WESTFIELD – Sophomore center Forbasaw Nkamebo (Amherst) notched game highs of 20 points and 12 rebounds and Westfield State University captured a share of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) women’s basketball regular season championship with a resounding 70-47 victory over Fitchburg State University on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Westfield finishes the regular season 8-4 in the MASCAC and 15-10 overall. The Owls, who share the conference crown with Bridgewater State and Framingham State, are the No. 2 seed in the postseason tournament and will host a playoff game on Thursday, Feb. 27.
It’s awesome to be MASCAC tri-champs,” said Westfield State head coach Andrea Bertini. “After the adversity we went through it’s awesome.”
Westfield lost junior center Gabby Felix – the team’s leading scorer and rebounder – midway through the season because of injury. After three consecutive conference losses, the Owls regrouped to finish the season with four straight victories, including their impressive win over Fitchburg in the season finale.
Westfield should be considered a conference pre-season favorite next year as there are no seniors on this year’s team. But the Owls are not looking ahead, according to their coach.
“I believe we are peaking at the right time,” said Bertini. “That’s what we practice for, the 74 days of hard work at practice so far this season are paying off.”
Fitchburg, 13-11 overall and 6-6 in the MASCAC, defeated Westfield, 83-72, in the first meeting. But this time the Owls were able to handle the Falcons’ full-court press. Also, Westfield forced 28 Fitchburg turnovers, including 17 in the first half.
“Definitely, no question this was our best game of the year. We came out and played hard and got our best result,” said Bertini. “Our intensity on defense was the key. We came out ready to go from the start. Plus, we handled their pressure well and were able to get through their traps.”
In a noteworthy statistic, the Owls outscored the Falcons by 43 points from the field. With nine players scoring in its efficient offense, Westfield made 33 of 71 (47 percent) field goal attempts. The Owls were credited with 25 assists on their 33 made field goals.
Conversely, Fitchburg shot 25 percent (13 for 51 from the field). The Falcons (21 for 26) did outscore Westfield (1 for 5) by a huge margin the foul line.
Westfield never trailed, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead. The Owls led 20-9 midway through the first half and held a commanding 41-20 halftime lead. Westfield’s biggest second-half lead was 29 points, 66-37, when Bertini began emptying the bench.
Sophomore guard Keri Doldoorian was Westfield’ s only other player in double figures with 16 points; she also had five assists and three steals. Junior guard Jen Ashton had another stellar all-around game with seven points and game highs of eight assists and six steals.
Junior guard Laura Cote scored a team-high 12 points for the Falcons. Senior forward Amy Fahey posted a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds.
OWLS HOST GAME THURSDAY: The Bridgewater State Bears have earned the top seed in the 2013-14 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament which begins on Tuesday, February 25, with the quarterfinals, then the semifinals on Thursday, February 27, and commences with the championship on Saturday, March 1.
Earning a first-round byes and home games, Bridgewater State and Westfield State await the winner of the quarterfinal rounds on Tuesday. Third-seeded Framingham State hosts sixth-seeded Worcester State at 7 p.m., while fourth-seeded Salem State entertains fifth-seeded Fitchburg State at 7 p.m.
The Bears will play the winner of Salem State/Fitchburg State at 5:30 p.m. Thursday while the Owls face-off with the victor of Framingham State/Worcester State at 7 p.m. Thursday in Westfield. The semifinal winners will then meet on Saturday, March 1 in the championship game which will be hosted by the highest remaining seed.
Finishing the season in a three way tie for first with Westfield and Framingham, Bridgewater State won the tie-breaker based on its two victories over Framingham. Senior Jenna Williamson leads the way for the Bears. She ended the regular season fifth in the conference in points per game (13.8), second in three-point percentage (36.2) and third in field goal percentage (43.5).
Last season’s tournament finalist Westfield State ended the seasonwith four straight victories and a 15-10 overall record. Sophomore Forbasaw Nkamebo was a driving force for the Owls, leading the MASCAC in rebounds per game (8.7). Teammate Jen Ashton closed out the season atop the league in assists per game (5.6); she ranks second in steal and free throw shooting..
No. 3 seed Framingham State concluded the season with a 15-10 overall record. Senior Kristen Hoffman led the Rams in points per game (14.4) and assists per game (2.8). Salem State grabbed the fourth-seed with seven wins and an 11-13 overall record. Junior Rachel Carter was lights out for the Vikings, leading the conference in points per game (20.9), second in rebounds (8.6) and fourth in field goal percentage (43).
Earning the final two spots in the tournament are Fitchburg State and Worcester State. Fitchburg State finished the season with six conference wins and a 13-10 overall record. Amy Fahey was dominant for the Falcons, closing out the season first in the conference in field goal percentage (57.3), second in points per game (15.3) and third in rebounds (7.8).
Worcester State rounds out the field with five conference wins and a 9-15 overall mark. Meaghan Burns was strong for the Lancers, finishing the season third in the MASCAC in points per game (14.8).
Last season, Bridgewater State outlasted Westfield State in the conference tournament, 85-72, to win the conference title and a spot in the NCAA tournament.