RICHMOND, Va. - The Saint Joseph's Hawks will play for their first Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Championship since 2013 thanks to a big early start, timely defense, and title worthy possessions down the stretch, defeating the Saint Louis Billikens 58-49 Saturday afternoon in the second semifinal of the 2018 Atlantic 10 Women's Basketball Championship.
Saint Joseph's (18-13) held the Billikens, who won their regular season meeting January 21st, 96-73, to just eighteen points in the first half, limiting First Team All-Atlantic 10 guard Jackie Kemph to just two first-half points. Offensive possessions in the fourth period which reached deep into the shot clock helped prevent Saint Louis (17-15) from fueling their much-needed transition game, a key to their comeback hopes.
For Saint Louis, it is the third consecutive season where they have reached the semifinal round but weren't able to advance to the school's first appearance in the title game.
"We knew we had to play with pace today. They're a very high explosive offensive team," Saint Joseph's head coach Cindy Griffin said. "We executed the game plan as well as we set it out to be. Our kids did a really good job of containing (Kemph). We started out really hot shooting the ball and I think that set the tone for us today."
Chelsea Woods celebrated her birthday with a double-double, leading the Hawks with fifteen points and ten rebounds, while point guard Alyssa Monaghan, called "the glue of the team" by teammate Amanda Fioravanti, scored thirteen points, dished out five assists and had three steals. Fioravanti added nine points, while Friday's quarterfinal hero Sarah Veilleux scored seven.
"At Saint Louis, they controlled the pace of the game so we knew what we needed to do, and we locked in and took control of it," Fioravanti added. "Finally, at the perfect time, everyone was ready to go, and we all came together."
Kemph finished with a game-high seventeen points, most of them scored while Saint Louis frustratingly spent most of the afternoon trying to catch up after the Hawks began the game on a 12-4 run. Paige Rakers added fourteen points, but no other player added more than six, while the Billikens committed fifteen turnovers while dishing out just four assists.
"Coming into this tournament, being a seventh-seed didn't define us. "We just had to play hard, and make our shots," Kemph noted, discussing the competitive balance of this year's field when asked about a chance to play in the postseason. "No one wants to go out like that."
The Hawks were five of eleven from beyond the
arc, and shot ninety percent from the free throw line in the fourth period to put the game out of reach.
The victory sends sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's into a title game showdown with fifth-seeded George Washington, who toppled number one seeded Dayton earlier in the day 58-53. A #5 seed has only won the Atlantic 10 Championship once, that being West Virginia in 1989. A #6 seed has never taken the title.
The Colonials have won six championships, the latest just two seasons ago, while the Hawks have won three. This will be George Washington's 13th appearance in the championship game, most all-time in Atlantic 10 history, while Saint Joseph's, second on that list, will play in their 12th title game.
Tip-off is set for Noon Sunday and the game will be televised on ESPNU.