Jade Geif wasn’t ready for her season to end, and her Navy women’s basketball teammates were well aware of their assignments in the second half of last Saturday’s Patriot League championship game.
The mandate was to deliver the ball to Geif, a 6-foot sophomore forward, and get out of the way. One possession after another, that’s exactly what the Midshipmen did, whether via an entry pass to the low block or off a pick and roll. And Geif wore down Holy Cross almost by herself with an assortment of inside moves that produced either a field goal or foul shots.
When her evening was complete, Geif had scored 16 of her career-high 22 points after the break in a 57-48 comeback victory that secured a second straight NCAA tournament berth for Navy and a first-round game against second-seeded Maryland on Saturday in College Park.
Not surprisingly, Geif was named Patriot League tournament MVP for a second consecutive season, having become the Midshipmen’s most indispensable player when the stakes are at their highest.
“It says something about what a great player she is that she does step up in those situations,” Navy sophomore forward Audrey Bauer said. “A lot of times you hear people say great players come up big in big games, and I think that is so true for her because every time we need her in a big game, she comes through for us.”
Such was the case in last season’s Patriot League final against American. Geif had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added 10 rebounds in a 47-40 victory that sent Navy to its first NCAA tournament.
In the first round against DePaul, the 14th-seeded Midshipmen called on Geif repeatedly, and she delivered with 14 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs. Even though Navy lost, 56-43, the Midshipmen trailed by only two points at halftime and put a scare into a team from the mighty Big East.
“She was incredible last year against DePaul,” Coach Stefanie Pemper said of Geif. “Just wow.”
That’s why the Midshipmen (18-13) aren’t necessarily in awe of the task at hand this weekend despite Maryland’s considerable advantage in size and athleticism. The Terrapins (28-4), who won the ACC tournament and haven’t lost in more than a month, are second in the country in rebounding margin and fourth in scoring offense and field goal percentage.
Navy, which received a No. 15 seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, finished first in the Patriot League in scoring defense and rebounding margin. While the team knows that beating Maryland is at best a long shot, the players also said reaching consecutive NCAA tournaments may have seemed just as preposterous not that long ago.
“When we were watching the selection show, they showed clips of Maryland,” Geif said. “I hadn’t known much about them yet, but I did notice their inside presence. It made me a little nervous, you know, and excited and everything like that.”
There hasn’t been much on the basketball court to rattle Geif since she came to Navy as part of Pemper’s most promising recruiting class. Joining Geif were, among others, Bauer and guards Alix Membreno and Kara Pollinger, all of whom are starters. Senior Erin Edwards is the only non-sophomore in the starting lineup.
That unit helped stabilize Navy during one week near the end of the regular season in which the Midshipmen, in the aftermath of a deflating 55-52 loss to visiting American, bore little resemblance to a conference champion. Navy led that game at halftime, 36-21, but unraveled thereafter to trigger a three-game slide shortly before the start of the Patriot League tournament.
The Midshipmen recovered with a 60-51 win against Bucknell in the regular season finale to secure a No. 3 seed, then reeled off victories over Colgate and Lehigh to advance to the Patriot League final. Geif tied for the team lead in scoring in each of those games and shot a combined 10 of 19.
“I should play better throughout the season,” Geif said smiling, “but when you see it, and you have that end goal, and you can see the championship in front of you, it’s like: ‘We have to win. We have to win to keep playing.’ So I guess that’s just the motivation right there, to keep playing.”