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Top-ranked Captains headed to Final Four after Gabbi San Diego leads CNU past No. 21 Tufts, 72-56

San Diego scored a career-high 32 points, including a 12-of-13 run at the free-throw line, and added six assists for the Captains in the sectional final.
Credit: CNU Athletics

MEDFORD, Mass. — The undefeated and top-ranked Christopher Newport women's basketball team punched its ticket to the program's third NCAA Division III Final Four on Saturday night as junior point guard Gabbi San Diego put the team on her shoulders in a 72-56 win at No. 21 Tufts University (24-7) in the national quarterfinals. 

San Diego scored a career-high 32 points, including a 12-of-13 run at the free-throw line, and added six assists for the Captains in the sectional final. Graduate student Sondra Fan, who returned to CNU for her fifth year after a Sweet 16 loss a year ago, helped will the Captains to the win with 18 points including a dagger of a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. 

With the win, Christopher Newport improved to 30-0 for the second time in program history, matching the start to the 2009-10 season. It ties for the second longest win streak in CNU lore coming on the heels of setting a program record last year with 43 consecutive victories. The Captains have improved to 73-1 since late December 2019 when then-No. 1 Tufts handed CNU one of only two losses in the last 75 games. 

"It's not very often that I'm speechless," said head coach Bill Broderick, "but I'm kind speechless a little bit. This team just keeps playing through one injury after another. People just keep having to step up, being man down. It really goes to our 'next woman up' mentality. I'm just so proud; so proud of this team for staying together and persevering through it. Tufts is really good -- extremely well coached. [...] I just think it's just a great, great team win."

Christopher Newport led by five at halftime and added 42 points after intermission in a back-and-forth battle that was not decided until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. CNU outscored the host Jumbos in all but the second quarter, where Tufts held a 13-12 advantage. 

On back-to-back offensive possessions early in the first quarter it was Camille Malagar who led the way. First, she received the ball in the corner and made a beautiful drive to the basket for a lay-in with some spin off the glass. Then, on the next possession, she made a great extra pass at the 2:30 mark as Malagar had a look at her own three but dished out to Lauren Fortescue for a wide open triple on the wing. The fifth-year senior buried the three to give CNU a 14-10 lead.
With just over a minute left in the first quarter, San Diego faked a hand off to Malagar and the entire Tufts defense bit on the misdirection, giving the junior point guard a deuce from the baseline. The two players continued to lead the way through the first quarter with 13 combined points on 6-of-8 shooting as Malagar finished the period with another bucket and the Captains led, 18-12.
After scoring seven of the first ten points for the Jumbos, the Captains blanketed Tufts' leading scorer Maggie Russell and held her without another point until she had to exit the first half with her second foul after 15 minutes of action. She checked back in late in the second quarter and added a layup to lead the Jumbos with nine first-half points while adding five rebounds.
The Captains forced 15 first-half turnovers and snagged eight steals to lead the top-ranked team in the nation to a 30-25 advantage at intermission. A balanced effort was key, as usual for Christopher Newport, as San Diego led the first half with nine points while Malagar and Fan each poured in eight. Rookie Ashley Steadman chipped in a nice stick back layup and Fortescue's triple rounded out the scoring in the first half. 
CNU came out of the locker room on a torrid pace, opening the second half on a 7-0 run to build the lead to a game-high 12 and force a Tufts timeout. Hannah Kaloi started the burst with a beautiful bank shot before San Diego was left open at the top of the key for a long-range triple. After a pair of Tufts misses, San Diego drained the shot clock before a beautiful hesitation move got her loose for a buzzer-beating runner in the lane.
The Jumbos rebounded with an 12-0 run of their own to tie the game, 37-37, and set up a wild back-and-forth finish through the mid-way point of the fourth quarter. The Captains went cold from the floor after the initial burst of the third quarter, missing the next six shots before San Diego connected on a mid-range jumper to re-take the lead, 39-37. CNU would not relinquish the lead again. 

After the Tufts run in the third quarter, the Captains regrouped and built the lead back to as many as eight, 51-43, on a three-pointer by Fan. Russell connected on a buzzer-beating layup to trim the lead to six, 51-45, at the end of the third period. Another Russell jumper, followed by a three-pointer by Callie O'Brien, and the lead was just one for Christopher Newport, 51-50, in front of a raucus crowd of over 500. This time, it was Hannah Kaloi who answered the call for the Captains, tickling the twine with a three-pointer off a nice feed by San Diego.

That would be the last bucket scored by either team until the 4:55 mark as both defenses locked down in the tight ball game. After a blocked shot, Fan collected a loose ball and found Hannah Orloff in the lane for a pivotal jumper in the lane, making the score 56-50 with less than five minutes to go. She made it a quick 4-0 run as the sophomore forward layed it in on the next possession on another dime from San Diego. 

That would set up the crushing blow from Fan with less than four minutes left. After a Tufts turnover, San Diego set up the play for Fan and the Captains' leader rained in a crowd-silencing three-pointer from three steps back of the wing. The triple, hit by the team's second all-time leading shooter from beyond the arc, gave the Captains a double-digit lead again at 61-50, and would force Tufts into a game-ending foul situation. 

The CNU defense in the final five minutes forced tough shots and limited opportunities with strong rebounding. Kaloi drew what was likely a game-clinching charge on Wilson with a 13-point lead and in the final two minutes, the Jumbos fouled San Diego five times, sending her to the free-throw line for 10 attempts. She was dominant from the charity stripe, knocking down a game-icing 9 of 10 to build the lead to the final score, 72-56. 
The Captains will travel to the Final Four for the third time and the first since 2017 when CNU faced Amherst in Michigan. Christopher Newport will face Rhode Island College (28-3) in Ray Oosting Gymnasium on the campus of Trinity University (CT) next Saturday, March 18. RIC defeated No. 13 Babson in the sectional final, 60-47.

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