BLOOMINGTON — Fifth-year senior Jaimie McFarlin’s decision to use her final year of basketball eligibility was rewarded Saturday as her Washington (Mo.) University squad won the NCAA Division III national championship.
As the No. 6-ranked Bears mobbed each other following a 65-59 triumph over Hope College, cannons of confetti were fired over their heads at Shirk Center.
“When the confetti started falling — and it was like real confetti and not the stuff in my dreams — that was the time I realized we really won,” said McFarlin, who was named the Final Four’s outstanding player after providing 14 points and 15 rebounds.
McFarlin also helped double team national player of the year and all-tourney selection Carrie Snikkers, who led No. 4 Hope (32-2) with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
The title was Washington’s fifth overall, but first since winning the last of four straight in 2001.
Bears coach Nancy Fahey, who took second a year ago, cherishes each title like it’s one of her children.
Winning a record number of titles has made Fahey realize how hard each is to land and “how much you have to have a little luck, how fortunate you are to have that magical chemistry.”
Saturday’s final, played in front of 2,300, capped a 29-2 season in which the only losses were to Illinois Wesleyan and Rochester.
In a game featuring 10 lead changes, neither Wash U nor Hope could take control the first 28:00. The Bears finally did when a 12-2 surge put them up 44-35 with 9:49 left.
That run included two driving shots by Alex Hoover, who finished with a career-high 18 points. Her 10-of-11 accuracy at the free throw line included a cushion-saving 8-of-8 marksmanship the final 1:05.
“When she’s on the free throw line, I’ll take that any day,” Fahey said.
“I thought Alex Hoover played a tremendous game today,” said Hope coach Brian Morehouse. “McFarlin, she’s been there awhile and she knows how to play in these big games. She obviously rebounded like crazy.”
All-tourney pick Zoe Unruh added 13 points for the Bears, who only led 24-20 at halftime despite holding Hope to 19.4 percent shooting.
Hope held a 15-12 lead with 7:19 left in the first half when Snikkers sat down with two fouls. The Bears made a 12-5 run in her absence.
“She’s so good at sensing double teams, we had to bring it from a direction she couldn’t see it coming,” Fahey said. “When we didn’t do it, she scored.”
Hope’s Philana Greene kept the pressure on down the stretch, scoring 11 of her 18 points the final 2:41. She also had three steals and four assists.
“I really thought we were going to catch them at the buzzer,” Morehouse said, “but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Amherst 56, Rochester 44: In the third-place game, No. 1 Amherst, fourth a year ago, only shot 29 percent from the field, but held unranked Rochester to 18.3 percent to cap a 32-1 season.
Lem Atanga McCormick paced the senior-less Lord Jeffs with 13 points while Marcia Voigt and all-tourney pick Sarah Leyman had 10 apiece. All-tourney selection Melissa Alwardt had 18 points and 12 boards for Rochester (23-8).