By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – The Catholic University women's basketball team showed why it is ranked in the Top 10 for the first time in school history Wednesday night.
Katarina Owunna posted her seventh double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds to lead the No. 9/10 Cardinals to a 72-59 victory over Juniata College in a Landmark Conference Tournament semifinal at DuFour Center.
CUA, which never trailed, will host the University of Scranton on Saturday at 3 p.m. in the championship. The Royals (18-7) won 72-71 at Moravian College.
Jill Woerner, who was named an Academic All-American on Tuesday, scored 14 points, including the 1,500th of her career. Emily Grabiak added 13 points and Kelli Josephsen corralled 12 rebounds for the Cardinals, who were hosting their first Landmark Conference Tournament game in the league's six-year history.
CUA (25-1), which continues to set a school standard for victories in a season, has won 18 straight at home and 13 consecutive this season. It was the Cards' 11th win in a row.
The Eagles' Kate McDonald led all scorers with 18 points and had 12 rebounds. Jordan Hileman contributed 13 points, as did Natalie Hager off the bench.
CUA, which entered the game with the nation's 19th-ranked field-goal percentage defense (31.4), held Juniata to a 24 of 83 (28.9 percent) shooting performance. The Eagles (18-8) were just 3-for-23 from 3-point land. Jordan Speck had a particularly rough night, shooting 3 of 19 and 1-for-10 on 3s. McDonald was 7 of 25 and Hager 6 of 15.
The Cardinals, leading by 15 at halftime, increased the advantage to 49-28 with 15:48 left on a shot in the paint by Owunna. Juniata answered with an 8-2 run before freshman Jayni Webster dropped a trey from the left corner to put the Cards back up by 18. A Grabiak jumper off the dribble made it 51-30 at the 14:29 mark.
But the Eagles put together their best stretch of the night, and when McDonald scored in the lane, Juniata was down by just nine, 61-52, with just under six minutes to go. CUA erased any thoughts the Eagles had of an upset by scoring the next eight points. Owunna started it by following her own miss; Grabiak had a steal and nailed a 3-ball from the right wing; Woerner hit two foul shots; and Jenny McGann made 1 of 2 charity stripers.
Woerner, a senior from Providence, R.I., scored eight of the Cardinals first 15 points. Her free throw at 9:34 of the second half was her 12th of the night and the 1,500th of her illustrious career.
She is just the third player in CUA's 54-year women's basketball history to reach that plateau.
The Cardinals bolted to an 11-2 lead before Hileman hit a 3-pointer and a follow shot to narrow the CUA lead to 15-11 with 13:42 to go before the break. The Cards increased the lead to 29-13 on the strength of a 14-2 blitz in which five players scored.
When Woerner (five assists) found McGann ahead of the pack for a fastbreak layup, the Cardinals had their biggest lead of the opening period, 37-18. Woerner threw the ball crosscourt from just behind the midcourt line over the heads of everyone right into McGann's waiting arms. She took one step and hit a left-handed layup. CUA took a 37-22 lead into halftime.
McGann finished with nine points, five assists and two steals.
NOTES – The Cards are ranked ninth in the nation among NCAA Division III teams by USA Today and 10th by D3hoops.com. This is the first time they have ever been nationally ranked. … Emily Grabiak made 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, while the Cardinals were 5 of 8…. CUA sank 45.8 percent from the field (27 of 59). … Katarina Owunna had four blocks and Liz Briones three off the bench. Briones added five boards. … Jayni Webster was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and scored eight points. … Juniata made just 6 of its first 23 shots and 8 of 40 in the first half. … Jordan Speck grabbed nine rebounds and had three of the Eagles' 16 assists in a game-high 39 minutes of action. … Natalie Hager totaled three assists and three steals. … The Cardinals won their first Landmark Conference championship last year at Juniata, 79-69.