By Gary Axelbank
BRONX, NEW YORK, March 22- The Monroe Mustangs women's basketball team will not three-peat. After a ferocious effort, the two-time defending national champs who came to the NJCAA Division II Women's Basketball National Championships as a #9-seed, were narrowly defeated 53-50 by the top seeded Mesa Thunderbirds in Thursday's quarterfinal.
So Monroe will play in the loser's bracket against (#12) South Suburban (IL) beginning at 3:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. EST) on Friday. If they win, they will face #6 Highland (KS) on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. EST) for fifth place in the tournament.
"It was a great game," Coach James Robinson Jr. said in an interview. "It could have (gone) either way. We put ourselves in a position to defend our national championship. I'm proud of my girls. They gave it all they got."
Down by six at the half, Monroe was able to capture a few slim leads in the second half, but were not able to sustain them. After All-AmericanJasmine McRoy put back a Ly'Nasha Frazier miss with 2:20 to go, the Mustangs were down by a point, 51-50, but they did not convert their opportunities down the stretch.
The game was a defensive battle from the start with neither team able to establish the things that earned their reputations. Mesa was not in their comfort zone, able to move the ball to the open man and Monroe was never really able to get their up-tempo offense in gear. The Thunderbirds finished below their 60-point scoring average and Monroe was well below it's 70-point average.
Frazier led Monroe with 13 points, McRoy had 12, and Danielle Forrest had 10. Monroe had a 42-35 rebounding edge, with Tiara Brown capturing 14 of them, high for either team. Mesa shot 12 free throws while the Mustangs shot only 6, which was one of the keys in the game.
"It's a tough loss because we're built as national champions at Monroe, that's what we do," Coach Robinson said. "When we come up short, we feel it, it's a sting. But we'll bounce back. We've got another game tomorrow at 3:00 and we'll show the championship caliber of basketball that we're capable of playing."
Tip-off on Friday is slated for 3:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. in NY. If Monroe wins they play Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. EST) for fifth place in the nation and if not, their season will be over.
"We'll persevere," he said. "The way I see the girls, we'll be back next year. We'll work hard enough to do it."
Monroe hosted 60 children from the South Side Mission, who they had visited a day earlier. They came to the game to root for Monroe, sporting the caps the Mustangs distributed and autographed.