BY ANDREW HALE, SPORTS STAFFER
After giving up 20 made threes to Duquesne on Wednesday, the St. Bonaventure women’s basketball team approached Saturday with a defensive focus as it defeated VCU 68-62 on Senior Night.
Prior to the game, the team celebrated their five seniors in front of the Reilly Center crowd. The careers of Tianna Johnson, Claire Cody, Kaitlyn Parker, Nikki Oppenheimer and I’yanna Lops were all honored.
“They’ve been our leaders,” interim head coach Erica Morrow said. “If you look over the years here, they’ve been through some ups and downs, just like any program. But to stick it out and come back every single day… that takes effort, takes a lot of commitment, a lot of discipline.”
Sophomore forward Taylor Napper made her presence felt early as she collected the Bonnies’ first four points along with three rebounds.
Napper finished the game with six points, six rebounds, two assists and one block.
“Tonight, Napper had a really, really big impact,” Morrow said. “She’s really good at controlling our offense and bringing a little sense of calm when teams are trying to speed us up.”
The matinee contest turned out to be a back-and-forth affair as both teams got open looks in the paint. The closely-contested opening quarter was highlighted by junior Nadechka Laccen’s third-chance bucket. After getting her 3-point shot blocked, Laccen regathered the ball, drove to the rim, missed the layup, got the rebound and then finally got the layup to go.
The remainder of the quarter saw much of the same as the score was knotted at 13 after 10 minutes.
Seniors Oppenheimer and Lops arrived to the party in the second; both making big shots throughout the quarter.
A Lops corner three gave the Bonnies their first lead of the day at 21-20. Like all season, Bonaventure gave the lead right back to VCU as freshman guard Timaya Lewis-Eutsey got the interior score for the Rams.
Oppenheimer responded with back-to-back threes to retake the lead 27-24. After a late run from the Rams gave VCU a 30-29 lead, Laccen got a layup to go seconds before the buzzer sounded. Bona’s took a 31-30 lead into halftime.
During the half, Bona honored program greats Kathy Lynch ‘81 and Hilary Waltman ’99. A banner was raised into the rafters honoring No. 22, which they both wore.
Oppenheimer’s big day continued into the second half as she hit her third three of the day to open the third quarter. Lops added to the Bonnies’ 36-32 lead with a hook shot over the Rams’ interior defenders.
The offense started to heat up midway through the third quarter after an Oppenheimer step-back three, giving the Bonnies a 43-40 lead. VCU responded with a Janika Griffith-Wallace three to even the score at 43.
The two teams continued to trade buckets until the end of the quarter when Bonnies’ guard Breauna Ware hit a buzzer-beating three to take a 51-49 lead into the final quarter.
Ware carried her momentum into the fourth as she began to take over. After Griffith-Wallace scored her 20th point on the night to give VCU a 56-55 lead, Ware drove to the basket and scored a layup whilst being fouled. Following her free throw, the Bonnies got the stop on defense and gave the ball right back to Ware. Like the previous possession, Ware drove strong to the basket and got the layup, forcing a VCU timeout, as the Reilly Center crowd erupted.
“The fans were great,” Morrow said. “We have some of our alum here. It’s really exciting to see that they came out to support us.”
The Bonnies did not stop there as Lops got a highly contested layup to fall at the end of the shot clock to go up 62-56, forcing another VCU timeout. On the ensuing possession, Napper’s defense came up big as she sent a VCU shot out of bounds.
VCU did not go away easy as Griffith-Wallace hit a three with 31 seconds left to cut the lead to 62-59. Following Bonaventure free throws, Griffith-Wallace hit her fourth three of the game adding to her game-high 26 points.
VCU’s late run was not enough as Morrow subbed in two seniors, Cody and Parker, for the final play, signaling a Bonnies 68-62 win. It was the first time Bonaventure ever beat VCU.
Oppenheimer set a new career-high in points with 22 on Saturday. She also finished with two assists, shooting 5-of-6 from three, in her final home game.
Lops finished with 15 points, three assists and four rebounds.
Following the win, Bonaventure heads into its final game of the season against Richmond next Saturday. The game can be heard on WSBU 88.3 FM with the pre-game show starting at 5:45 p.m. for a 6 p.m. tip.
“I want us to finish out strong, Morrow said. “I want them to do everything as if it was the first game that we will play, because at the end of the day, we still have games, and it’s still an honor, a privilege, and we’re really blessed to be able to play. I told them the other day… I don’t care what our record looks like and what the score is, you need to play like it’s your last because it can easily be taken from you.”