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A lost weekend for women’s hoop

MIDDLEBURY — A pair of tough home losses this past weekend hurt the Middlebury College women’s basketball team’s chances to host a NESCAC quarterfinal for a third straight season.
On Friday night the Panthers (17-5 overall, 4-4 in NESCAC) had undefeated first-place Bowdoin, the No. 1 team in NCAA Division III, on the ropes. But the 22-0 Polar Bears rallied from 13 points down at the start of the fourth quarter to edge the Panthers, 62-58.
On Saturday, Colby (9-12, 2-6 NESCAC) drained 13 of 21 three-point attempts and held the Panthers to less than 24 percent shooting through three quarters in a 71-62 upset.
The Panthers are still in decent shape. They are tied for fifth with Williams and own the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Ephs. Both teams play at second-place Amherst and last-place Hamilton this weekend. A split should give Middlebury the No. 5 seed.
MIDDLEBURY SENIOR GUARD Colleen Caveney battles for the ball with Colby’s Katie McCrum in the first quarter of Saturday’s home loss to the visitors from Maine. Caveney had 10 points in the game and added five steals. Below, Panther center Maya Davis scored a team-leading 22 points and hauled in 11 rebounds on Saturday.
Independent photos/Steve James
That would mean a quarterfinal rematch at likely No. 4 seed Trinity, which edged visiting Middlebury on Jan. 27, 59-55, a loss that started a three-game skid.
Coach K.J. Krasco said after Saturday’s setback she is not concerned about potential matchups. Rather, she would like to see the Panthers return to the form they showed before the three-game hiccup.
“We have to be mindful of what did happen this weekend, and we have to look in the mirror and hold ourselves accountable for what did happen this weekend, and also look in the mirror and see what more we can be doing to help each other out as a group,” Krasco said.
Despite the offense that was out of synch for the final quarter on Friday and the first three quarters on Sunday (to be fair, starting forward Betsy Knox was sidelined with an illness), Krasco said the bigger issue, especially on Saturday, was defense. The Panthers allow an average of 52.7 per game overall, and 60.9 to NESCAC foes, 10 fewer than they allowed the league’s ninth-place team on Saturday.
Krasco credited Colby’s shooting, but said her team’s defense was “really the deciding factor.”
“We’re used to holding teams around the 50s. Our shots on offense did not fall, but I think we have different ways of accomplishing things and beating a team,” she said.
On Saturday, the teams traded hoops to open the game, with Panther center Catherine Harrison and Mule freshman and former Middlebury Union High School standout Keagan Dunbar doing early damage. Dunbar, a starter at guard, scored six of her eight points in the first quarter, but her minutes were limited with foul trouble (see related story).
Colby’s bench also began to light it up, and subs Paige Russell and Jackie Albanese hit threes as the Mules finished the period on a 9-2 run to take a 22-13 lead.
Colby hit four of five threes in the first period, and three of five in the second as the Mules pushed the lead to 39-23 at the half. Ainsley Burns hit two threes in the second period, and forward Katie McCrum scored five points inside.
Harrison scored six in the second after notching five in the first, but the Panthers were out of synch, passing up open jumpers while the Mules were contesting at the basket, blocking five first-half shots.
Russell and Sarah Hancock each hit two threes as the Mules went five-for-five from behind the arc in the third period and moved the lead to 60-35. Maya Davis and Harrison scored four apiece to keep the Panthers within shouting distance.
PANTHER CENTER MAYA DAVIS scored a team-leading 22 points and hauled in 11 rebounds on Saturday, but her performance couldn’t prevent Colby from handing a home loss to Middlebury. Below, Middlebury’s Emily Wander dribbled up the court past Colby guard Keagan Dunbar.
Independent photos/Steve James
In the fourth Davis (14 points) and Colleen Caveney (eight) sparked a rally, and better defense closed the gap. A Harrison jumper in the lane cut the lead to 63-51 at 3:45, and the game looked winnable. But the Panthers might have gotten the idea it wasn’t their day when Hancock banked in a three at 3:16 to push the lead back to 15.
Davis finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, Harrison scored 18, and Caveney scored 10 and grabbed five steals. McCrum paced the Mules with 17 points, while Burns added 15. 
On Friday the Panthers scored the final 16 points of the first half to take a 33-22 lead at the break. Caveney sank three treys during that surge. 
Middlebury outscored Bowdoin by 17-15 on the third period to lead, 50-37, after 30 minutes. Critically, however, Harrison picked up her fourth foul in the period.
Middlebury still led by 54-44 when the Polar Bears went on a 10-2 run to slice the margin to 56-54 with 2:32 remaining. Maddie Hasson scored eight of Bowdoin’s 10 points during the spurt.
Two Davis free throws put Middlebury up by four, but Polar Bear Abby Kelly knocked down a three at 1:06 to make it 58-57. A Hasson three-point play gave Bowdoin the lead, 60-58, and two free throws sealed the 62-58 win.
Davis finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Caveney netted 13 and Harrison finished with 10 points and blocked a shot to become the school’s all-time leader in the category with 98. Alex Huffman added nine rebounds and four assists. 
Kelly scored 18 points, while Hasson netted 15 points, 13 in the second half.

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