Amherst women’s basketball took on SUNY Polytechnic Institute on Friday, March 4, in LeFrak Gymnasium in the NCAA tournament Round of 64. Due to their high seeding and success in the regular season, the Mammoths hosted the first two rounds of the tournament.
Less than a minute into the game, guard Reeya Patel ’24 put the first points on the board with a pair of free throws to give the Mammoths the lead, which they held onto for the remainder of the game. Another highlight-reel scoring opportunity came with a steal and fantastic pass from AnLing Vera ’25 to Courtney Resch ’22 for a 3-pointer to close out the first quarter and put the Mammoths up 18-10. The assists did not stop there, as the Mammoths put on a passing clinic in the second quarter, riding the momentum to a 29-16 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Mammoths pulled away further. After nearly two minutes of tough defense on both sides, Amherst came out of a timeout with Lauren Pelosi ’22 draining a 3-pointer off a pass from Dani Valdez ’22 for a 40-20 lead. And with 30 seconds left in the third quarter, a Jade DuVal ’22 3-pointer — her first of the season — put the Mammoths ahead going into the final quarter by a score of 48-32.
And in that last quarter, the Mammoths finished out the game strong, securing a 60-42 win and a trip to the Round of 32 the next day. Valdez and Patel both scored in double figures for Amherst. The Mammoths also showed impressive ball movement, posting 18 assists on 23 made field goals in the contest, with five different players racking up multiple assists.
In the Round of 32 contest on Saturday, March 5, the Mammoths took on St. John Fisher College in front of a home crowd of 277. While this time the first points went to St. John Fisher, the Mammoths reclaimed the lead early after back-to-back shots from Valdez and Patel with six minutes left in the quarter. The Cardinals tied it up at 11s, but a Gabby Zaffiro ’22 mid-range jumper quickly broke the tie, and the Mammoths did not trail again afterwards.
After a back-and-forth first period, the Mammoths entered the second quarter up 15-11. Off an assist from Vera, Zaffiro put up the first three points in the quarter for Amherst after a five-minute scoring drought. Not to be deterred by the cold spell, the Mammoths entered the half with a lead of 27-19 over Fisher.
Zaffiro opened the third quarter with another jumper, putting the Mammoths ahead by eight. But St. John Fisher kept fighting, attempting a comeback with five consecutive points to cut the lead to three, 29-26. With a crucial 3-pointer, Resch gave the Mammoths a 32-26 lead, and then after another Cardinal turnover, DuVal scored a bucket in the paint to get the lead back up to eight with 6:30 to go in the frame.
In the final quarter, the Cardinals had narrowed the lead to 39-34 when Pelosi hit a big 3-pointer, as well as another shot only two possessions later to bring the lead to 44-34 with 8:20 left in the game. But Fisher again fought back, with an 8-0 run that turned the game into a thriller. Pelosi hit one more big jumper to give the Mammoths a four-point lead with 3:38 left on the clock.
In the end, it was Vera who put away the win, hitting six consecutive free throws in a 36-second span to extend the Amherst lead, after Fisher was forced to start fouling to have a chance at advancing. The Mammoths finished the game with a 56-48 win, one that sends them into the Sweet 16 next week.
Commenting on the two games, Patel said, “The atmosphere this weekend was surreal. Having this be my first NCAA tournament and being able to host was just an amazing environment due to the support we got from our peers. Every game, our team continues to prove that we can win in different ways … I’m excited to have another week of basketball with this team because this is exactly what we have been working towards all season long.”
The Mammoths will return to LeFrak Gymnasium on Friday, March 11, to host both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the tournament. They will face NESCAC rival Tufts for the third time this season as they look to clinch a spot in the Elite Eight and potentially a trip to the Final Four.