WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Sophomore forward Mya Villard (Cromwell) had 32 points and a career-high 20 rebounds and the fourth-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University women's basketball team never trailed after the opening four minutes and posted an 85-76 victory over fifth-seeded Western Connecticut State University in the first round of the 2018 Little East Conference Tournament Tuesday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Eastern (12-14), which has appeared in the last three title games – winning twice – faces unbeaten top seed and host UMass Dartmouth (23-3) in Friday's first semifinal at 5 p.m. No. 3 University of Southern Maine (14-12) faces No. 2 UMass Boston (23-3) in Friday's second game at 7:30 p.m. UMass Dartmouth will host the tournament final at 4 p.m.
Eastern improved its LEC tournament record against Western to 6-2, including 3-1 at Geissler Gymnasium. The Warriors eliminated Western in last year's LEC tournament semifinals, 58-52, at Geissler Gymnasium before losing the title game to Keene State College.
Playing 40 minutes, Villard was 12-of-20 from the floor, 8-of-11 from the foul line and handed out four assists to power the Warriors to the rubber-game victory over Western. Each team had won on its home court during the regular season. Western dropped to 1-8 on its opponent's court this year and finished the season with a 1-8 record in its final nine games.
Sophomore guard Sabrina LeMere (North Branford) tossed in 17 first-half points to spark Eastern to a six-point, 47-41 halftime lead. LeMere finished with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists. Saddled with two early fouls, junior forward Kelsey Santagata (Stamford) added eight points, ten rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes for Eastern.
In addition to holding national three-point field goal leader Jancy Sherwood to 1-of-9 shooting from distance, Eastern sophomore guard Julie Jordan (Sterling) chipped in ten points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in 39 minutes for the Warriors. Sherwood did not connect from three-point range until 6:20 remained in the third quarter and her team trailing by eight.
Senior guard Kelly Reardon (Holyoke, MA) added eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Eastern turned the ball over 27 times attempting to navigate the Western press, but the Colonials only showed a +7 advantage in points off turnovers. The Colonials missed ten of 14 three-pointers in the first half and led by Villard, Eastern held a +16 advantage in rebounds in the game.
Eastern's starters scored all but eight points as Western's non-starters outscored Eastern's bench players by 35 points.
Sophomore guard Genesis Torres led Western with 18 points, Sherwood totaling 12 and sophomore guard Gabrielle Hurlbert 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds in 18 minutes. Hurlbert scored all of her points on 5-of-7 field goal shooting in nine first-half minutes. She was 0-for-2 from the floor with two rebounds in nine second-half minutes.
Eastern won two of three against Western this year despite being outscored 81-3 from three-point range.
Since losing ten of its first 13 games this year, Eastern has won nine of its last 13. The Warriors were swept by UMass Dartmouth this year, losing at home, 83-75 Jan. 10, and on the road, 78-62, ten days ago.