February 25, 2012

Cardinals are dancing after downing Juniata 79-69 for title

HUNTINGDON, Pa. – For the first time in school history, the CUA women's basketball team is conference champions after the Cardinals downed Juniata 79-69 to capture the Landmark title on Saturday.  Jill Woerner, Katarina Owunna, and Emily Grabiak combined for 60 points and 26 rebounds in leading CUA to its school record 22nd win of the season.

The win propels CUA into its first-ever NCAA Tournament.

"I can't say enough about every one of the women on our roster for their effort tonight," CUA Head Coach Matt Donohue said afterwards.  "Jill, Katarina and Emily were just terrific tonight, and I thought Kelli Josephsen gave us great production and Jenny McGann played wonderful defense."

He added, "We answered every run that Juniata had for us, and were able to overcome some early foul trouble with a terrific effort by our bench.  I can't say enough about how proud I am and really all of the credit goes to the women in our program.  They truly earned this."

Bolstered by a 22-10 advantage in points in the paint and a 55% shooting performance, CUA raced out to a 42-31 lead at halftime.

Owunna's layup just 12 seconds into the second then put the Cardinals on top by 13, but Juniata scored four straight to cut it to a nine-point game.

Alyssia Gordon's jumper at the 14:14 mark brought the Eagles to within seven, but Woerner answered with a jumper of her own and Kelli Josephsen got inside for a layup to extend to an 11-point advantage with 12:56 to play.

Juniata continued to hang around and got to within six on Jordan Hileman's 3-pointer with 9:48 to play, but CUA had an answer for every Eagles run, as Woerner splashed another jumper to put the Cardinals on top by eight.

With 5:19 to play, Woerner hit yet another jumper, and that pushed the Cardinals lead to double digits.

Juniata refused to go away quietly, though, ripping off seven straight to get within 70-67 with 3:16 on the clock.

Donohue explained what his mindset was at that point of the game.  "We knew we just had to stay calm and stay poised.  Juniata's a good team and we knew they would make a run, but we continued to stick with our game plan, and that was attack the gaps of their zone and get the ball inside."

True to Donohue's word, CUA went inside to Owunna and she converted to push the CUA lead up to five with 2:52 remaining.

A Kate McDonald free throw got Juniata to within four points, but that was as close as CUA allowed the Eagles to get in the final two minutes.  The Cardinals went 7 of 10 at the free throw line down the stretch to ice their first win at Juniata since joining the Landmark Conference.

"After we lost up here the last time (on February 10), the mood in our locker room afterwards was one of disappointment, and quite frankly, anger.  We really believed in ourselves and knew after that game, that we could come back up here and win.  I said to the team at the time, that it may have been the best thing for us, to lose that game."

He continued, "There was a tough call towards the end of the game tonight that could have gone either way, and it went against us.  But again, the mood in our huddle was one of anger, and our team leaders, Kelli Josephsen, Holly Janicki, Katarina Owunna, did a great job of calming the team down and getting everyone re-focused."

Woerner finished with a game-high 23 points for the Cardinals on 8 of 14 shooting, while Owunna was nearly unstoppable, totaling 22 points and 12 rebounds.  Grabiak added 15 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, while Josephsen joined Owunna with a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds).

CUA shot 51.8% from the field for the game, and out-rebounded the Eagles 45-36.  The Cardinals totaled 19 assists on 29 field goals and sank 17 of 25 free throws.  The Cardinals win marked the first time a Landmark opponent defeated Juniata since January 15, 2011.

McDonald led four Juniata players in double figures with 18 points, and she also ripped down 16 rebounds.  The Eagles shot just 34.8% from the floor and lost the points in the paint battle, 34-22.

CUA's offense was in high gear right from the start, opening up an eight-point lead following a Grabiak 3-pointer at the 9:57 mark of the first half.

Juniata cut it to a four-point affair a little over two minutes later, but the Cardinals responded with five straight to open up a nine-point cushion with 7:08 to play in the half.

The lead reached double-digits on a pair of Woerner free throws with 4:17 on the clock, and Rachel Ferri's layup with 2:03 to play wound up being the final points of the half, as CUA took a 42-31 advantage into the locker room.

The Cardinals 22 wins eclipse the previous school record of 21, which was set by the 2003-04 squad.  CUA has won 41 games over the past two seasons, which ties the mark for the most over a two-year period.  The Cardinals won 41 games during the 2003-04 (21) and 2004-05 (20) seasons. 

Also, Donohue has now won 65 games in his four seasons at CUA, which are just four shy of Maggie Lonergan's school record 69 victories.

CUA will learn where its headed for its first-ever NCAA Tournament on Monday when the entire field is announced at 2:30 p.m. on NCAA.com.

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