-35. Romine’s jumper stemmed the onslaught only briefly, and Membreno’s three-pointer from the left side allowed the Midshipmen to reclaim a 15-point buffer.
“We hit that big shot after that timeout,” said Pemper, who reached 20 wins for the second time in five seasons at Navy. “And hit another one and got a stop, and I just thought our defense was really good. I thought we did a nice job on [Bucknell’s Audrey Dotson]. She had been really hot for them. I just thought we worked really hard on the defensive end and to rebound.”
The last time the teams played, Bucknell snatched a 55-48 win in Lewisburg, Pa., in part by outrebounding Navy by 10. This time the Midshipmen won that category, 38-35, including a 21-14 disparity in the first half. Navy also shot below 30 percent in the last game but Monday made 25 of 52 (48 percent).
Romine and senior forward Lindsay Horbatuck each scored a team-high 14 points for Bucknell, which advanced to the tournament semifinals by virtue of a 46-43 upset of No. 3 seed American on Thursday in the District. No other Bison player scored more than eight points.
“I think they’re really good,” Aaron Roussell, Bucknell’s first-year coach, said of the Midshipmen. “I’ve watched a lot of Navy this year, and that probably was the most firepower that they’ve shown. I think we had some spurts there where we held them under wraps so to speak, at least relatively to what they’re capable of doing, but then they just started scoring from everywhere.”