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Polar Bears knock off Middlebury to advance to NESCAC finals

February 23, 2019

Anjulee Bhalla
Sam Roy '20 is announced before the game on Saturday. The Polar Bears topped Middlebury 84-58.

The top-seeded women’s basketball team (26-0, 11-0 NESCAC) finished off fifth-seeded Middlebury (16-7, 5-6 NESCAC) in the semifinals of the NESCAC tournament on Saturday afternoon to advance to tomorrow’s final game. The Polar Bears have not advanced to the NESCAC final since 2015, when they fell to Tufts, and have not won the tournament since 2009, Head Coach Adrienne Shibles’s first year at the program.

Samantha Roy ’20 led the Polar Bears with 20 points, four assists and four steals, followed by Taylor Choate ’19 with 13 points and four steals, and Abby Kelly ’19 with 12 points and also four steals. As a team, Bowdoin shot 46.2 percent from the field to the Panthers’ 38.6 percent and snagged a whopping 18 steals, with all five starters scoring in the double-digits.

Bowdoin and Middlebury had last faced off during the regular season on February 1, when the Polar Bears made up a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win in dramatic fashion. This time, they forwent the drama, taking the lead four minutes into the first quarter and never surrendering it. The Polar Bears led 21-14 at the end of the first quarter, and their lead only grew from there.

The team was eager not to replicate its mistakes from its last face-off with the Panthers.

“We made some tweaks to the game plan,” said Shibles after the game.

To counter the Panthers’ strength in the paint, the Polar Bears doubled up in the post, forcing the Panthers to navigate the perimeter and taking away easy lay-ins. Pairing increased pressure in the paint with a full-court press in the first half, Bowdoin forced 25 Middlebury turnovers, resulting in 34 Polar Bear points.

Offensively, the Polar Bears upped the tempo, pushing the ball down court before giving the Panthers’ defense time to get set. But mostly the Polar Bears offense kept to its normal, deadly rhythm, giving the team its seventh conference victory with more than 80 points.

“It was probably the best we’ve executed a game plan all year,” said Roy.

As Bowdoin has not made the conference final since 2015, tomorrow will be a first for all of Shibles’ players. Shibles isn’t worried about nerves, though.

“I think this group is really mentally tough. It’s about doing what we continually do,” she said.

For the players’ part, they’re glad to be in familiar surroundings.

“We know to expect as far as what Morrell’s going to be like tomorrow,” said Roy. “[The crowd] all year has been consistent.”

Bowdoin will face the winner of this afternoon’s second semifinal game between second-seeded Amherst and third-seeded Tufts in tomorrow’s final, with a 12 p.m. tip-off in Morrell Gymnasium. Bowdoin beat Tufts comfortably, 82-63, on January 5 and dethroned Amherst from the top seed on January 26 in a dramatic, comeback style.

In the meantime, the Polar Bears aren’t getting too ahead of themselves. “Either way, it’s going to be a tough battle,” said Roy.

Tough, and not to be missed.


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