Lehigh 58, American U. 42

With an NCAA bid on the line, it didn’t take long for Lehigh to

turn up the defensive pressure in the Patriot League tournament

final.

The Mountain Hawks clamped down after a game-opening 3 by

American’s Raven Harris at Stabler Arena, their home court where

they hadn’t lost all season.

And Lehigh stayed perfect after a 58-42 victory Saturday night

sent the school to the NCAAs for the second straight year.

“We knew they were going to come out firing shots. Once

(Harris) hit the shot, it made a difference because we knew we had

to play lockdown defense even more,” said guard Tricia Smith, who

wore a smile on her face and the celebratory basketball net around

her neck after the game

Smith had seven points, 11 rebounds and helped hold Patriot

League player of the year Michelle Kirk of American to eight points

– nearly 10 below her season average, while Alex Ross scored a

team-high 13 and knocked down some key open jumpers.

American couldn’t recover after missing its next 11 shots

following Harris’ 3. Lehigh turned what started as a choppy matchup

between the league’s two best defensive teams into a blowout after

the Mountain Hawks (29-3) pulled away in the second half.

American coach Matt Corkery cited his team’s transition defense

and problems with the ball as the big culprits. “You combine those

things, and you get the first five minutes that we had,” he

said.

The Eagles (22-9) cut a 15-point deficit to eight with 14

minutes left in the second after two foul shots by Liz Leer.

Lehigh then had a 10-0 run highlighted by open 3s from Tricia

Smith and Kristen Dalton to go up 44-26 with 12-plus minutes

remaining.

With Kirk having an off night, no other Eagle stepped up to fill

the scoring void. American didn’t have a player score in double

figures.

“Normally we handle the pressure with ease. When one person

can’t score, someone else is usually in double figures,” Leer

said. “Tonight that wasn’t the case. We just weren’t hitting open

shots.”

Lehigh led by 12 at the half, but nine early turnovers by the

Mountain Hawks gave American faint hopes they could get back in the

game.

Instead, the closing minutes turned into a mere formality at

Stabler Arena, where the Mountain Hawks finished the season 16-0.

With about two minutes left, the Lehigh bench emptied and the crowd

started celebrating.

“Blood, sweat and tears every day in practice,” Ross said.

“We really want to protect our home court.”

Lehigh coach Sue Troyan singled out Smith for her defensive

effort on Kirk.

“She in many ways is our most valuable player because she’s one

of those kids that does those little things to help you win, that

you don’t see in the boxscore,” Troyan said about Smith.

She has such a following in the stands, a student group

outfitted in pink fatigues has nicknamed themselves “Tricia’s

militia.”

They were among the dozens of fans that flooded the court after

the final buzzer sounded, hooting and hollering as the team

received the championship trophy. The same scene played out Friday

night, when the Lehigh men won their conference tournament for a

trip to the NCAAs.

And just like Friday, when the women watched the men celebrate,

the men’s team was there in the stands Saturday to offer

support.

Not like the women’s team needed much help.

“We emphasized in practice that the game would be won on the

defensive end,” Troyan said. “I really think they took that to

heart.”

After Lehigh went up double digits early, American settled down

midway through the first half, got their hands in the passing lanes

and poked away entry passes into the paint.

Still, it wasn’t enough to overcome the early problems on

offense. With Lehigh on spring break, the stands weren’t filled,

though the fans roared with approval at the half with the Mountain

Hawks up 32-20, just 20 minutes from another NCAA bid.