One half of one game can’t define a season. But for the King’s women’s basketball team, there’s one that comes pretty close.
Three weeks ago today, the Lady Monarchs trailed nationally ranked FDU-Florham by three points at halftime. They proceeded to dominate the second half and hand the Devils their worst loss of the season.
King’s found another gear in the victory, one that has driven the team to today’s Freedom Conference championship for another round with FDU. When the Lady Monarchs tip off against the top-seeded Devils at 1 p.m. in Madison, N.J., they will do it with some added confidence.
“I think they got a lot of it (from that last FDU game),” King’s coach Brian Donoghue said after the Lady Monarchs eliminated DeSales in the semifinals. “I think they got a lot. They’re very much ready.”
The winner claims the Freedom Conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
FDU enters the game as one of the country’s top teams. The Devils had rebounded from that loss to King’s to climb back to No. 22 in the Division III coaches poll before dropping their regular season finale.
The setback, however, came after the Devils had already wrapped up the top seed for the conference tournament. Both FDU and King’s finished 12-2 in the league, but the Devils owned the tiebreaker and will get to host today’s title game.
The home team won both regular-season meetings, with the Devils scoring a decisive 81-59 win back on Dec. 1.
But King’s has lost just twice since then – one in the finals of a holiday tournament against host Juniata and another on the road against DeSales. The Lady Monarchs are 16-1 in the new year and enter today having won seven straight.
That streak includes the 66-45 win over the Devils on Feb. 2.
“Teams get hot, and to get hot right around now is awesome,” senior point guard Katlin Michaels said at the end of the regular season. “It feels a lot like last year. The energy has been great since (beating FDU). I think with that win, our team gained a lot more confidence.”
With Michaels and FDU forward Kyra Dayon involved, the game will feature the top two finishers in the Freedom Conference Player of the Year vote.
Dayon won the award with Michaels joining her as a first-team all-conference selection.
King’s seniors Celia Rader (second team) and Lindsay Atchison (honorable mention) also were honored by the league. FDU coach Marc Mitchell was named Freedom Conference Coach of the Year while three other Devils starters – Rachel Groom, Delisha Thompson and Leigh-Ann Lively – were honorable mentions.
To be sure, the game will feature no shortage of talent.
“It’ll be who makes the good decisions,” Donoghue said. “Both teams will play fast to a point. And then, hopefully, when you get in the halfcourt, you make good decisions.
“You’ve got some of the better players in the league on both sides of the ball. Kyra Dayon is obviously a superstar, but they have two or three really good players on that team.”
FDU-Florham enters the game with a bit more security for the NCAA tournament. The Devils are ranked three spots ahead of King’s in the NCAA’s latest Mid-Atlantic regional ranking and would be more likely to receive an at-large bid to the tournament should they lose today.
King’s earned an at-large invitation last season after falling to Misericordia in the Freedom finals. The Lady Monarchs are a game back of their pace from last season, however, and a second straight invite would be far from a guarantee.
The simple solution, of course, is to just win today and relax until the bracket is unveiled Monday.
“Ultimately, it’s college basketball. It’s who makes shots and who doesn’t make mistakes,” Donoghue said. “Our guys are pretty good at that right now, so I’m glad they’re getting another chance to play.”