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March 17, 2010

 

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Finucane, Amherst return to Final Four

Basketball

Photo provided by Amherst College
Former Cortland High standout Shannon Finucane has helped lead the Amherst College women’s basketball team back to the Division III Final Four as the team’s starting point guard.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

AMHERST, Mass. — Final Four, take two....and with a chance for some revenge, to boot.
That’s the situation former Cortland High standout Shannon Finucane and the Amherst College women’s basketball team find themselves in after earning their second straight berth in the NCAA Division III Final Four. The Lord Jeffs, 31-0 on the season and the top-ranked team in the country since early last month, will meet Washington (Mo.) University (27-2) at 6 p.m. EDT Friday at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington in the first of two semifinals, the other an 8 p.m contest pitting the University of Rochester (23-6) against Hope (31-1).
Friday’s winners will meet for the national championship at 3 p.m. Saturday, following the noon consolation game.
Amherst and Washington meet in a rematch from last year’s semifinals, the Bears winning that one 65-49. Amherst then concluded a 29-4 season with an 82-74 loss to College of New Jersey in the consolation game.
The Lord Jeffs beat Babson 80-65 Saturday in the East Sectional semifinals, then found out that Washington would be their next opponent after its 59-52 win over defending champion George Fox U. (Oregon) in a rematch of last year’s title contest.
“We weren’t pulling for anyone, but since the cards fell that way we’re excited to get another chance against Washington,” said Finucane, the Lord Jeffs’ starting point guard. “Even though we’re ranked number one, we could be the underdogs. Their campus isn’t that far from Bloomington, and we’re flying 800 miles (leaving this morning) to get there.
“It definitely feels good to have a chance to get revenge; it adds more intensity to the game, even though we’re both different teams from last year. But no matter who we ended up playing, we knew it would be a game between two teams from the Final Four last year. We’re ready for anyone.”
Finucane has been a big reason for Amherst’s success this season. She leads the team in assists with 104, or 3.5 per game, as well as steals (76, 2.5), 3-point shots made (48), free throws made (65) and free throw percentage (65-for-73, .890), is second in 3-point attempts (129) and third in points (285), points per game (9.5) and 3-point percentage (48-for-129, .372).
“Shannon has definitely improved her all-around game,” said Amherst coach J.P. Gromacki, who in his three seasons at Amherst has compiled a 87-7 record (.926) and has led the Lord Jeffs to a Sweet 16 appearance (including their first-ever NCAA tournament win) in 2007-08 and their Final Four berths last season and this winter. “She’s had big games on the nights we’ve needed them, and brings a lot of leadership and fire to the team.
“She’s probably a little smarter court-wise, and isn’t afraid to take big shots at the right time. She’s definitely one of the team leaders; she showed a lot of those traits as a freshman, and now has kind of taken on the role. She tried to do everything on her own at times last year, but this year she knows her role as a leader and gets everyone else involved.”
“I guess my shooting percentage is a little better (.377 to .312),” Finucane said. “I worked hard in the off-season to keep my turnovers down, keep getting the ball to my teammates and hit my free throws.
“It’s definitely nice that a lot of last season’s team (including all five starters) is back; we’re all playing with people that we’re familiar with, and we know what each other will do. We’ve had six players miss at least one game this season and different people have had to step up, but we’ve gotten through this much adversity without a loss and are excited to be at full strength now.”
Having Final Four experience will help the Lord Jeffs this time around, as Gromacki sees it. “The players know what to expect,” he said. “Both teams are a little different than they were last year, but I think that now we know what we need to do, the level we have to play at, which will definitely help.”
“Having been to the Final Four, we know that there’s a lot going on,” Finucane said, “like a banquet, lots of hype, and free things you get. But after losing twice last year, we’re going out there with tunnel vision. Being undefeated is nice, but now we have two more games, and we need to get two more wins to make an enjoyable experience even more enjoyable.
“It’s a great feeling to get there again, but we know the bittersweet feeling you get when you lose. We’re not satisfied yet.”