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Bonnies advance to familiar territory; Open WNIT with win over Lehigh

For Jessica Jenkins, postseason basketball is a given. It's all the junior has known since she came to St. Bonaventure.

And the expectations now are not just to qualify for the WNIT, but to win games.

Jenkins did her part, scoring 20 points as the Bonnies breezed past Lehigh, 77-43, in front of 730 at the Reilly Center on Thursday night.

The win marks the third straight year Bona (21-11) has advanced to the second round of the WNIT. They will play at Syracuse at 7 p.m. Monday.

"It's expected to be playing in the postseason," Jenkins said. "I've never not done it. My freshman year, it was a really big deal and last year we felt we underachieved a little bit."

Yes, the Bonnies had a taste of bitterness in their mouths after losing to Northwestern in the second round of the WNIT last year. That disappointment set the stage for this season as the Bonnies continue to set the standard for women's basketball in Western New York.

While Canisius and Niagara were cultivating freshmen and battling through injuries this season, St. Bonaventure relied on its trademark stingy defense.

While the University at Buffalo did better than expected, making the Women's Basketball Invitational for its first postseason tournament appearance in program history, the Bonnies were fine-tuning an aggressive, relentless game that dictates play on both ends of the floor.

That continuity of success was no easy task. There was uncertainty at the beginning of the season after Bona graduated Dana Mitchell, the Big 4's all-time leading scorer. But the Bonnies proved they were building a program, not temporarily riding the wave of a talented player.

Thursday, Bona held Lehigh to just 30.8 percent from the field (16 of 52) while the 34-point margin of victory was the largest since beating St. Francis (N.Y.) by 48 in the 2003-04 season.

"St. Bonaventure dictated the game from the start," said Lehigh coach Sue Troyan, whose program was making its third-straight postseason appearance. "They didn't allow us to do anything we wanted to do offensively. They kept us off our game all night."

The Bonnies led from the start, jumping to a 10-point lead in the first four minutes. With 8:18 left in the first half, the lead was 28-8 and Bona was focused and poised to ease through the rest of the night.

"To be honest, I have no clue what the score is," Bona coach Jim Crowley said. "At one point [in the second half] we had made a few threes and I looked at the score and added in my head and realized we were up by 26.

"I knew we were playing well, but really, I was focused on us staying true to who we are, defensively not giving up easy scores and executing our offense. We just coach them and not worry what the score says."

While Jenkins was clutch from three-point range, hitting five from behind the arc, Megan Van Tatenhove was aggressive in the low post, netting 12 points. Cara Gustafson, the lone senior who sees significant playing time, scored 11.

Armelia Horton had 10 rebounds off the bench while Alaina Walker was impressive defensively and dished out six assists with no turnovers.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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