CHICAGO, Ill. – The nationally eighth-ranked tying University of St. Francis women’s basketball team is on a quest this 2020 post-season to win championships and one was attained this Saturday (Feb. 29) afternoon as the Saints captured the program’s first-ever Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship title by upsetting sixth-ranked Saint Xavier, 66-63, at SXU’s Shannon Center.
The league tournament victory by USF, which improved its season record to 28-5 overall, marked the program’s first one as the Saints played for the 2017 CCAC Tourney title but fell to Saint Xavier at home 88-64 on Feb. 28. The Saints won for the 20th time in their last 22 appearances while Saint Xavier, the 2019-20 CCAC Regular-Season Champions, dropped to 29-4 overall and its 18-game winning streak snapped.
The Saints were led by 2019-20 All-America candidate Kaitlin Aylward (SR/Elmwood Park, Ill.), who totaled a game-high tying 18 points on seven-of-12 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and four steals.
USF also received 16 points from forward Jordan Pyle (SO/Traralgon, Australia) while forward Andriana Acosta (JR/Crest Hill, Ill.) came off the Saints’ bench to register a double-double with 11 points and a game-leading 14 rebounds.
Overall, USF shot 35.4% for the day and nailed seven-of-25 (32%) three’s along with 12-of-16 (75%) free throws. SXU converted only 22-of-61 field goals and went five-of-15 (33.3%) beyond the arc in addition to 14-of-21 (466.7%) tries from the charity stripe.
The Saints outrebounded SXU 45-42 for the day and totaled 24 points inside the paint to 30 for the Cougars. The Saints also dished out 13 assists and came away with seven steals and a pair of blocked shots in the victory.
Meanwhile, Saint Xavier finished with seven steals, nine assists and five blocks while turning the ball over 13 times in the game, which featured two lead changes and was tied four times.
The Cougars were led by Chanel Fanter’s game-high tying 18 points and was joined in double-figure scoring by Maddie Welter and Claire Austin with 10 points apiece. USF held standout outside shooter Maddie Welter to three-of-11 shooting for the contest, which included three-of-10 from the three-point arc.
The opening quarter was a low scoring one as both teams combined for 16 points with SXU holding a 9-7 advantage as a result of low shooting percentages. The second quarter was much different than the first from an offensive standpoint as USF outscored the Cougars 23-15 to take a 30-24 halftime lead. The Saints, whose largest lead was 10 points (30-20) with 1:46 left in the first half following a three-point from Leah Smith, made 35.5 percent (11-31) from the floor in the first 20 minutes while SXU was 10-of-31 for 32.3 percent.
In the second half, USF outscored SXU 10-5 through the first few minutes of the third quarter to lead 40-29. The Cougars were able to narrow their deficit to eight points (43-35) with 3:34 remaining by six unanswered points by the Saints put the visitors up by 14 (49-35) at the two-minute mark. The Saints managed to hold their double-digit lead until a second to go in the third frame on a free throw to trail 51-42 going into the fourth quarter.
The game’s final 10 minutes was an exciting one as SXU fought back to get within three points (57-54) with five minutes left on a three-pointer by Sidney Lovitsch. USF was able to counter by reeling off five straight points capped off by a pair of Kaitlin Aylward free throws to go up 62-54 at 4:08. The Saints bumped their lead up to eight points (64-56) with just under the three-minute mark, but the Cougars clawed back to get within a point at 64-63 on a Maddie Welter free throw with 24 seconds remaining. Welter’s second attempt rimed out and Andriana Acosta rebounded the ball with 23.4 seconds to go. Following a USF timeout, the Cougars fouled four straight times and the last one sent guard Kalyn Sias-Chaney (SO/Milwaukee, Wis.) to the line. Sias-Chaney made the back-end of the two shot foul with 13.4 seconds and SXU promptly called a timeout. Maddie Welter, who made the game-winning last second shot in the Cougars’ 57-55 win over USF in the regular season (Feb. 19) missed on a three-ball attempt with 3.0 seconds left and the Saints’ Jordan Pyle was fouled on the rebound. Pyle then made the front end of a two-shot charity stripe attempt to give USF a 66-63 lead with two seconds on the clock and a last second full-court shot by SXU came up short as the final buzzer sounded.
Both USF and SXU have qualified for the 29th Annual NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship Tournament, which will be held March 11-17 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Opening-round tourney pairings will be announced this Wednesday (March 3).