Saint Vincent women ready for test against No. 1 Thomas Moore in NCAA Tournament
There weren’t any ESPN personalties on hand. No television cameras. There were no live feeds back to a studio host when the Saint Vincent women’s basketball team gathered inside the school’s Carey Center. And, it didn’t matter.
The entire Bearcat basketball community, including friends and family, gathered around to watch the livestream of the NCAA Division III selection show to hear three words: Saint Vincent College.
After claiming their first Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship, the Bearcats heard their name called Monday as part of the NCAA Division III 32-team postseason bracket. The Bearcats skipped hibernation this winter and are now entering March Madness.
“On Monday, there was a big pep rally for the selection show, and we celebrated the conference championship,” coach Jimmy Petruska said. “We watched the show and saw where we got picked.”
Saint Vincent (23-4) will travel to Crestview, Ky. to face host team and No. 1-ranked Thomas Moore (27-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.
The trip to the NCAA Division III tournament is Saint Vincent’s third in the program’s 35-year history. The Bearcats cracked the bracket back in 2010 and 2011 seasons.
“Our focus this year was not to win a conference championship, it was to get better every day and compete against the game of basketball,” Petruska said. “I think sometimes goals can add pressure.”
The Bearcats are going to be feeling the pressure. Saint Vincent drew the top seed in all of Division III in the Saints. Petruska described Thomas Moore as the “UCONN of Division III” basketball. The Saints won back-to-back national titles in 2015 and 2016 and reached the Final Four last season.
“They’re well coached and have been on that stage before,” Petruska said. “Their coach is a great friend of mine. We’re definitely looking forward to the challenge for sure.”
The Saints are no strangers to the Bearcats. Up until this season, Thomas Moore was a member of the PAC and Saint Vincent saw the Saints twice a season since the Bearcats ended the PAC 13 years ago. This season marks the first time the Saints are playing an independent Division III schedule. Nevertheless, there’s no real secrets between the two teams.
“We have a long history with Saint Vincent and are looking forward to competing against a very good team,” Thomas Moore coach Jeff Hans said. “They are well coached and can score in a lot of different ways. Coach Petruska will mix up defenses, so we will have to be prepared.”
The two teams met in Latrobe back in late January with the Saints picking up a convincing 82-46 win. A lot was learned in the loss.
“We did some really good things in that game, and I thought we forced some turnovers,” Petruska said. “We came out swinging and we defended for 40 minutes. We attacked them.
“We saw what didn’t work and what can work. We have some things that will work really well if executed properly.”
Saint Vincent will show up to Thomas Moore’s Connor Convocation Center riding a month-long seven-game winning streak.
The Bearcats led the PAC this season in points per game (73.2) and finished second in points allowed (57.5).
Saint Vincent is led by Latrobe grad Madison Kollar. The sophomore is averaging 16.1 points per game. Senior Maria Morgan ranks second on the team with 9.8 points per game. After that, Petruska has a deep bench of players from WPIAL programs that have big-game experience.
Fox Chapel grad Kayla Slovenec averages 8.4 points per game. Junior Paige Montrose (Seneca Valley), sophomore Carlee Kilgus (South Fayette) and sophomore Jenna Lafko (Hampton) can all get hot and take over games. The beauty of the 2018-19 Bearcats team is, they are balanced.
“We’re very deep,” Petruska said. “We have eight kids that can drop 20 points on any given day.”
Thomas Moore has three players averaging double figures in scoring. Senior first-team All-American Madison Temple is putting up 23.8 points per game, followed by senior Shelby Rupp (11.5) and junior Emily Schultz (10.8). Temple ranks fifth in Division III in scoring. The Saints rank second in the nation in scoring at 86 points per game and are giving up 54.1.
If the Bearcats pull off the upset Friday night, they will move on to the second round to face the Trine University/Emory University winner on Saturday at the same venue.
“Our motto this year was ‘Here We Come,’ ” Petruska said. “We need to play our game. We have to play Saint Vincent basketball.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.