COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College women's basketball team took a big step last season, qualifying for the Centennial Conference playoffs for the first time in six years. Now it's time to make the next move in the progression.
Back in the CC first-round game for the second straight year, this time the Bears will enjoy the comforts of home-court advantage as the fourth seed in the five-team bracket. Ursinus hosts fifth-seeded Muhlenberg at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night in a rematch of a down-to-the-wire thriller that took place less than a week prior.
The winner of Tuesday's matchup will advance to face top seed and tournament host Gettysburg in the first semifinal on Friday night. Third-seeded Haverford and second-seeded Johns Hopkins will meet in the other semifinal, with the winners to return for the title game on Saturday.
Ursinus has not won a playoff game since 2007, when the Bears became the first – and still the only – team in conference history to win the tournament as the number four seed. Head coach Jim Buckley's squad dispatched Gettysburg, 61-40, in the first-round game before upsetting top seed McDaniel in the semifinals and capturing their second CC championship with an overtime victory over Dickinson.
The quest for déjà vu begins Tuesday, with Round 3 of a matchup that brought one of the most entertaining games of the season to Helfferich just last week. Ursinus trailed by seven with three minutes remaining, but ended on a 9-1 run and seized a 53-52 victory on sophomore Maya Kornfeld's free throws with 4.4 seconds left.
That result was massive not only in that it clinched a home game, but also for its psychological importance. The Bears had lost 21 consecutive meetings with the Mules, and having to travel to Allentown would have added an extra layer of challenge. Instead, head coach Margaret White and company get to play in front of the home faithful in Helfferich Hall, where they went 8-3 during the regular season.
Ursinus also has the benefit of a loaded starting lineup headlined by two-time All-CC selection Lydia Konstanzer. The junior is in the midst of another strong season, averaging 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and shooting 45.3 percent to rank within the top-6 in the conference in all three categories. Konstanzer was a force in last week's matchup, going off for 23 points and 14 boards and scoring nine of the team's 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Sophomores Aliyah Stephens (14.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Maya Kornfeld (12.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.3 APG) form one of the league's best backcourts, while freshman Gabby Downs is sixth in the CC with 47 3-pointers. Sophomore Marisa Morano ranks sixth in the conference in steals, joining Konstanzer (51, 3rd) and Stephens (47, 4th) among the league's best swipers.
Muhlenberg relies on a deep rotation, with 11 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game and a leading scorer at just 8.0 points per contest. The Mules ended up needing help to reach the postseason, losing on a buzzer-beating 3 by Franklin & Marshall in their finale to put their playoff status in jeopardy until Washington College upset Dickinson and put Muhlenberg back into the number five slot.
The Mules are the flagship program of the CC, having won 10 conference crowns to more than double the second-place totals of Johns Hopkins and McDaniel. Muhlenberg's 24 all-time playoff wins are the most in league historu.
The Mules have been a streaky team this season, struggling through a six-game skid in the middle of the season before righting the ship with five wins in six. Muhlenberg has dropped three of four coming into Tuesday's game.
Should the Bears hold serve at home, they'd set up a meeting with top-seeded Gettysburg, with Haverford and Johns Hopkins lurking on the other side of the bracket. Ursinus was 0-6 against those three teams this season. The Bears lost both games to the Bullets by 12 points, but took a lead into the fourth quarter in Collegeville two weeks ago before Gettysburg pulled away down the stretch.
Ursinus has a few trends working in its favor. The Bears are a perfect 4-0 all-time in home playoff games, while Muhlenberg is 0-2 in the first round. The number four seed is 11-2 against the five seed in the opening round.
Students from participating institutions with ID, as well as children 12 and under, will receive free admission. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for youth ages 13 to 18
Tuesday's game will be live streamed as usual on ursinusathletics.com.