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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Keep pinching yourself if you must, but all you'll get out of it is a nasty bruise. This isn't a dream. St. Bonaventure (31-3) is in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.
The Bonnies survived a last-gasp 3-pointer and defeated 13th-seeded Marist, 66-63, Tuesday night in the Second Round of the tournament. They will face top-seeded Notre Dame (32-3) Sunday in Raleigh, N.C. at 2:30 p.m.
Senior Jessica Jenkins drilled six 3-pointers and scored 22 points, and sophomore Doris Ortega (13 points) grabbed 10 rebounds to lead a dominant performance on the boards by the fifth-seeded Bonnies, who outrebounded Marist, 40-26.
"Coach told me before the game I'd be able to crash the boards because they ball watch sometimes, and I knew how important those (extra) possessions could be," said Ortega, who had five of SBU's 15 offensive rebounds.
Coach Jim Crowley glanced at the box score and conceded the game was basically even -- except for the boards.
"If I had to pinpoint something that was key, that was it," said Crowley, who was relieved his technical foul with 4:57 left and the Bonnies up by seven didn't matter in the end.
"I think that's the first technical I've gotten in about six years, but I stepped out of the coach's box (to tell them about a shot clock issue) and I had been warned earlier, so I got a T," Crowley said.
Behind 16 points from Jenkins, the Bonnies took a 38-31 lead at half, but the Red Foxes rallied to take a 49-47 lead with 10:44 to play. Chelsea Bowker, though, hit a short jumper and buried a three, and Armelia Horton scored to cap a 7-0 run to give SBU a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The Bonnies didn't hit a field goal the last five minutes of the game, but CeCe Dixon hit all four of her free throw attempts down the stretch to provide the winning margin.
The game appeared all but over when Marist, down three, threw the ball away with 10 seconds left and Jenkins was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass. She had made 45 straight free throws, not missing one since Jan. 3 vs. Sacred Heart. Jenkins was 65 for 67 on the season from the line.
But the front end of her one-and-one rimmed out, and the Bonnies had to play 10 seconds of great defense to force an off-balance three-point attempt by Leanne Ockenden. It wasn't close, Horton grabbed the rebound, and the celebration was on.
"We kind of got tight offensively at the end, missing some shots we'd normally make, but I thought we did a great job defensively when we needed to," Crowley said. "And we didn't turn the ball over the last 11 minutes of the game."
Crowley raved about Ortega's game.
"Doris, what can you say, the bigger the game the better she is," he said.
Jenkins was able to crack a smile about her missed free throw, and why not? After three straight trips to the WNIT, she and her teammates are one of 16 teams left standing.
"When we saw the draw we thought we matched up pretty well, even though we knew they would be dog fights," she said. "This is just so much fun and we don't want it to end. Now, we having nothing to lose, which will be different from these games."
A program wallowing in the depths of the Atlantic 10 just seven years ago has attained heights even its coach never imagined.
"We're the new kids to the party," Crowley said. "I couldn't be more proud of this group and the way they've earned it. We've been told we couldn't do it consistently with the way we play, but our kids are about action, not words."
The Bonnies' goal of simply reaching the NCAA Tournament has been trumped in resounding fashion.
"I remember them saying at the beginning of the season that getting here was our goal, and that was great, because even if they didn't make it, they were committed to it, and that might serve them well later in life," Crowley said.
"But once they got here, it wasn't enough. With the character of kids we have, and their willingness to believe in each other, nothing they do surprises me."
GAME NOTES: SBU's largest lead was 10 at 5:59 in the first … Jenkins ends the game three 3-pointers shy from cracking the top-10 all-time with 338 career makes … Bowker was held to six points after scoring 19 in December … Jenkins had her consecutive free-throw streak snapped at 45 with 10.1 seconds left … the Bonnies tied a season low for steals with two … it is Ortega's second career double-double.