Balance. It is the word that first comes to mind when you think of the UR women’s basketball program since head coach Jim Scheible took over in 1999. This year, the ‘Jackets had four players with points-per-game averages hovering around 10. Seven different players tallied game highs in scoring throughout the regular season, and four players received University Athletic Association honors.

“I like the idea that teams can’t take away one scoring option and shut our team down,” Scheible said. “I just believe that depth and balance are very important if you want to compete at a high level throughout the year.”

This strategy was certainly put into play during UR’s playoff run this season. On March 7, the Yellowjackets opened their postseason play in the NCAA tournament in Scranton, Pa. and came away with a 71-66 victory over first-round opponent, the Eastern Connecticut State University Warriors.

Junior forward Alex Porter led the charge early against the Warriors. She scored UR’s first six points and added eight rebounds before halftime. Porter was one of the four Yellowjacket players to be recognized by the UAA, earning Second Team All-Conference honors.

UR battled back from an early deficit to go into halftime holding onto a 40-31 lead. In the second half, the ‘Jackets went up by as many as 12 points. The Warriors battled back, however, cutting the lead to three with six seconds left to play. On the ‘Jackets’ ensuing inbound pass, ECSU fouled UR freshman guard Melissa Alwardt, who sunk both free-throw shots to solidify the win for the ‘Jackets.

UR’s depth was key in the game, especially with junior center Julie Marriott – a UAA First Team selection and UR’s leading scorer – going just one for 13 from the field. The ‘Jackets outscored the Warriors, 21-5, in bench points and had four players in double figures. Junior guard Helen Baroody led UR with 15.

“Helen has really shown some great strides this year from a leadership, as well as a scoring, standpoint,” Scheible said. “Throughout the game, our guards really stepped up and made some big shots.”

With the win, UR advanced to play the Medaille College Mavericks the following day. The Yellowjackets’ loss to the Mavericks in November was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect resum for the first three months of their season.

This time, UR was able to avenge that loss with a 69-50 win thanks to a gutsy performance from Alwardt and a strong showing on the offensive boards. The freshman had a career-high 24 points on seven for 10 shooting from the field. As a team, UR grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and held a 19-5 advantage in second-chance points.

With Marriott struggling for the second game in a row, Alwardt, Baroody and senior forward Jessica Waddell shouldered the offensive load with Baroody and Waddell adding 10 points apiece.

The ‘Jackets again came out flat, falling behind by as many as eight in the first half. In the second, the difference was the UR defense, which held the Mavericks to just 27 percent from the field, including only one for eight from behind the 3-point arc.

The win put UR in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in six years, matching it up against the Falcons of perennial powerhouse Messiah College, who finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country according to the d3hoops.com poll. But despite holding their own in the first half and going up by as many as 15 points in the second, the ‘Jackets were unable to advance into the Elite 8, falling to the Falcons, 73-61.

Played at Messiah, the game was a tale of two halves.

UR’s guards stole the show early, with Alwardt leading the way with 15 points before halftime.

“She’s a really talented freshman for us,” Scheible said. “The bigger the game, the bigger she seems to play.”

It initially looked promising for UR in the second half, as well. Marriott came out strong in the interior and Baroody hit two 3-pointers to open the period, giving the Yellowjackets a commanding 15-point lead.

But then Messiah got hot, most notably through Falcon senior guard Nikki Lobach, who tallied 14 points in the second half on perfect shooting from the field. The Falcons shot a little over 50 percent from the floor as a team after halftime. That, combined with a seven-minute span toward the end of the game where the ‘Jackets were unable to hit a basket from the floor, gave Messiah the edge down the stretch.

“We had a lot of respect for Messiah, but we thought we were playing at a high level and could give it a run,” Scheible said.

Despite the loss, it’s hard to ignore the achievements of the UR team this season. The ‘Jackets finished the season 22-5, won the JP Morgan Chase Tournament midway through this year and advanced into the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row.

And the roster won’t be changing much next year either. Waddell – who has one more year left of athletic eligibility – will be back next year, in addition to the other nine players who make up the regular rotation.

“Overall, we wanted to go further in the Sweet 16,” Scheible said. “But we still feel like it was a successful season and we are looking forward to having everyone back next year.”

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.



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