March 7, 2006
FAIRFIELD, CT (March 7, 2006) - Junior center Jasmine Walker (Amityville, NY) scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the top-seeded Sacred Heart Pioneers to their first Northeast Conference title game appearance with a 64-50 win over the #5 seeded Long Island Blackbirds Tuesday night in Fairfield, Conn.
Sacred Heart will host the championship game Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., facing the #2 seed, Quinnipiac. The win runs the Pioneers home winning streak to 14-straight as they improve to 25-4 overall.
The Pioneers sprinted out of the gates and led 18-2 after nine minutes of action. Walker was big in the early minutes, hitting a pair of lay-ups and a baseline jumper on the run. After LIU's Marquita Thompson hit one of two at the line to make it 18-3, the Pioneers took off on another jaunt, running off a 12-6 run that put SHU up 30-9 at 3:52.
The Blackbirds remained poised and put together a run of their own, pulling to within 12, 34-22 at the half after a 13-4 run. A three by Mikaelar Whippy and a pair of treys from Masa Susic highlighted the rally and Sonya Coleman capped it off with two free throws after drawing a foul at the halftime horn.
Walker fueled the Pioneers all half, scoring 14 of her 22 on six-of-11 shooting. SHU forced 10 turnovers that they converted into 12 points and held a 28-16 edge on the boards.
Long Island was able to cut to within 10 on a Thompson lay-in to open the half but SHU rallied, pushing the lead back to 20 over the next six minutes. LIU refused to go away and a pair of three's by Amber Wirth and Thompson pulled the Blackbirds back to within 14, 49-35.
SHU made one final run that put the game away, as a jumper by Amanda Pape (Stamford, CT) followed by a three-point play from the NEC Player of the Year got the Pioneers started on what would be a 13-2 run to lead 60-37 with just over six minutes left.
Walker finished with her second-straight double double in the tournament and the seventh this season. She also turned away two shots and had two steals in the win. "Jasmine was sick all week," stated head coach Ed Swanson. "But I had no doubt that when the bell rang tonight she would be ready to go."
"It was important for us to have a fast start tonight with their style of play. They want to play a close zone but we were able to get out and get up big in the early minutes of the game."
Pape scored 16 and grabbed six rebounds. She also added three steals and three assists. Nicolle Rubino (Port Jefferson Station, NY) finished with 15 points and four rebounds. The Pioneers shot just 37.8% as a team but took excellent care of the basketball with just seven turnovers.
LIU finishes the year at 14-15 overall and got 13 points and nine rebounds from Thompson. Coleman tallied 10 with four assists in the loss.
Saturday's championship will be broadcast live on the MSG network as the Pioneers and Bobcats meet in the rubber match for the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Both teams won convincingly on their home courts earlier this year.