Vermont 55, No. 21 Hartford 50

Vermont built an 18-point halftime lead, and then hung on to win

its second consecutive America East title.

Courtney Pilypaitis scored 20 points as the Catamounts earned a

berth in the NCAA tournament Saturday night with a 55-50 upset win

over No. 21 Hartford.

“We knew they’d come back,” Vermont coach Sharon Dawley said.

“But that’s what leads are for. When we were up by 18, no way did

I think we were going to win by 18 or more. It was just, ‘Good, we

have a cushion, because when they come back, we’ll be OK.”

Alissa Sheftic added 10 points and eight rebounds for the

Catamounts (26-6), who have won 10 of their last 11 games.

Vermont’s only loss in that string came to Hawks in the

regular-season finale, 61-51 on Feb. 27.

But Hartford had to play this one without senior leader Erica

Beverly, who suffered a season-ending tear to the ACL in her right

knee in a semifinal win over Stony Brook. Diana Delva had 18 points

for Hartford (27-4), which had won 20 games in a row, and went

undefeated through the conference’s regular season.

Without the 6-foot Beverly in the lineup Vermont had its way

underneath, building an 18-point halftime lead, during which they

outrebounded Hartford 23-12. They ended the game with a 43-34

rebounding advantage. Pilypaitis led the way with nine


“It’s been a while since we’ve been outrebounded,” Hartford

coach Jen Rizzotti said. “But when you have 1,006 rebounds sitting

on your bench. … But I told the kids, that’s not the excuse. It’s

got to come from somewhere, and I thought we just didn’t really

have that toughness.”

Vermont used an 18-1 run to turn an early 9-6 deficit into a

27-10 lead with just under 6 minutes left in the first half. The

Hawks were held to just a free throw for 9 minutes and went over 10

1/2 minutes without a field goal. They hit just four of their first

16 shots from the field.

May Kotsopoulos hit a 3-pointer from the left baseline at the

halftime buzzer to give the Catamounts a 35-17 lead at


“I think we just said to ourselves to lock down defensively,

and once we did that, it just turned into great offense,” said

Pilypaitis. “We kind of got away from that in the second


The Hawks turned up the defense in the second half, holding

Vermont to 18 percent shooting after intermission. Hartford used an

11-2 run to cut an 18-point second half deficit to 42-33 with under

12 minutes left.

After Vermont pushed the lead back to 14, Delva led the Hawks on

a 15-4 run. She blocked two shots and then converted a 3-point play

at the other end with 4:21 left that cut the lead to 51-46.

Delva had six of Hartford’s 11 blocked shots, which set a record

for the championship game.

A layup by Jenna Peterson cut it to 3 points, but Pilypaitis

responded with a 3-point shot with 2 minutes left that brought it

back to six.

Hartford’s Jackie Smith hit a pair of free throws with 26.6

seconds left to cut it to 54-50 and Alex Hall missed a 3-point shot

that would have made it a 1-point game with 7 seconds left. Sofia

Iwobi hit a free throw for Vermont’s final point.

Beverly, who averaged nine points and seven rebounds a game, had

14 points when the teams met on Jan. 26 and 13 in the season

finale, both Hartford wins.

Vermont’s win gave the Catamounts a sweep of the men’s and

women’s America East tournaments, the first time a single school

has won both since 1988.

“Shortly after their game, we got texts from the men’s team

saying, ‘OK, now you guys, it’s your turn,” Dawley said. “So, we

really felt like we had to finish the job for our school and our


The loss snapped Hartford’s 20-game winning streak, which was

the fourth longest in the nation behind Princeton (21), Nebraska

(30), and Connecticut’s record 72-game run.

Rizzotti said she’s hopeful the injury and a five-point loss to

another tournament team, won’t hurt the Hawk’s NCAA seeding.

“The kids did what they had to do to be in the NCAA

tournament,” she said. “Where we’re seeded can’t be a worry. How

we perform and going out on our terms, going out the way we want,

not playing below our standards and being disappointed, that’s more

important to me now.”

The game was the first final between the conference’s top two

seeds since 2000, and the 55th meeting between the two schools.

Hartford came in having won four of the last five meetings,

losing last year to the Catamounts in the tournament semifinals.

The Hawks swept the regular season series, winning 38-36 in

Burlington on Jan. 26 and 61-51 in Hartford on Feb 27.