WASHINGTON – It was a battle all the way to the final buzzer, as the Catholic University women's basketball team conquered its first nationally ranked opponent and upset the No. 7/No. 1 University of Scranton on Saturday afternoon in front of the largest crowd of the New Year.
With the win, the Cardinals improve to 12-4 on the year and 6-1 in the league, while the loss snaps Scranton's seven-game win streak and serves as the team's first Landmark loss of the year for a record of 15-2 and 7-1.
"Clearly this was a big win for our program at this stage of the season," said head women's basketball coach Matt Donohue. "Scranton is a great team. They are well coached and they are mature in poised team so for us to show poise and toughness to compete with them hopefully gives us a glimpse into what we can be. Scranton is good all the time."
CUA sophomore Michelle DeSantis (Trumbull, Conn. / Lauralton Hall) led the Cardinals in four categories: points (14), rebounds (8), assists (5) and steals (3). Sophomore Melisa Errico (Harrington Park, N.J. / Old Tappan) added nine points to the total output, as fellow classmate Bridget Power (Newtown, Conn. / Newtown) pulled down eight rebounds.
"Michelle is as tough as they come and she played an inspired game. Scranton did a good job keeping her bottled up in the half court for most of the game, but she kept working and did a great job getting to the rim in the second half, especially in transition. Melissa Errico and Bridget Power did a great job on defense today. They each had two very challenging assignments on defense and had to defend two of the best players in our conference, but they played with a ton of energy and intensity and battled on the boards as well. They had a huge presence out there today."
While the first half of play consisted of four ties and six lead changes, and the league foes gridlocked at 23 points apiece at the intermission. It was the second half of play that tested the Cardinals' ability to remain competitive and composed, and Scranton's capability to perform as a nationally ranked program.
By the 15:54 mark of the second half, CUA reached its third five-point margin lead on a 4-1 run. Shortly after, a series of Catholic turnovers, fouls and scoreless draught allowed the Royals to tie the contest 29-29 at the 11:49 mark.
But, a jumper from junior Josephine Migash (Mechanicsburg, Pa. / Trinity) shifted the momentum significantly, as the Cardinals paced on 11-2 run for their largest lead of the contest for a score of 40-31.
Despite the significant CUA output, Scranton chiseled away at the lead and came within two points with 59 seconds remaining. Migash came close to adding another two points to the lead, but it was a technical foul to the Scranton bench and DeSantis knocking down a pair from the charity stripe that secured the 46-42 win.
"As intense as the entire game was, the last three minutes reached a level that required an incredible amount of focus and patience from our student-athletes. As the game unfolded we knew we were simply going to have to grind it out. With each stoppage in play we simply tried to reiterate that fact. What was great was our student-athletes' were on the same page and were incredibly vocal about defending, rebounding, and talking through every possession," said Donohue.
Sarah Paynok was a dominant factor for Scranton, as she registered a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, and a team-high five assists. Alexix Roman scored 12 points, while Noelle Alicea collected six steals.
By the numbers, CU shot 59 percent from the field (10 of 17), 29 percent from the charity stripe (16 of 55) and 27 percent from the behind the arc (4 of 15). Scranton was 63 percent from the free-throw line (12 of 19), 22 percent from the field (14 of 63) and nine percent from three-point range (2 of 22).
The Cardinals return to action on Wednesday, Jan. 21, when the squad takes on the Juniata Eagles, who are 5-11 overall and 3-4 in the Landmark, at 7 p.m. in Huntingdon, Pa.
"We have a lot of games left to play and we need to be ready to play every day," Donohue.