By Chris McManes
WASHINGTON – Kelli Josephsen may or may not have played her final game for the Catholic University women's basketball team at DuFour Center on Saturday afternoon. If she did, she and her fellow seniors went out with a bang.
Josephsen scored eight straight points midway through the second half to turn a four-point deficit into a four-point lead in an eventual 72-52 victory over the University of Scranton and power the No. 9/10 Cardinals to their second straight Landmark Conference Tournament championship.
Click here to view a photo gallery from Saturday.
CUA, enjoying the greatest season in its 54-year basketball history, improved to 26-1 and earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. The 64-team pairings will be announced Monday afternoon at 2:30 and play begins Friday.
While Josephsen's outburst spurred the triumph, Emily Grabiak was splendid throughout the game, scoring 16 of her career-high 22 points after the break. The junior playmaker added seven assists vs. no turnovers, had six rebounds and made 11 of 14 free throws.
The Cards' Katarina Owunna, who like Josephsen, was in foul trouble in the first half, was a force inside. She scored 10 points on 5-for-9 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and had four second-half blocks. Jill Woerner tallied 17 points, collected nine boards and had two of her team's nine blocks.
After winning the Landmark championship last year at Juniata College, the Cardinals were happy to repeat on their home floor. They doused their coach, Matt Donohue, with water just outside their meeting room following the program's first league title at home.
"It was exciting for all of us, and we wanted it," said Josephsen, who scored all nine of her points in the decisive second half and added a game-high 11 rebounds. "We worked 27 games to cut down our own net, and I'm happy to have been a part of it.
"It was awesome."
Scranton fell to 19-8 and will have to await the tournament selection committee's decision to see if it advances to the NCAA playoffs. Lia DiSciascio hit 5 of 8 3-pointers to lead the Royals with 15 points. Erin Boggan, the hero of Scranton's semifinal victory at Moravian College, added 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
The Cards' 12th straight victory and 19th in a row at DuFour didn't seem like their largest margin of victory over the Royals, whose coach, Mike Strong is the winningest women's coach in Division III history and who won the 1985 National Championship.
"Obviously our kids gave good effort; I think we have a good team, but I just think Catholic's better," Strong said. "Those kids are on the same wavelength, and they were not to be denied. So kudos to them."
Following DiSciascio's fifth triple, Scranton led 46-42 with 10:42 to go. That's when Josephsen took over. First she nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing and was fouled by Lindsay Fleur. Josephsen cashed in the free throw for a 4-point play and then hit a long jumper from the right corner on a possession she kept alive with an offensive rebound. She completed her personal 8-0 run with a baseline jumper from the other side and the Cardinals led 50-46 with 8:33 remaining.
"That 4-point play hurt," Strong said. "I guess we lost our composure after that a little bit."
Josephsen's eruption ignited a 17-2 run that included two of Owunna's four blocks and a Grabiak 3-pointer. By the time the smoke cleared, CUA had an 11-point lead, 59-48, with 4:18 to go. The Cards closed it out at the foul line by making 13 of 20 and Owunna rejected two more shots. Grabiak hit 5 of 6 from the stripe at the end.
Grabiak got the second half underway with one of her three 3-pointers.
"Emily is underrated," Josephsen said. "She is absolutely one of the best players I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. She does her scoring silently. She's usually too busy handing out assists and grabbing rebounds."
CUA emerged from the blocks with an 11-4 lead following two Woerner treys but a 10-4 Scranton run in which Boggan scored five points cut the advantage to 15-14. The Cards made it 19-14 and had a basket disallowed when Owunna was whistled for an offensive foul with 8:40 to go before intermission. She sat out the rest of the half with two fouls. Josephsen was limited to seven first-half minutes.
Boggan scored five straight points to knot the game at 19 and the Royals took their biggest lead of the half, 33-29, on the strength of the long ball. Christina Hiltunen hit a 3-pointer and DiSciascio drained three in a row. After Jenny McGann (six points, three steals) and Boggan exchanged baskets, the Cardinals failed to get off a final shot and Scranton went into halftime leading 35-31.
Boggan had 14 points in the opening frame on 5 of 6 shooting, including a trey and 3 of 4 free throws. Woerner had 12 at the break. Her runner from the right baseline at the 13:24 mark allowed her to pass Martha Cleary and become the second-leading scorer in school history. Woerner now has 1,519 career points.
CUA held Scranton to 18 of 62 shooting (29 percent). In their two previous win over the Royals – by 16 points at home and 17 on the road – the Cardinals limited Scranton to 28.8 and 25.4 percent. The Cards are 19th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (31.3 percent entering the game).
After making 6 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, CUA held the Royals to 3 for 14.
"It became important for us to get through screens so they couldn't get so comfortable and settled from the 3-point line," Coach Donohue said. "That was really our big talk at halftime, just open it up and let our guard defenders get through. I thought we did a great job getting out on their perimeter and then taking away their interior high-low game."