Widener stuns CUA 57-56 in NCAA Tournament to end Cards' season

By Chris McManes

View photos from Saturday night's game

WASHINGTON – The greatest season in Catholic University women's basketball history is over.

Vanessa Hejnas hit a layup in the lane with 2.9 seconds to go to lift Widener University to a 57-56 victory over the No. 8/9 Cardinals in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament at DuFour Center on Saturday night.

Widener, which advances to the Sweet 16, improves to 23-5 with its 11th win in its past 12 games. CUA finishes its remarkable season 27-2 and lost for the first time at home. It's not the way the seniors wanted to play their final game on Franny Murray Court.

"It hurts a lot, but we went out swinging," said Cardinal senior Katarina Owunna, who concluded her career with a game-high 22 points and eight rebounds. "I thought we had it, but it was that one play that just bit us."

Hejnas finished with 12 points, and Kate Dellinger had 15 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Joanna Persiano scored all 15 of her points on 3-pointers and grabbed six rebounds.

CUA senior Jill Woerner, the second-leading scorer in school history, finished with 16 points, four assists and seven rebounds. Fellow fourth-year player Kelli Josephsen chipped in 10 points and five boards, and classmate Jenny McGann had six points and four assists.

The two-time reigning Landmark Conference champion Cardinals appeared headed for their 20th straight home triumph when they took a 51-44 lead with 6:50 to play. But Persiano's final trey of the evening kick-started a 9-3 run that brought Widener to within one, 54-53. Hejnas capped it with a long jumper.

Owunna, who scored all of her points within about 10 feet of the basket, hit a turnaround jumper to make it 56-53 with 1:41 remaining. Dellinger answered with a driving jumper at the :54.7-second mark and the Cardinals took the ball. They lost it when Persiano took a charge in the lane, giving the Pride the ball with the shot clock off and 28.4 seconds to go.

Widener worked the ball around until Lil Carney's fourth assist found Hejnas open underneath for an easy layup off the glass. CUA Coach Matt Donohue called timeout with 2.9 seconds on the clock. Josephsen inbounded the ball to midcourt to Emily Grabiak, who passed into the right corner to Woerner. Her shot came after the final buzzer.

"I can't be more proud of how our young women fought, how they battled, how hard they played," Donohue said. "At the end of the day, we didn't lose that game; Widener won it. They made plays down the stretch when they had to. We had a three-point lead with under two minutes to go, and to simply say we didn't make shots or we didn't execute, I think would be to take credit away from Widener."

A wrap-around layup by Woerner gave the Cards a 38-29 lead early in the second period, but the Chester, Pa., school countered with a 13-4 run powered by four treys, three by Persiano. When Egee dropped in a 3-point rainbow from NBA range on the left wing, the score was tied at 42.

Owunna knocked down a pair of back-in, turnaround jumpers, Josephsen hit two free throws and McGann sank a wide-open 3-ball in the midst of a 9-2 flurry that put the Cards ahead, 51-44. From there, the Pride outscored the Cardinals, 13-5, holding the hosts scoreless for the final 1:41.

"They made some incredible stops on defense," Donohue said, "and [on the game-winner] they made one heck of a play on something we kind of knew was coming, but sometimes it's not what you're doing, it's how you do it. They executed and they won the game."

CUA parlayed an early 10-2 run into a 17-8 advantage. Woerner concluded the blitz with a steal in Widener's lane and lay-in off the glass. The Cards held the Pride without a field goal for 7:34, and when Woerner took a fastbreak pass from McGann for a layup, the Cardinals were up 21-12 with 8:24 left before the break. The shot gave Woerner 11 points, eclipsing the nine she scored in CUA's first-round victory over Cabrini College.

A Josephsen jumper from the left elbow made it 26-18, but a pair of triples by Persiano enabled Widener to trim the Cards' halftime lead to 28-24. The 3s were the only two the Pride hit in 15 first-half attempts. They made 6 of 14 afterwards. Dellinger had 11 rebounds before intermission.

The Cardinals won their first Landmark Conference regular-season title and second tournament championship this year, produced the Player of the Year (Woerner) and won their first NCAA Tournament game. Their victory total shattered the school record for wins they set a year ago by five. Their record over the past two seasons is 49-8 (.860).

"I wouldn't have had it any other way," said Owunna, a first-team All-Landmark selection. "We hosted NCAAs, we won two Landmark Conference championships and we won a game in the NCAA Tournament.

"So it's an awful way to go out, but I'm happy at the same time."

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