By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – In a season of firsts for the Catholic University women's basketball team, you can add another one.
Kelli Josephsen scored 12 points and corralled 12 rebounds to lead the Cardinals to a 52-44 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament at DuFour Center on Friday night.
No. 8/9 CUA will meet Widener University, a 56-52 winner over FDU-Florham in the night's first game, on Saturday at 5 p.m. for the right to go to the Sweet 16.
Click here to view a photo gallery from Friday night's win.
The Cardinals' first NCAA playoff victory was neither easy nor pretty. But like they've done for much of their greatest season ever, they did enough to win their 13th consecutive game and improve to 27-1.
CUA's Katarina Owunna added 11 points and eight rebounds, with all of her boards coming in the final 20 minutes. Josephsen scored the first eight points of the second half and had 10 of her points and nine of her boards after halftime. The pair are two of the Cardinals' four senior starters.
"It's a group of senior women who want to keep playing," CUA Coach Matt Donohue said. "At this time of year, it's really about playing well each week so we can keep playing another week. That's really what we're trying to do right now. Our young women are not ready for this to be done, and they're playing like that.
"You saw that in the second half with our effort and intensity. They played tonight so they could have another opportunity to stay together tomorrow."
Cabrini's Annie Rivituso topped all scorers with 16 points. Colleen Stewart scored 10 points and tied for the team rebound high with six. Kristina Startare also collected six boards, and three other players had five apiece.
The Cavaliers saw their 19-game winning streak come to an end and finished the season 24-4. Donohue knew his team would have a tough time.
"We saw [on film] a team that fights, a team that rebounds, a team that defends, a team that runs, and we knew it was going to be a battle," Donohue said. "We knew coming in we were going to have to grind it out and defend. At the end of the day, if you can hang your head on defending and rebounding, you'll take that."
The two-time reigning Landmark Conference champion Cards won their 20th straight at home and 15th this season. The Cardinals achieved their first national ranking this year and hosted their first Landmark Tournament games.
After Josephsen's scoring spree at the opening of the final frame gave CUA a 31-29 lead, reserve point guard Karlyn Dixon sank her only basket of the night to put the Cardinals on top for good, 33-31. CUA never led by more than four points until Owunna took a pass from senior Jill Woerner and hit a short jumper in the lane to put the Cards up, 45-39, with 4:12 left.
Owunna's basket came in the midst of an 8-0 run that Josephsen started with a baseline jumper and Woerner capped with a reverse layup. That made it 49-39 with just under two minutes to go. Josephsen, who added three steals, said she didn't realize the game was so close at crunch time.
"You focus in and you just have that target of the basket, and your defense fuels the offense," she said. "We kind of look at each other and we say, 'one stop at a time.' Then all of a sudden you look up and we're up 10.
"You kind of look around and you say, 'you know, that didn't happen by accident. We worked to get it that way.' You take it possession by possession."
Cabrini made 37 percent of its shot in the first half, a mark CUA matched in the second. The Cardinals held the Colonial States Conference champions to 9 of 28 (32.1 percent) second-period shooting.
Woerner, the Landmark Player of the Year, did not have one of her better games. She finished with nine points for her second-lowest scoring output of the year. Emily Grabiak, who leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.88) and is 11th in assists (5.6 apg), also struggled. She had eight points, five assists and three turnovers. Both were 3-for-11 from the floor.
Owunna and Josephsen picked up the slack for the Cards, who tied their lowest point total of the first half (23) and had their second-lowest final tally. Josephsen entered the contest averaging 7.9 points, the least of CUA's starters.
"That's the beauty of our team – we've reached that maturity level where any one of us can step up," Josephsen said. "… Everybody's contributions are important. Not only that, but people are diving on the floor for loose balls, and things that don't show up in a stat line can absolutely swing a game."
During the Cardinals' late 8-0 run, Josephsen twice grabbed missed front ends of a 1-and-1, and rebounded an errant 3-pointer.
The Cavaliers took a 21-15 lead on a layup by Amber Keys with 7:26 remaining before the break. The Cardinals, who shot just 32.3 percent in first half, ran out the period with an 8-2 flurry and tied it at 23 on a short jumper by Owunna with 3.8 ticks to play. She scored the Cards final six points. Grabiak had seven at intermission, as did Rivituso.
NOTES – CUA is one of 15 Division III schools in the nation to have both its men's and women's basketball teams advance to the NCAAs. It is one of just seven with both teams ranked in the Top 25. … TV feature stories on the teams ran tonight on WRC and WJLA. Both stations visited campus Thursday. … The Cardinals are ranked No. 8 by USA Today and ninth by D3hoops.com. … Jayni Webster hit a big 3-pointer to give CUA a 41-37 lead. The rookie took a pass from Emily Grabiak and nailed it from just in front of the team's bench. … Jill Woerner now has 1,528 career points. The only person she trails is Lisa Kellaher (1982-86), who scored 1,592 points. Woerner began the year in 11th place. … The Cards were 5-0 during the regular season against NCAA Tournament participants. They defeated Marymount (Va.), 72-59; William Paterson, 60-52; and Scranton three times, 66-50, 69-52, and in the Landmark Conference championship game, 72-52.
Widener University 56, Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham 52 – Lil Carney scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half to lead the Pride in game one of the NCAA Tournament at DuFour Center.
Jennifer Egee added 13 points and seven rebounds for Widener (22-5), which overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half to advance. Egee was 5 of 7 from the floor and 3 of 4 beyond the arc. Kate Dellinger added six points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Kyra Dayon led FDU-Florham (24-4) with a game-high 20 points and nine boards. Jalessa Lewis contributed 16 points and four steals.
Widener took a 50-43 lead with just under four minutes to play on a wide-open 3-pointer by Egee. The Devils answered with a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 52-50 with 1:52 to play. Carney iced it by making 4 of 6 free throws and taking a charge with 3.8 seconds left.
FDU-Florham built a 24-12 advantage with 6:34 to go before intermission. The Pride whittled the lead on a 10-2 run to go into the break trailing by just four, 26-22.