WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The tenacious man-to-man defense of the Wellesley College (WC) Blue was too much for the Blue Jays, as the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) women's basketball team lost in the 21st Annual USJ Tip-Off Tournament Championship, 53-30, on Saturday afternoon inside the O'Connell Center.
It marks the second year in a row the Blue Jays finish runner-up, while WC (2-0) wins the tournament for the second time in three years. Freshman forward Cheyenne-Mone Smith (Wethersfield, Conn.) led the way for USJ (2-3) with 11 points (9-11 FT) and six rebounds. Junior guard Caitlin Aguirre (El Paso, Texas) scored 18 points (7-14 FG), grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists, taking home MVP honors for the tournament, averaging 19 points. Junior guard Emily Kopp (King Ferry, N.Y.) also made the all-tournament team for the Blue, while Smith was recognized as a member for USJ.
After two stellar shooting performances by Saint Joes in their previous two contests (17-34 3FG, 50%), the Blue Jays made just four shots for the game (no threes), relying heavily on their foul shooting. The Blue were plus 15 on the boards, and plus 14 in the paint.
WC opened the game up with a tough turnaround jump-shot in the post by sophomore forward Alyssa Cho (Hillsborough, Calif.). They immediately turned to a full-court man-to-man defense, showing their quickness at all five positions. Cho would score again on a blow-by after turning and facing a USJ defender in the paint.
The Blue Jays were very aggressive early, attacking the basket and getting to the foul line. Senior center Diamond Wallen (Hartford, Conn.) and sophomore guard Raelynn Voislow (Windsor Locks, Conn.) helped draw four quick fouls in the first four minutes, but it was not enough to stem the tide.
First-year Blue Jays' Head Coach Wendy Davis called a timeout after two quick hoops from Aguirre, who picked up where she left off last night (20 PTS, 10-16 FG). The Blue took charge early, up 8-3.
It was clear from the start that the pace WC played effected the Blue Jay offense. Blue defenders rushing Blue Jay players with the ball, while shots that fell with ease last night just wouldn't go down.
Aguirre came out of the Blue Jay's second timeout of the quarter, and drilled back-to-back threes from the top of the key, good for 10 first-quarter points, a 15-0 run, and a commanding lead after one, 19-3. USJ was 0-for-8 from the field in the first with six turnovers, relying on only free-throws to get on the board.
Saint Joes came out in the second quarter determined to chop away at the lead, forcing a shot-clock violation on their first defensive possession.
Smith hit the first field goal of the game for USJ with 9:00 to go in the second, an and-one finish on the right side, slashing from the left. Meanwhile, WC continued to attack the offensive glass, converting on several second-chance hoops, and getting the Blue Jays in the penalty in the first three and a half minutes. They also forced more turnovers off their ultra-aggressive man-to-man defense, help side players cheating over at just the right time to steal the ball, or at least deflect it away.
Junior guard Kendall You Mak (San Francisco, Calif.) nailed a three from the top, while Cho dealt more damage inside, and WC built a 21-point lead, forcing another early timeout by Davis midway through the quarter.
Sophomore guard Melicia Mendez (Hartford, Conn.) ignited a 7-0 response with four quick points and hard defense for Saint Joes. Wellesley Head Coach Jennifer Kroll was forced to call a quick timeout of her own. USJ trailed 27-13 with 2:22 left in the second quarter.
The turnaround continued as the quarter closed. Smith did everything she could to keep it close, scoring nine points in the half (7-7 FT), along with two rebounds and several blocked shots, shifting the momentum of the game. She even sacrificed her body, going down hard on a drive to the basket, banging knees against a Blue defender. Smith left the game with less than a minute to go in the half.
That 16-point first quarter lead paid dividends for the Blue though, who still led by 11 after two quarters, 30-19. The Blue Jays shot 15-for-18 from the foul line in the first half, but just 2-for-15 from the field. WC had more offensive rebounds in the first half than USJ did total rebounds.
Smith started the second half, but it wasn't enough, as Aguirre and the Blue continued to light it up, hitting her three pointers (3-8 3FG) in the same spot all game long; right at the top of the key, after rotating the ball around the perimeter a few times. WC opened the quarter on a 12-0 run to go up 42-19, and pull away for good.
USJ continued to battle to the end, but were unable to make it any closer. Even in defeat, the Blue Jays found something to smile about, accepting their runner-up plaque with pride.
Saint Joe's will head to Newton, Mass., just outside of Boston, for an away game against Pine Manor College this Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. Wellesley also plays Tuesday night, but at 7:00 p.m. at Simmons University.