Middlebury women’s basketball falls short in NESCAC quarterfinal

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College women’s basketball team this winter compiled its best NESCAC record since 2001 and earned the right to host Saturday’s quarterfinal as the No. 4 seed, but No. 5 Colby outscored the Panthers, 16-7, in the final 7:20 to snap a tie and win, 48-39.
Several stats favored the 17-8 Panthers: They took more shots (56-45), grabbed more rebounds (43-31), and assisted more baskets (10-8).
But while Colby (13-11) shot 35.6 percent, Middlebury connected at 27 percent and sank just four of 21 attempts in the decisive fourth quarter.
Some of those shots were high-percentage chances, said Coach K.J. Krasco, while at other times the Panthers were not at their best on offense.
“I thought we got some good looks. We just weren’t able to capitalize on them. A couple times we got to the rim and couldn’t make layups,” Krasco said. “And I just thought our ball movement, reversing the ball, could have been done a little bit better.”
Krasco praised both teams’ defensive work, and said the game came down to Colby’s ability to make shots in the final period, in particular senior guard M.K. Caverly (18 points, seven in the fourth, plus nine boards) and junior center Haley Driscoll (12 points, six in the fourth). Both made key three-point plays down the stretch.
“Their kids made some really tough shots. And when we were playing them aggressively they were able to make those shots,” Krasco said. “In that fourth quarter they were aggressive, they went to the basket, we fouled, they made shots and got the and-one opportunities. And the couple of times we got that opportunity we didn’t do the same.”
The Panthers started one junior, guard Sarah Kaufman; three sophomores, center Catherine and guards Alex Huffman and Colleen Caveney; and a freshman, forward Betsy Knox. And their three main subs were freshman, guard Kira Waldman and forwards Lily Kuntz and Maya Davis.
So while the lack of experience might have shown on Saturday, Krasco said the group learned a lot while compiling its 6-4 league record.
“We have a lot of experienced players after this season,” she said. “It’s reassuring to be able to walk into the locker room today and tell the players I’m sad about the loss, but I’m happy everyone here will be back.”
The game was close throughout. After Kaufman scored seven of her 10 points in the first quarter to help the Panthers forge a 12-12 tie, Harrison (12 points on six-for-11 shooting inside, plus 12 rebounds) scored two hoops early in the second to give Middlebury a 16-14 lead. But they managed only a Huffman drive the rest of the period and trailed at the half, 21-18.
The Panthers took the lead again in the third, 28-27, on a Kaufman jumper and a strong move by Davis in the post at 3:05, but again went cold, and a late Caverly hoop made it 29-28, Colby after three.
A Driscoll three-point play and two Harrison hoops set the score at 32-32 at 7:20 of the fourth, and then Colby went on a 7-1 run over the next three minutes, consisting of three free throws and then consecutive moves in the lane by Driscoll and Emily Davis. After a Harrison free throw made it 39-34 at 3:58 the Panthers came up empty on several trips.
Then Caverly drove for a three-point play at 1:24 to make it 42-34 and put the game out of reach. Colby hit free throws to ice the win.
Huffman (eight rebounds) and Knox and Kuntz (six each) helped the Panthers on the boards, Kaufman had three steals, and Harrison blocked three shots.
Krasco said the Panthers gelled this year and exceeded expectations.
“I talked to them after the game and told them they should be proud of the season we did have. And I think it is important to reflect on the positive things,” she said. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to make that next step of heading to the semifinals, but I’m hoping the group next year is going to be hungry to make that next step.”

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