By Joe Pantorno, Assistant Sports Editor
Taking on yet another team that was larger than its own, the Hofstra University women's basketball team was knocked out of the Colonial Athletic Association Championships in the quarterfinals at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth University, 87-76, on Friday afternoon.
"It's very unfortunate that we have to go home at this point," said head coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey. "VCU came at us really hard, out of the gates swinging and we have to give a lot of credit to them tonight."
The Rams started the game on a 10-0 run. Hofstra was held without a single point until junior guard Candice Bellocchio hit two free-throws at the 16:28 mark. Junior guard Jael Pena was brought off the bench and proved to be a dynamo early on both ends of the court. Pena scored eight points in the half for the Pride, tied for the team lead with Evans and freshman guard Kate Loper.
"I was just trying to bring a spark to the team bringing the defensive energy that we needed and intensity," said Pena.
Hofstra was getting beaten badly under the basket as the larger VCU side had no problem scoring down low. The Rams were also limiting sophomore forward Shante Evans, who was held without a basket for the first seven minutes of the game.
"It was a little bit [frustrating]," said Evans. "The last game I found a way to shoot over [the defense], but this game I struggled a little bit. They had someone next to me on each hip so it was kind of frustrating to shoot over two people."
The Pride's offense woke up a bit and the defense began causing some turnovers but VCU was heating up from the field, going 12-20 in the first eight minutes.
VCU's lead grew to 12 with nine minutes remaining as Hofstra looked like it was going to be put away early.
In the last six minutes of the half, Hofstra settled down, going on an 11-5 run to get back in the game.
A couple points off turnovers brought Hofstra within four going into the break as VCU led 43-39.
After another shaky start in the first minute and a half from the defense, some active hands and forced turnovers got Hofstra going in the second frame. Two free-throws from junior guard Nicole Capurso tied the game for the first time since the opening minute of the game with the score knotted at 48.
The Pride began getting to the charity stripe with some aggressive drives to the basket and ignited a 10-2 run, giving the Pride its first lead of the game with just over three minutes gone in the second.
VCU answered the Pride with a 10-3 run, regaining the lead as it began taking advantage of second chance opportunities from offensive rebounds.
"It was one of those nights where were getting really hurt with size," said Kilburn-Steveskey. "We had to make some shifts defensively but they were a little bit tougher."
The Rams went back up five points with Hofstra losing its shooting touch, going 9-37 from the field in the second half, but the Pride continued to go to the line for some easy points.
"At the end of the day everybody has to show up and everybody's got to be there," said Kilburn-Steveskey.
A three-pointer from Pena and a lay-up from freshman forward Anma Onyeuku tied the game at 64 with 8:25 remaining in the game.
Defensive lapses by Hofstra gave VCU some wide open looks from range, putting the Rams up 73-67 with 5:22 remaining.
"We looked deflated right there," said Kilburn-Steveskey.
VCU's lead grew to 11 with 2:55 left in the game as the Rams looked as though they finally put the Pride away.
A three-pointer from VCU guard Jessica Taylor was all but the dagger with 2:23 remaining putting the Rams up 14.
A small run was not nearly enough for the Pride, as VCU moves to the conference semi-finals to take on James Madison tomorrow.
Evans led the Pride with 17 points and eight rebounds, Pena added 14 points of her own as Hofstra drops to 19-12 on the season.
"We're going to soak this in today but tomorrow we are going to move on," said Evans. "We're looking for the WNIT and we've got to move on from this. It's sour now, but we'll get over it."