After another impressive regular season, the women’s basketball team was one of 16 teams selected to host first- and second-round matchups for the NCAA tournament.
Amherst opened the tournament on Friday night with a victory over Husson University. The Mammoths came out hot in the opening round with second-team All-NESCAC guard Hannah Fox ’20 leading the charge. She scored 14 of her game-high 23 points in the first quarter to give Amherst a 21-10 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Fox has been a spark for this team in a variety of ways this season, from her leadership on the floor to her tenacious defense, but she used her scoring to jumpstart the Mammoths on Friday night. Amherst maintained this cushion for the rest of the game as they cruised to a 21-point victory.
Madeline Eck ’20, who was named a part of the All-NESCAC first team earlier this week, was the only other Mammoth to score in double figures, finishing with 14 points in just 19 minutes. With Fox and Eck at the helm, Amherst’s attack was balanced, with nine different Mammoths scoring during the game.
Amherst didn’t have their best offensive performance, since they only shot 34.7 percent from the field, but they turned in another stellar defensive effort. Strong defense has become a staple of coach G.P. Gromacki’s teams, and this year’s squad is no different. Amherst held Husson to just 24.5 percent shooting from the field, while also forcing the Eagles to commit 17 turnovers.
Unable to score, the Eagles never posed any real threat to the two-time defending NCAA champions. Amherst cruised to an opening-round victory, and Gromacki was able to keep his starters fresh for Saturday’s second round matchup.
Less than 24 hours later, Amherst was back in action in a Round of 32 matchup against SUNY Geneseo. After defeating Vassar College on Friday night, SUNY Geneseo was ready to take on the Mammoths.
Amherst started the game on a 10-2 run to jump out to an early lead, but Geneseo battled back to tie the game late in the first quarter. It continued to be a back-and-forth game between these two very good teams for most of the night. Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, but after 10 minutes of play, the Mammoths held a three-point lead over the Knights.
The battle between the two teams continued into the second quarter, but Amherst was able to create a cushion as they headed into halftime.
Fox led the way with eight points in the second quarter, including a deep three from the top of the key with just over 30 seconds to play in the half. The big shot from Fox put the Mammoths up by seven, and they never relinquished the lead.
Amherst slowed down the pace of the game in the second half as they were comfortable running out the remaining clock. This strategy worked well as Geneseo was never able to cut the deficit below five points, and Amherst held on to win 58-46. Eck and Fox both scored 18 points and were the only two Mammoths scoring in double figures for the second consecutive night.
Eck and Fox have been the two leaders of this team all season, and they didn’t disappoint in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Both players were starters and key contributors on last year’s National Championship team, and they showed their experience this weekend.
Amherst held Geneseo to just 27.5 percent shooting from the field as they continued to play excellent defense for the second consecutive night.
Gromacki will look for his team to continue to play high-level defense in the next round. Even when Amherst doesn’t have a great offensive night, their defense is good enough to keep them in the game, which always gives them a chance to win.
This makes them a dangerous team as the tournament continues, especially given the way their pressure defense wears opponents down.
Gromacki and his team, however, will have a week to recover and prepare before they take the floor again.
Amherst will travel to Minnesota to battle St. Thomas University in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday, March 8. A win against St. Thomas would set a matchup against the winner of the Hope University versus University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the Elite Eight for a chance to advance to a fourth-consecutive Final Four.