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Tufts’ defense figures to give high-flying Thomas More women a challenge in Division III title game

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

The undefeated Thomas More College women’s basketball team returns to the NCAA Division III championship game with some impressive offensive statistics. The Saints are averaging 92 points per game, shooting 48 percent from the field and have four players with double-figure scoring averages.

But coach Jeff Hans doesn’t know if his team will be able to match those numbers in the title game against Tufts University of Massachusetts that’s set for at 6 p.m. Monday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Sydney Moss

Containing Thomas More senior guard Sydney Moss will be a tough task for the Tufts defense in the NCAA Division III championship game. She’s averaging 26.3 points per game and was named national Player of the Year for the third consecutive season. (Photo by Jackson Sports Photography)

Tufts has the second-best defensive average in Division III, limiting opponents to 44 points per game. The leader in that category was Amherst, a team that Thomas More defeated, 74-65, in the semifinals on March 19.

“It’s going to be hard,” Hans said of the matchup with Tufts. “But we were able to go out and shoot 43 percent against Amherst and score 74 points on a team that only gives up 42 per game. We didn’t get the fast breaks and didn’t get the transition game that we like, but you adapt to it and figure out other ways to score.”

If the Saints find a way to win Monday’s game, they’ll claim their second consecutive national championship and complete the season with a perfect record once again. They currenlty have a 32-0 mark and went 33-0 in their drive to the 2015 title.

During last year’s playoffs, Thomas More knocked off Tufts, 62-52, in the semifinals. So the teams are familiar with each other going into Monday’s title game that will be carried live on the www.ncaa.com website.

“Thomas More, when they step on the court, they just look like they’re an awesome team and it can be intimidating,” said Jumbos coach Carla Berude. “But we were in that game (with them last year). I think we can draw from that experience of being on that stage with them.”

With one senior, two juniors and two sophomores in the starting lineup, Tufts defeated Wartburg, 63-50, in this year’s semifinals to advance to the championship game for the first time.

The Jumbos’ defense held Wartburg scoreless in the first quarter and took a 14-0 lead. In the second half, Wartburg pulled to within four points, 47-43, before Tufts went on a 10-2 run that clinched the victory.

Melissa Baptista, a 6-foot sophomore forward, had a big game for Tufts. She finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and five steals. The team’s other inside player, 6-foot-2 junior Michela North, also posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Wartburg shot 34 percent (18 of 53) from the field and committed 18 turnovers in that game and became the 25th team that Tufts has held to 50 points or less this season. Hans doesn’t want the Saints to be added to that list.

“We’re going to try to take advantage of some transition, get some stops and some deflection steals and get out and run a little bit on them like we did last year,” Hans said. “But we’re going to have to execute (on offense). We’ll have to score in the half-court and they’re not going to make it easy on us, we know that.”

Thomas More’s high-scoring offense is led by senior forward Sydney Moss, who was named Player of the Year in Division III women’s basketball for the third consecutive season. In addition to averaging 22.4 points per game, she leads the team in assists with a 5.6 average and rebounds with a 7.3 average.

The other Thomas More starters with double-figure scoring averages are sophomore point guard Abby Owings (15.0), sophomore forward Nikki Kiernan (13.5) and freshman guard Madison Temple (11.2). They’ve all played key roles in the Saints’ success.

“I know they have a really great scorer in Sydney Moss, but she’s certainly not their only scorer. They have some really great pieces around her,” said coach Berude. “It’s a phenomenal team, but we’ll be ready. We’re going to give it our all like we’ve done all year.”

Starting lineups for Division III national championship game

(Listed with pre-game averages)
F – Nikki Kiernan (5-10, sophomore) 13.5 points, 7.1 rebounds
F – Alexa Santamaria (5-11, senior) 4.8 points, 3.2 rebounds
F – Madison Temple (6-0, freshman) 11.4 points, 5.0 rebounds
G – Abby Owings (5-2, sophomore) 15.0 points, 4.8 assists
G – Sydney Moss (5-10, senior) 26.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists

(Listed with per-game averages)
F – Michela North (6-2, junior) 14.3 points, 10.4 rebounds
F – Melissa Baptista (6-0, sophomore) 10.2 points, 6.0 rebounds
G – Lauren Dillon (5-3, sophomore) 7.7 points, 4.8 assists
G – Josie Lee (5-7, junior) 5.0 points, 4.0 rebounds
G – Emma Roberson (5-8, senior) 8.8 points, 4.5 rebounds

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