SALISBURY, Md. – Overcoming a 15-point deficit in the second half, the No. 11 Salisbury University women's basketball team advanced past Bridgewater State University, 66-63, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in Maggs Physical Activities Center Friday night.
"I said to (the team) that we are like the comeback kids," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said. "We showed a lot of heart in the second half, which is the way we like to play, we started to pick up the intensity and a little more aggressive on defense."
"Bridgewater was an excellent team and pushed us to the very end, but our girls showed a lot of heart and fought through."
The Bears jumped out to a 5-0 advantage to start the game, a lead they held for the entire first half, taking a 35-23 score into the break.
The Gulls (26-2) brought the score even off the 5-0 start for Bridgewater, answering with a 5-0 run of their own. Seniors Anna Hackett and Sarah Seipp teamed up for the five points, off two free throws by Hackett and a layup and free throw by Seipp.
For a majority of the first half, the squads traded baskets with the occasional spurt by the Bears to extend the lead. Hackett paced the offense in the first half with nine points and three assists, the second assist of the half being a milestone for the senior. With 4:27 remaining in the half, Hackett found sophomore Lauren Rothfeld on the left wing for a three-pointer, which recorded the 500th assist of her career.
Bridgewater (16-11) continued to push the lead to as much as 15 points at the 15:41 mark of the second half, but the Gulls wouldn't go away. Chipping away at the lead for the next four minutes, Salisbury managed to get the deficit back into a single digits. Junior Kathy Albornoz kept the offensive series alive pulling down an offensive board, and tangled up inside, managed to find Seipp in the left corner for a three-pointer that got the Gulls back within nine of the Bears.
The full-court pressure by Salisbury was in full force at this point, as Rothfeld made the steal on the inbounds, flipped the ball to Seipp who got fouled going up for the layup and hit one of two from the charity stripe.
"We definitely started being more aggressive in the press," Lewandowski said. "With (Rothfeld's) length up top, she anticipates really well and when she causes that problem (for the other team), it helps everyone else have confidence and step up."
The momentum swung into SU's favor with 10 minutes remaining in regulation, as the Gulls ignited a 14-3 run that gave them their first lead of the game by the 5:19 mark. A jumper by Hackett at the top of the key started the run, followed by two free throws a minute later. The run would continue on the defensive end, seeing junior Julia McLaughlin block a shot by the Bears, and Rothfeld grabbing the loose ball while being fouled in the process. Sent to the free-throw line, the sophomore knocked in both to cut the lead to five.
Continuing the run with several free throws by Hackett and Seipp and a jumper by McLaughlin, a big defensive series by Rothfeld sent the crowd into an uproar. Making the steal in the paint, Rothfeld sent the ball up the court to Seipp who eventually found Hackett for the transition layup to tie the game at 55-55. With Bridgewater bringing the ball back up the court, Seipp made the swift steal at midcourt before getting fouled on her layup attempt. Sent to the line, she hit one of two to give Salisbury its first lead of the game, 56-55, with 5:19 remaining.
Trading baskets and the lead several times through the next three minutes, the Sea Gulls would reclaim the lead for the final time with 2:25 left. On the defensive end, two shots by the Bears were turned away by Rothfeld and McLaughlin, which transitioned into a Hackett layup for the 61-60 advantage.
Seeing the deficit get to five, the Bears found an opportunity from the left corner and capitalized on it for three to get within two with 15 seconds remaining. Fouling Seipp on the inbounds, the senior hit one of the free throws to extend the lead back to three, giving the Bears just one more chance to send the game to overtime.
The Bears' Vanesa Conceicao brought the ball up, taking the three-point attempt at the top of the key, but with Seipp's hands up, the attempt fell short to send the Sea Gulls to the next round of the national tournament, the first time since 2001-'02.
Hackett paced the Gulls with 21 points and eight assists, while Seipp and Rothfeld chipped in for 18 and 10 points, respectively. McLaughlin put together a great defensive game with 11 rebounds and a game-high three blocks to go along with her eight points, while Rothfeld snagged a game-high four steals.
Salisbury will now advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, March 7 against the winner of the other first-round matchup earlier Friday, Stockton University. The Ospreys downed McDaniel College, 68-49, behind freshman Sasha Williams 14 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m., in Maggs.