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Too tall an order: Bona women’s NCAA ride ends vs. Oregon State

Corvallis, Ore. – Upon answering the final questions after their final game Sunday night, senior leaders Katie Healy and Emily Michael grabbed the placards in front of them before heading for the door. The cards displayed their names and the NCAA Tournament logo, a shining last memento from their careers.

Losing is always tough, but certain defeats are easier to digest for players who left everything on the court. St. Bonaventure will look back on this year knowing they exceeded expectations and turned the program back on course no matter how gruesome the ending against a top team in the country.

The Bonnies stayed around for as long as possible before sixth-ranked Oregon State came through as many expected in a 69-40 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Gill Coliseum. St. Bonaventure needed a near-perfect game and fell short largely because the Beavers insisted.

Healy & Co., stood with the 6,047 fans that gave Oregon State the standing ovation the Beavers richly deserved while celebrating their own season. The lopsided victory allowed the Bonnies to gather their emotions long before the final horn.

By the time they reached the interview room, Healy and Michael were upbeat and smiling while putting everything into proper perspective.

“It’s definitely been a great ride,” Healy said. “I feel very special to be part of this program. We knew we were going to do great things from the beginning. We came here and got a win. I don’t think we played as well as we could have, but we still played our hearts out.”

Oregon State (30-4) was better, much better, and will advance to the Sweet 16 against DePaul next weekend in Dallas. Bonaventure finished its season at 24-8, a successful year considering where they began and how long they lasted. The Bonnies remained upbeat to the end, clapping with fans who gave Oregon State a standing ovation.

Healy finished her career as an all-time great. The Lancaster native is one of two Bona players with more than 1,600 points and 800 rebounds. Her final game was one to remember, her final performance one to forget. She missed 10 straight shots after making her first, finished with eight points and was finished with 4:55 remaining.

Pac 12 Player of the Year Jamie Weisner, who was held to two points in the first round, had 23 points for Oregon State. She controlled the game with her ability to penetrate the Bonnies’ defense. She scored from inside and out and found her teammates on the perimeter when needed.

One tough game does not take away from a terrific career. The same goes for these Bonnies and their season.

St. Bonaventure knew going into the game that overcoming Oregon State’s considerable size advantage would be troublesome. Oregon State also was blessed with more talent and depth and experience and, good heavens, there seemed no end. Plus, they were playing in their own barn, where they were 15-1 during the regular season.

If that’s not enough, the Beavers were still stinging from a second-round defeat at home last year to 11th-seeded Gonzaga. Any thoughts about them looking past Bonaventure were addressed when they examined the recent past. Oregon State had everything covered but the final score.

“I don’t say this lightly, but it was a real honor to compete against that team,” Bona coach Jim Crowley said. “You could tell they weren’t going to be denied. We learned from them. I felt a little bit like the movie ‘300.’ We were the Spartans. We just ran out of people. And then we died.”

Bonaventure fans drew optimism from upsets in the men’s tournament, but the truth was it was far less likely to happen with the women. The disparity between the 10th-ranked men’s team and an opponent in the Top 50 is considerably less than the divide separating two such teams on the women’s side.

Only four women’s teams seeded 10th or higher advanced in the 32 games played in the first round. One was Albany, which was sent home Sunday with a 17-point loss to Syracuse in the second round. Oregon State lost one game all year to a team currently not among the Top 25, and that was to a Tennessee team ranked 14th at the time.

Simply, the Bonnies needed the biggest win in school history. Four years ago, they beat 13th-seed Marist to reach the Sweet 16.

Oregon State attempted to establish an inside game but had only mild success before wearing down Bona. Ruth Hamblin, the 6-foot-6 center was held to four points but had 16 rebounds. While she rested, the Beavers had 6-5 backup Marie Gulich coming off the bench.

That’s what depth does.

The Bonnies flirted with foul trouble Friday and survived. They could not afford to be short-handed Sunday against a great team. Healy was whistled for a borderline charge for her second foul, forcing her to the bench less than eight minutes into the game and limiting her to six minutes in the first half.

Bona was fortunate to be trailing, 31-21, at halftime after shooting only 32 percent in the first two quarters. They needed to double their effectiveness to stand a chance. it was a matter of time before Oregon State’s talent and toughness took over. The Beavers outscored the Bonnies, 21-4, in the third quarter and ran away with the game.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” Healy said. “It’s hard to stop when you have height, you have size, you have strength. Credit to them. We just came up a little short today, to say the least.”

The Bonnies could have lost by 40 points, and it wouldn’t have mattered. They had a successful season in their pockets before they stepped foot on the Oregon State campus. Two weeks ago, after a premature exit from the Atlantic 10 Tournament, they thought the NCAAs were out of reach.

Bona was picked to finish ninth in the A-10 in the conference preseason poll. They finished fourth in the A-10, received an at-large bid for the NCAAs, were the only team from the Big 4 to win their game in the first round and had an opportunity to play the sixth-ranked team in the country.

For the third time in five years, they won 24 games or more. The top six single-season win totals in school history have come since 2008-09. On a certain level, their success this season soothed a basketball fan base that was hurting after the men were unjustly left home in the men’s tournament.

Success is determined by standards. There were no illusions about winning a national championship. The objective was competing for an A-10 title and playing in the NCAAs, which was lofty enough. The resourceful Bonnies came together and met their goals, and then some, before buckling to the inevitable.

In the end, it was a great season.

“The goal at the beginning of the year was to get to the tournament,” Michael said. “To win the first game was an awesome feeling. To be part of this and play in this environment was – I don’t even know the word for it – it was awesome. We’re really proud of our program.”

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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