Title Run Ends in Final Four

    The No. 12 UCSD women’s basketball team’s Cinderella story came to an end in its Final Four loss against No. 7 Southern Connecticut State University in Kearney, Neb., on March 22.

    Sanh Luong/Guardian
    Junior forward Jillian Ricks and the Tritons had a breakout 2006-07 season, as UCSD won 27 games, including an upset in its first Elite Eight game to advance to the Final Four.

    The Tritons suffered a tough 67-53 loss one day after pulling a 71-61 upset over No. 2 Glenville State University in the quarterfinals to make it to the program’s first Final Four appearance in Division II.

    The Tritons came out strong against a tough Southern Connecticut State University team, battling for shots and spreading the ball around well. With six different players scoring for UCSD early in the game, the Tritons managed to stay close to the Owls and take a 20-19 lead with 6 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first half.

    The Tritons maintained their slim lead over the Owls, heading into the halftime break with a 28-26 advantage.

    UCSD came out in the second half hitting its shots and staying close to Southern Connecticut State University. However, with eight minutes left in the game, Southern Connecticut State University went on a 12-0 run, leaving the Tritons with an 11-point deficit to make up in five minutes.

    “”Their zone defense was extremely effective,”” senior guard Leora Juster said. “”We stayed with it for a while only because [senior forward Hillary Hansen] and [sophomore forward Michelle Osier] were making extremely difficult shots. We couldn’t get good looks at the basket from the beginning. Eventually we started missing the difficult shots and then we started missing the easy shots too.””

    By the time the Tritons started scoring again, it was too late to catch up to the Owls. UCSD’s season did not end against a mediocre team, however, as the Owls went on to win the D-II national championship two days later over Florida Gulf Coast University.

    “”I think we fought well and had great effort,”” junior forward Meaghan Noud said. “”At some point, we got cold and our shots weren’t falling. In order to beat a team that good, you have to play a perfect game. They weren’t out of our reach or anything, but at the same time, I’m happy we could compete with them and we proved we were a team to be reckoned with.””

    Juster, Osier and Hansen all had 12 points in the loss while Noud added 10 points off the bench. Osier also collected a team-high 11 rebounds.

    UCSD already proved it belongs with the top D-II women’s basketball teams in the quarterfinal game against Glenville State University.

    Coming in as the underdogs, the Tritons pulled the upset over the second-ranked Pioneers to earn a spot in the Final Four.

    The Pioneers started the game on fire, quickly taking a commanding 20-5 lead. The Tritons stormed back, led by Juster, who used a combination of jump shots and free-throws to help UCSD cut into Glenville State’s lead.

    Juster’s 16 first-half points, as well as contributions from Hansen and Noud, helped bring the Tritons to within seven points at the half.

    In the second half of the game, the Tritons tightened up their defense, leading to more opportunities on the offensive side of the court.

    The Tritons scored 10 points off of turnovers and limited the Pioneers to just 21 percent shooting from the field in the second half of the game.

    “”After the first half, we made a strategy based on trying to stop their best player,”” Noud said. “”Once we stopped, or at least slowed her down, it gave us a chance to catch up in a second half.””

    Hansen stepped up for the Tritons with 15 second-half points, leading UCSD to a victory in its first-ever Elite Eight game.

    Juster ended the game with 26 points and Hansen added 20 points, with the two seniors combining for almost two-thirds of the team’s total points.

    Juster added seven rebounds, three assists and a steal in what was the last win of her UCSD career.

    “”I think that when you are a senior, you have nothing to lose except never playing again,”” Juster said. “”It makes you subconsciously have that extra push when you know that this is it.””

    Noud added 12 points and eight rebounds and Osier had nine points and seven rebounds in the victory.

    The Tritons ended their historic season with a 27-5 record – the best in the history of UCSD women’s basketball.

    “”I don’t know how you can’t see us as a great team now,”” Noud said. “”We’ve earned some respect not only because of the Elite Eight, but also in the Western Regional Tournament as well. We beat those teams by considerable margins. It shows how much we’ve improved.””

    While they did improve, the Tritons will have to do even more next year, when they lose both Juster and Hansen.

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