COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College women's basketball team put forth one of its best performances in recent memory, but Muhlenberg's "Big 3" was just enough to outlast a total team effort from the Bears in a 76-70 Centennial Conference thriller inside Helfferich Hall.
On a snowy afternoon in Collegeville, Ursinus torched the nets against one of the nation's best defensive teams, and had the undefeated Mules on the ropes for much of the contest. Ultimately, 19th-ranked Muhlenberg got 70 points from its high-powered trio and made just enough plays down the stretch to eke out a victory in the closest affair between the two programs since 2012.
Sophomore Lydia Konstanzer finished with 25 points and added 11 rebounds in a monster performance for the Bears (5-5, 3-3), with frontcourt mate Toni Suler adding 13 points and freshman Marisa Morano chipping in 10 points and eight boards in her first career start.
Brandi Vallely led all scorers with 26 points for the Mules (9-0, 6-0), who got 23 points and 13 rebounds from Chelsea Gary and 21 points from Rachel Plotke. Those three combined to shoot 20-for-35 from the field and were just sufficient to edge past an Ursinus squad that was ready from the get-go.
The Bears shot a sizzling 52.5 percent for the day (31 of 59), their best output since making 54.7 percent of their shots against Bryn Mawr in 2014. More impressively, it came against a Muhlenberg team that came in 11th in the nation in field-goal defense, limiting opponents to an average efficiency of just 30.4 percent.
Konstanzer was 12-for-19 from the floor, while Suler went 6-for-9 and Morano made four of her seven attempts.
In a back-and-forth battle interspersed with six ties and eight lead changes, the Bears served notice right away that Muhlenberg was in for a battle. Konstanzer scored on a blow-by to force a timeout just 2:27 in, and senior Rachel Guy's 3-pointer put Ursinus up 8-7.
The Mules made their push in the back end of a high-scoring first quarter, taking a 20-10 lead on 10-0 run. Undeterred, the home side came right back with a 10-1 spurt that included two jumpers by Morano and one by freshman Sydney Fail, pulling to 23-20 after one.
Ursinus took a 26-25 advantage halfway through the second stanza on Suler's finish, but Muhlenberg gradually inched ahead and went into the break with a 40-35 edge.
The Bears scored the first five points out of the locker room and held a 52-51 lead when junior Kaci McNeave beat the shot-clock buzzer with a right-wing triple at the 2:24 mark of the third. After rookie Alexis Hnatkowsky canned a long two as the shot timer expired to make it 54-all, the Mules scored the last four of the third to go up 58-54.
Muhlenberg appeared poised to run away with a 66-59 lead with 6:28 remaining, but Ursinus had other ideas. Konstanzer sliced through the lane for a deuce, then Suler knocked down a jumper and drained a short one off an inbounds pass to close to 66-65 at the 4:23 mark.
The Bears got to within 68-67 on Konstanzer's straightaway jump shot and had two chances to take a late lead after stops, but a turnover and missed lay-up in transition preceded a crucial lay-in by Gary with 1:56 to go. Guy misfired on a potential tying 3, and Plotke set up another Gary bucket with 1:22 left.
Moran's desperation 3 with 24.0 seconds left cut it to 74-70, and two missed foul shots gave the Bears an opportunity to cut further into the deficit, but a traveling call with 8.4 ticks showing ended their comeback hopes.
Konstanzer had three offensive rebounds for Ursinus, which held its own on the glass (32-30) with the Mules. The sophomore matched freshman Maya Kornfeld with a team-high four assists and had two steals, while Suler blocked four shots to go with two steals and two assists; she scored in double figures for the third straight game.
Plotke was 6-for-6 at the line for Muhlenberg, which went 23 for 29 (79.3 percent) compared to 3 for 9 (33.3 percent) for the Bears.
No quarter was separated by more than three points, and the teams played to virtual ties in the paint (34-32 UC), off turnovers (17-17), and second-chance points (12-10 UC).
The women's basketball team hosts Immaculata on Tuesday, December 19 before resuming CC play at Johns Hopkins on January 6.