CINCINNATI - St. Joseph's ran out of rallies last night, losing the Atlantic Ten women's basketball championship, 65-59, to host Xavier in the final minutes at the Cintas Center.
The victory gives the third-seeded Musketeers (26-7) the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, whose 64-team field will be announced on Monday night.
The fifth-seeded Hawks (19-13) trailed, 37-27, with 13 minutes, 2 seconds left, making it the third straight contest here in which they fell behind by double-digits. This time the Hawks could not come back as they had in shocking then-eighth-ranked George Washington, 57-55, Sunday after trailing by 13 late in the second half.
The Hawks did remain relentless last night, gaining a 55-55 tie on a jumper from senior Whitney Ffrench with 1:31 left to play. But the Hawks could not convert the surge into a win.
"We felt like we could," St. Joseph's senior Ayahna Cornish said. "We've been doing it the last two games. . . . We just kept pushing until the end. We gave it our all."
Cornish was limited to four points, shooting 1 for 12 from the field.
"Every shot she had was a tough shot," St. Joseph's coach Cindy Griffin said, crediting Xavier's defense.
Xavier's Michele Miller snapped the 55-55 deadlock with a foul shot. Joei Clyburn, the tournament's most outstanding player, hit three more free throws for a 59-55 advantage with 33 seconds left.
Jen Oyler then missed a three-point shot for St. Joseph's and Xavier freshman Amber Harris, the A-10's rookie of the year, fired two more foul shots to keep the Musketeers' just out of reach.
Xavier had its own adventures this past weekend in capturing its first A-10 title since 2001. It's also the first since Kevin McGuff, a former Notre Dame women's assistant, took over the program in 2002.
The Musketeers barely escaped No. 11 St. Louis, 64-63, in the quarterfinals, and then outlasted No. 2 Temple, 54-53, in the semifinals.
"At least I can get some sleep this week," McGuff said about Xavier not having to wait for an at-large bid to the NCAA field.
If heart and desire meant as much as RPI ratings, strength-of-schedule, and won-loss record, the Hawks' performance here could be worthy of an at-large bid.
However, the NCAA committee relies on the numbers. Thus, St. Joseph's will likely have to again settle for a bid to the National Women's Invitation Tournament.
Clyburn, a transfer from West Virginia who will have only one season here as a senior, had 19 points and 13 rebounds for Xavier. Harris, likely to become a potential WNBA first-round draft pick, finished with 15 points. Suntana Granderson added 13 points for Xavier.
Hawks freshman Brittany Ford, who averaged 13 points this weekend after a meager 4.3 figure during the season, had a career-high 20 points. Ffrench scored 14 points, and Jenna Loschiavo scored 12 points.
Early on, St. Joseph's was able to stay with Xavier, particularly because Ford was able to shake off Harris, a shot-blocking sensation.
"All I did was play with a lot of adrenaline," Ford said. "I didn't care she was a shot-blocker."
Contact staff writer Mel Greenberg at 215-854-5725 or email@example.com.