RIO GRANDE, Ohio — The University of Rio Grande women’s basketball team has made its bones this season by wearing down the opposition with its depth and pulling away in the second half.
That familiar — and successful — formula was on display again Saturday afternoon against Brescia University in the semifinal round of the River States Conference Women’s Basketball Championship.
The RedStorm used an 11-0 run at the start of the second half to open up a 20-point lead and never looked back, cruising to a 90-68 win over the Bearcats at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande, the tourney’s No. 5 seed as the result of a double-blind draw to determine the bracket, collected its 11th consecutive victory and upped its season mark to 18-7.
The win advances the RedStorm into Tuesday night’s championship game against West Virginia University-Tech, which upended Asbury University, 75-72, in Saturday’s other semifinal round tilt.
The victory also sends head coach David Smalley’s squad to the NAIA National Tournament, which begins on March 12 with opening round play at either Marian University in Indianapolis, Ind. or at Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky. The River States Conference is sending its tournament champion and runner-up to the national tourney, meaning the RedStorm are in regardless of Tuesday night’s outcome.
Brescia, which was the No. 1 seed in the RSC’s 11-team bracket, finished its season at 2-17 with the loss.
The Bearcats hung tough early, trailing just 25-22 after one quarter and 45-36 at halftime, but Rio Grande quickly ended any thoughts of an upset comeback by the visitors with its quick start to the third quarter.
Sophomore Regan Willingham (Ashville, OH) had five points and freshman Caitlyn Brisker (Oak Hill, OH) added two buckets of her own during the RedStorm’s scoring spurt and the rout was on.
Brescia got no closer than 14 points the rest of the way and Rio led by as many as 29 points, 85-56, after a jumper by freshman Jocelyn Abraham (Exchange, WV) with 4:11 remaining.
All 13 players who suited up for Rio Grande played and all scored at least one point, helping the RedStorm to a whopping 40-8 edge in bench scoring.
Brisker led a trio in double-digits with 20 points, while Abraham finished with a career-high 15 and senior Chyna Chambers (Columbus, OH) netted 12.
Sophomore Mickale Bates (Pickerington, OH) tied career-highs with seven rebounds and five assists, while junior Avery Harper (Seaman, OH) also pulled down seven boards.
Rio Grande shot 56.7 percent from the floor overall (34-for-60).
Cassidy Moss had a game-high 29 points and three steals in a losing cause for Brescia, while Hailey Kendall added 17 points and Riley Collins finished with a game-high nine rebounds and team-best three assists.
The Bearcats shot just 30.6 percent in the second half (11-for-36) and finshed the game 27-for-77 (35.1%).
Tuesday night’s championship game, which will be played at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in Beckley, W.Va., is scheduled for a 5:15 p.m. tipoff.
Live video will be available on a pay-per-view basis at http://portal.stretchinternet.com/rsc.
Rio Grande won the lone regular season meeting between the two teams, posting a 93-79 victory on Feb. 2 in Rio Grande.
The regular season meeting in Beckley, which was slated in early January, was canceled due to COVID-19.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.