They know what it is like to be on a roll.
The Bowdoin College women’s basketball team began the season with 10 straight wins. That set the tone for the rest of the Polar Bears’ season.
“I think we all had high expectations to start in the preseason but having the strong non-conference start, it was exciting,” Bowdoin coach Adrienne Shibles said. “I think it did build confidence.”
Now Bowdoin faces a team that not only has an even bigger winning streak, but also may be brimming with even more confidence. Kean University hosts the NCAA Division III Sectional on Friday and Saturday. The Cougars have won 28 straight, after losing to Rutgers on opening night.
“They’re a really great team,” Shibles said. “They’re very athletic and extremely deep. They’ll throw a bunch of different defensive looks at us. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Kean hosts Bowdoin at 8 p.m. Friday. Christopher Newport University plays the University of Rochester in the 6 p.m. game. The winners play Saturday at 6 p.m. for the chance to reach the NCAA Division III Final Four.
After losing in the first round the last two years, Bowdoin is a relative newcomer to this stage.
“It’s a healthy amount of nerves,” Shibles said. “It’s not fear by any means. We’re really excited. We’re all feeling really great about the way that we’re playing. We know if we show up with any amount of intimidation, then Kean’s won the game. We have to leave it all on the floor. I don’t feel that we’re overwhelmed by the fact that we’re playing a good team and one that is essentially undefeated.”
The Cougars, ranked second nationally, won the New Jersey Conference Championship and cruised past Penn State Berks 105-69 and Tufts 75-56 last weekend. Kean posted seven wins against NCAA tournament teams. All-American finalists Melissa Beyruti (13.6 ppg) and Tiffany Patrick (12.6 ppg) lead the Cougars, which are third in the nation in scoring, averaging 79.2 points. Beyruti is the NCAA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers with 397.
“The key for us will be defense and discipline,” Shibles said. “That’s what I’m stressing with the team. We have to bring the same defensive effort that we brought this past weekend — as far as containing their transition, penetration and getting after shooters.”
The Polar Bears did a nice job of neutralizing Western Connecticut’s inside game, while also taking away the outside threat. The Colonials struggled from the floor and couldn’t keep pace with Bowdoin. Shibles likens Kean to the Baruch squad that Bowdoin beat last Friday. Bowdoin ranks 18th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 52.8 points per game.
“They’re similar to Baruch, but they have a lot more depth than Baruch,” Shibles said. “They do have more things defensively and run a bunch of halfcourt traps and zone defenses. Then they’ll do a lot of man as well. I think they really use their athleticism in creative ways. We’ll have to really take care of the ball against their defenses.”
Seniors Caitlin Hynes (12.9 ppg) and Leah Rubega (9.9 ppg) earned All-NESCAC honors for Bowdoin. Rubega’s 10.5 rebounds per game make her the first Polar Bear to average double-digits in rebounds since Tracy Mulholland in 1995. Bowdoin also has some balance with Katie Bergeron (9.7 ppg) and Amy Hackett (7.6 ppg).
“They have a healthy amount of respect for them, but also feel that the pressure is on them,” Shibles said. “If we can play the way we did last weekend, we all feel pretty confident about being able to be in this game and even potentially knock off the No. 2 team in the country.”