By Christain Heimall, Staff Writer
For just the third time in its 64-year history, the Hofstra women's basketball team made a postseason tournament. This year's trip to the newly expanded WNIT saw Hofstra knock off a Big Ten opponent in Penn State before falling to CAA foe Virginia Commonwealth.
Hofstra's second trip to the WNIT under Krista Kilburn-Steveskey resulted in the first ever meeting between the Pride and Penn State. On March 18, at the Bryce Jordan Center, the Pride used timely shooting from senior Sam Brigham and dominant performances on the boards from freshman Shante Evans and senior Jess Fuller. Brigham had a team high 18 points while Evans recorded her sixteenth double-double of the year with 14 points and a game high 17 rebounds in the 76-68 victory.
"It's a great win for the program obviously and for the CAA," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "I think our league is a very tough league and to be able to represent is great for Hofstra."
Penn State jumped out to a 23-14 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the first half before the Pride went on an 18-5 run capped off with a three pointer by sophomore guard Nicole Capurso giving them a four point lead. The Lady Lions did however fight back and take a one point lead into the halftime break.
Hofstra outscored the Lions 12-2 in the opening four minutes of the second half to take a nine point lead at 45-36. Penn State would continue to try and fight back behind a game high 22 points from senior Tyra Grant. Penn State even cut the lead to one at 54-53 before Brigham buried a three from the left wing giving Hofstra a four point margin and an added boost of momentum.
"For her to lead the team, [Sam is] the one who had the experience and you saw her on the floor, leading with the ball in her hands, leading on the defensive end," Kilburn-Steveskey said. "She knew how to step up and do that and that's what I'm very, very proud of."
Brigham led four Hofstra scorers in double-figures as fellow guards Capurso and sophomore Candice Bellochio added 14 and 11 points respectively. Brigham is making her second trip to the WNIT after going in 2006-07 with the Pride team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Hofstra garnered their twentieth win of the season, just the third time since 1982-83 when the program moved to Division I competition, and advanced to face conference rival VCU in Richmond on Sunday. Hofstra fell to VCU in the Quarterfinals of the CAA tournament just over a week before.
"Actually its funny, I kind of feel like Brett Favre right now," said Brigham. "I wasn't sure if he was going to retire and I was like he can't, he can't end his career throwing an interception. I can't end my career having a bad game."
Behind 27 points from both senior Kita Waller and sophomore Courtney Hurt, the Rams ended Hofstra's season with an 84-65 victory in the second round of the WNIT. The Pride shot 40.4 percent from the floor in the loss but were unable to shut down an impressive VCU attack that made 52.5 percent of their shots including 21 of 34 (61.8 percent) in the first half.
"I don't think we can directly put it into words because it's not one person's fault," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "Defensively the most disappointing part is they scored [over 80 points] on us and that's probably on the third team this season to do that."
Hofstra did bounce back in the second half shooting a better percentage and rebounding better than the Rams and outscored VCU by nine but the 50-22 margin at halftime was too much for the Pride to overcome.
"We talked a lot about pride, that's one thing we have a very strong group," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "At the end of the day that's what the scoreboard says but we know they aren't 20 points better than us."
Hofstra was led by 17 points from Brigham who registered her one thousandth career point with a three pointer at the 15:03 mark of the first half.
"We really just wanted to get them back for what they did to us in the conference tournament," said Brigham who became just the twentieth player in program history to achieve 1,000 points. "I said to the underclassmen, you get them next year. Make them pay next year."
Bellochio also had 13 points in the loss for the Pride and Fuller added 8 points and 7 rebounds in her final game in a Hofstra uniform.
"I've always talked about how [Jess] made a commitment to come play for us and their loyalty is something I can't say enough of," said Kilburn-Steveskey of her two seniors. "They believed and they have a lot of pride and a lot of guts on their own."