HARTFORD, Conn. — Adding yet another milestone to an already unprecedented season, the top-ranked Christopher Newport women's basketball team advanced to the programs first ever NCAA Division III National Championship Game with a hard-fought 56-51 win over Rhode Island College (28-4) in the semifinals on Saturday night.
The Captains erased a 12-point second-half deficit to capture a 31st consecutive victory and booked their trip to Dallas, Texas in a joint championship event with NCAA Division I and II at the America Airlines Center at Noon on April 1, 2023.
"I'd like to start by really congratulating Coach Cosgrove and Rhode Island College. It took everything we had -- unbelievable job that group did this year, a great year. I really take my hat off to those guys," said head coach Bill Broderick. "Second, I just want to say how proud I am of my young ladies. Just so much adversity, so many different people going down in these last few weeks -- and just different people stepping up."
Playing the game in front of a fervent crowd of over 2,000 spectators at Oosting Gymnasium on the campus of Trinity College (CT), the Captains overcame obstacle after obstacle to advance to the first ever title game in program history. Playing without All-American Anaya Simmons after an injury in the first round, and without starting forward Katy Rader who suffered an injury in the Sweet 16, head coach Bill Broderick and his fifth-year phenom Sondra Fan found a way.
Adapting to the circumstances proved vital through the final buzzer on Saturday, as the Captains went away from their usual high-paced man-to-man pressure and switched to a zone in a decision that would flip the scoreboard and ultimately win the game for CNU.
"We had to switch ... we haven't played zone all year and we played the last eight minutes of the game in a zone. You just never know when you're going to need something and that was a big momentum shifter for us."
The shift in defense stymied Rhode Island College in the fourth quarter as the Anchorwomen were held to 0-for their first 11 shots int he final frame. Meanwhile, the Captains turned a five-point deficit at the start of the period into a six-point lead, scoring the first 11 points of the fourth to take a 49-43 lead with three minutes to play.
"I think this game was a representation of everything we've been going through all season," said point guard Gabbi San Diego. "It took a lot of ups and downs and it was a game that we really had to prove we could withstand adversity and withstand their runs."
A turnaround jumper by Hannah Kaloi keyed the run, which continued when Fan banked in a jump shot from just inside the arc and CNU drained four straight free-throws to take the lead. Then, after another defensive stand, Kaloi ripped the ball away from a RIC player underneath and found Camille Malagar loose on the broken play.
The junior guard calmly surveyed the floor and saw her, the team's second all-time leading three-point shooter, waiting on the wing with no one around. A quick pass through the lane and Fan slammed down her fourth triple of the game to send CNU fans into a frenzy.
Rhode Island College finally ended their drought out of the next timeout, but with time running out, the Anchorwomen were forced to foul and extend the game late. San Diego, Lauren Fortescue, and Kaloi combined to go 6-for-6 at the line in the final 25 seconds, holding off a furious comeback try by Rhode Island College.
Free throws win ball games, and the Captains were 19-of-22 from the charity stripe led by a perfect 6-for-6 by their junior point guard Gabbi San Diego. San Diego finished with 13 points and four rebounds while leading the team in minutes with 36 logged in the contest.
Fan would not be denied her opportunity to compete for a national championship and overcame a tough first half shooting by finishing with a game-high 18 points with four made three-pointers. She was also 4-for-4 at the line and added six rebounds and one assist in 34 minutes played.
Playing in an increased role due to Simmons and Rader's absence, Alivia Giles stepped up and had a tremendous game in the national semifinals. She led all players with 11 rebounds while taking on one of the nation's elite rebounding teams.
As a team, the Captains outrebounded the Anchorwomen, 42-36, marking just the third time this season that Rhode Island College finished the game with a negative rebounding margin. Giles also poured in eight points including a pair of highlight-reel finishes off feeds by Camille Malagar.
Malagar dished five assists and finished a well-rounded game with five points, six rebounds, and three steals. Hannah Orloff also added a tough presence down low, adding three blocks to her ledger with four rebounds.
CNU was trailing at the half for just the fifth time this season, but for the fifth time, they came out victorious. Rhode Island College built a lead to as many as 12 early in the third quarter when Izabelle Booth finished on a fast break to take a 32-20 lead. The Captains started to chip away when Giles provided a massive spark off the bench with a tough lay-in on a nice cut through the lane.
Chipping away, CNU cut the lead to two on a fast-break layup by Giles with 1:34 left in the third quarter when again it was Malagar setting up her junior teammate. RIC finished the quarter with three made free-throws to build the lead back to five before CNU's big run.
The Captains defense held RIC without a field goal for nearly ten full minutes of game time from the 2:15 mark of the third to the 2:41 mark of the fourth quarter.
The win improves Christopher Newport to 36-22 all-time in NCAA Tournament action and 1-2 in the national semifinals. It added another win to a streak of now 55 consecutive games with a win when holding an opponent to 60 points or less, including a perfect 25-0 this season.
The Captains will take on either No. 2/2 Transylvania or No. 4/5 Smith in the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball National Championship in two weeks. The game is being played as part of a joint championship event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Title IX and all three games will be played in the home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and NHL's Dallas Stars. The Division II and III title games will be played on Saturday, April 1 with the Division I game being held on Sunday, April 2.
After the Christopher Newport men won the team's first ever NCAA Division III National Championship earlier in the day, the Captains women's team will now also advance to national title game.
It is only the second time in the history of Division III women's basketball and the first time since 2009 (Washington (Mo.)) that a single school will be represented in both the Division III Men's and Women's National Championship Games.