MANHATTAN, N.Y. – Being snubbed by the NCAA on Selection Sunday was the cause for plenty of tears within the women’s basketball program at Columbia University.
It also led to plenty of soul-searching and reflection by players and staff as the Lions readied themselves for a second straight berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
“It was the hardest week I’ve ever had as a coach,” said Columbia mentor Megan Griffith. “What we saw (March 17) was a credit to the staff and the players who really challenged each other, came together and did all the things we set out to do.”
Whatever Griffith and her staff put together during practice after learning the Lions had been left out of the NCAA Tournament played out near-perfectly as Columbia rolled past Fairleigh Dickinson 69-53 on March 17 at Levien Gymnasium on the Columbia campus.
Columbia, the Ivy League co-champions this season, improved to 24-5 on the season with the victory, just one win shy of the 25-7 record of a year ago as the Lions advanced to the quarterfinal round of the WNIT.
FDU finished its season at 24-8 overall after winning the Northeast Conference championship with a 14-2 record.
The win advanced the Lions to the second round of the WNIT tournament where they will play host to cross-town rival Fordham on March 20 when the two teams clash at Levien Gymnasium.
Fordham defeated Drexel 73-63 on March 16 to move on in the tournament.
Columbia’s win against FDU was filled with milestones.
The win was the 95th in Griffith’s tenure at the school to move her atop the career wins list at the school and moving past former coach Nancy Kalafus, who won 94 games during her career at the school (1984-91).
Griffith, a former standout during her playing career at Columbia (2003-07), is in her seventh season as coach at her alma mater.
The game also saw a pair of Lions surpass the 1,000-point plateau in their career as Kaitlyn Davis and Sienna Durr both reached that milestone to become the 13th and 14th player, respectively, to reach that milestone in program history.
Davis finished with six points in the game to reach 1,001 for her career, while Surr poured in 11 points to match Davis with 1,001 points as a Lion.
Davis reached the scoring plateau early in the third period by connecting on a pair of free throws. Surr’s milestone points came a field goal with 28 seconds left to go in the game.
Davis, who earlier this year recorded her 500th rebound in her collegiate career, pulled down six rebounds in the win against FDU to increase her career total to 636 as a Lion. She became the first player in school history to record a triple-double on Jan. 28 when she tallied 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 79-50 win over Dartmouth.
Teammate Abby Hsu, who recorded her 1,000th point earlier this year, finished with a team-high 25 points in the win over the Knights.
Durr opened the WNIT game with a basket just 47 seconds into the contest to stake the Lions to the early lead.
But Fairleigh Dickinson responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from Celia Carbonell and Madeline Selvaggia that put the Knights in front 6-2 with 6:43 remaining in the opening period. A pair of free throwns from Chloe Wilson with 5:36 to play pushed the FDU lead to 11-6.
It turned out to be the biggest lead of the game for the visitors as the Lions would go on a 13-6 spurt to close the period to lead 19-17.
A 3-pointer from Hsu at the 2:48 mark put Columbia back in front 15-14 before FDU tied the game for what turned out to be the last time when Wilson connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing with just under two minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Lions began to pull away by outscoring FDU 21-12 in the second period to forge a 40-29 lead at the intermission. A 12-7 run in the third period virtually put the game out of reach as Columbia led 52-36 heading into the final period of play.
And the Lions dominated the game statistically.
Columbia shot 36 percent (27-75) from the floor in the game and connected on nine of 11(.818) free throw attempts. The Lions were six of 32 (.188) from behind the arc in the game.
They also outrebounded the Knight 50-37, including an impressive 21-12 advantage on the offensive end and committed just 10 turnovers in the game.
FDU, meanwhile, managed to connect on just 18 of 59 (.305) percent from the floor, including nine of 22 (.409) from 3-point range and was eight of 11 from the foul line, but were forced into 16 turnovers by a stubborn Columbia defense.
In addition to the 25 points from Hsu and 11 from Durr, the Lions also got 13 points off the bench from Jada Patrick, who made five of 10 field goal attempts and connected on both of her free throw attempts in the game to finish with 13 points.
Hsu also led the Lions with eight rebounds, while teammate Hannah Pratt added seven caroms and Durr pulled down six missed shots in the contest. Davis tallied a team-high five assists while Kitty Henderson, Hsu and Carly Rivera all dished out three assists for Columbia.
Fairleigh Dickinson was paced by Wilson’s 22 points. She was the lone Knight to reach double figures in scoring. She added eight rebounds to finish behind Selvaggi’s 10 rebounds, which led FDU.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.