Women’s basketball secures top seed in South Division with win over Navy
Third-seeded Eagles will play a home game in the conference tournament thanks to a balanced scoring effort
With the top of the South Division and a home game in the Patriot League Tournament on the line, the American University women’s basketball team (6-3) found the right recipe in the second half and pulled away from Navy (5-7) 65-59, doing enough to clinch a top-3 seed in the Patriot League Tournament.
Wednesday night was a game of runs for both teams, but AU hit the right balance among its starters. Four players finished with double-digit scoring outputs, which head coach Megan Gebbia said gives her a lot of confidence ahead of the conference tournament.
“I think it's gonna help us a ton,” Gebbia said. “I assume heading down the road people are gonna focus on Jade, but that's okay because Taylor can score, Karla can score [and] Fish can score. We love being able to go to different people at different times.”
AU looked to expand its range early against Navy, with sophomore forward Karla Vres thriving on the perimeter. The forward has often scored in bunches for the Eagles and unlocked AU’s offensive versatility in the first and third quarters as she finished with 12 points. Junior guard Emily Fisher, who did most of her damage in the paint, finished with a season-high 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Navy quickly switched to the zone and press looks in the first quarter, both of which have given AU trouble all season. The adjustment held the Eagles scoreless for the last five minutes of the quarter, but stout defense helped AU weather the storm as it took a 12-10 lead into the second quarter.
A 12-2 run to open the second quarter gave the Eagles an even softer cushion to lie on. Ten of the Eagles' first 12 baskets were assisted, much to the delight of Gebbia.
“At the beginning of the year we were a little hesitant and tentative to throw to certain people, and now we're just not,” Gebbia said. “That's when you know they're starting to gain that collective synergy that we're looking for.”
So much of Navy’s offense has run through junior guard Jennifer Coleman this year, but Wednesday she started the game just 0-7 from the floor and finished 4-18. But Navy battled back regardless, surging on a 12-2 run of its own to close out the half. Navy shot just 29 percent in the first half but stuck with AU thanks to fastbreak and second-chance points.
AU’s synergetic offense thrived without a huge scoring output from its own leader, junior guard and Patriot League-leading scorer Jade Edwards. While she was held to a quiet scoring night, she found every other way to contribute, flirting with a triple-double and finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on 3-13 shooting. On the defensive end, she picked up two blocks and two steals, including a pair of late stops that sealed AU’s win.
“I don't want her to shy away from scoring that we need,” Gebbia said. “You know what, I'm always confident at some point it's gonna drop with her. And what was nice about her today though is she helped us win in a different way. … She's learning how to help us when she's not scoring.”
While AU has been one of the more potent teams in the paint this season, much of that is attributed to Edwards, who possesses an elite level of body control that helps her generate tough buckets and set her teammates up for easy looks.
“Being able to hang in the air and handle your body will help you score baskets,” Gebbia said. “And that's why when she goes to the rim I'm almost 90 percent sure that it's going to go in, and it didn't today.”
The second half opened up in a back-and-forth, where neither defense kicked into high gear, but AU created space for itself knocking down 3-pointers. While AU has struggled to get going after halftime in recent games, that was no issue Wednesday. The Eagles were getting everything they wanted from outside and headed into the final quarter up 51-41 when freshman guard Ivy Bales hit a tide-shifting 3-pointer with less than a second remaining.
“We've talked a lot about coming out in the second half, we're a little dead, sometimes, in the third quarter and it's nice to see that we were able to win the third quarter,” Gebbia said. “And now the fourth quarter struggled. So it's like just trying to piece things together and playing a complete game is something we need to get better at.”
But the Eagles knew how to make the game difficult for themselves, and Navy’s 16-6 fourth-quarter run knotted the game at 59-59 with just over a minute remaining.
The same issues have plagued AU all year, whether that falls with their free-throw struggles or problems against the zone. The Eagles expected as much given the truncated schedule.
Wednesday, however, the free throw barrage kicked in, as AU sunk all 12 attempts from the charity stripe. Thanks to Edwards' huge block and steal down the stretch and six consecutive free throws from the team, it held on to win.
“I've been preaching this and preaching this all year. [Free throws] will win you and lose your games, and we're two for two right now,” Gebbia said. “So I hope that continues as we move forward.”
Opponents won’t hesitate to make the Eagles uncomfortable, especially in a tournament setting. But the peace of mind at the line will do a ton for the squad.
AU’s final regular-season stretch will come this weekend against Lehigh, who took both contests to open the season. While the Eagles were initially slated to face Bucknell, the Bison announced a positive test within their Tier 1 Wednesday morning. Saturday tipoff is set for 2 p.m.