Boston College was all smiles following its WNIT First Round win over Maine. The Eagles trailed after the first quarter but succeeded in resetting the game’s pace during the second and third quarters. They finished off the visiting Black Bears with a dominant fourth quarter stretch, and as the final minutes closed, both teams congratulated each other on their respective fates. One season was ending after a successful run to a conference regular season championship while the other saw the next round beckon with an opponent not yet determined.
It struck the contrast provided in the harsh truth of postseason basketball. Losing teams said goodbye, so winning teams had to understand that a win only prolonged their mission. One win didn’t win a championship, but ending another team’s season is one of the hardest things in sports. Celebrating the win only meant the next toughest challenge now appeared, and that next team had the momentum and confidence that came with achieving the same goal as the Eagles.
On Friday night, BC learned exactly what that meant when Quinnipiac defeated Rhode Island, 61-50, to advance to Sunday’s Second Round at Conte Forum. The third place team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ended the season of a 22-game winner and the second place finisher in the Atlantic-10. The Rams had earlier beaten UMass twice during the season, but after losing their conference tournament matchup to seventh-seeded Saint Joseph’s, both the Minutewomen and the Dayton Flyers advanced to the NCAA Tournament while URI’s year ended in disappointment against the Bobcats.
“I went back to something my high school coach told me,” said Dontavia Waggoner on Thursday. “You can celebrate the win [after the game], but the next biggest game is coming up. Whoever we play, we have to be ready for them.”
Quinnipiac is an interesting case study because its Division I program is truly an example of how to build a winning program. A former Division II team, it started play in the late 1970s and quickly built a New England Collegiate Conference powerhouse by producing three straight 25-win seasons during the mid-80s. By the end of the decade, though, the program fell on hard times, and by the time head coach Tricia Fabbri arrived in 1995-1996, it had only had one winning season since its trip to the 1986 NCAA Division II Tournament.
Fabbri was entrusted with rebuilding a winning program, but a transition to the Division I level at the turn of the century handed her a complex problem after winning 15 games in her first three seasons. In her fourth year, the then-Braves moved into the Northeast Conference, but winning nine games and nearly upsetting eventual-league champion Saint Francis in January largely occurred after an ignominious, 97-point loss to No. 5 Connecticut, to date still the largest win in the Huskies’ program history.
By the turn of the century, though, Fabbri built a winner and routinely finished with double-digit wins in league play. In 2006, the 22-8 Bobcats advanced to the Northeast Conference finals for the first time before losing to Sacred Heart, and the team two years later won 25 games with a 16-2, regular season championship before enduring a four-point, upset loss to LIU Brooklyn in the semifinals. Ten days later, the WNIT beckoned, and Quinnipiac played its first postseason game to close its first decade in Division I.
Building those mid-major powerhouses make winning games sneaky difficult for power conference opponents, and Quinnipiac now owns a reputation as one of those giant killers. The Bobcats beat Minnesota in 2011 and hung tough with Georgia Tech the next year when the team won 30 games and clinched its first NEC championship. Two years later, after moving to the MAAC, the Bobcats rebounded from a 70-point loss to top-ranked Notre Dame by beating Alabama before going undefeated in league play.
The road culminated in the two years prior to COVID-19 when the program won three straight MAAC titles and twice advanced out of the NCAA Tournament’s first round. In 2017, wins over Marquette and Miami moved Quinnipiac into the Sweet Sixteen, and a repeat win over the Hurricanes in 2018 drew a rematch with UConn that the top-ranked Huskies won by 25. In 2019, South Dakota State’s 11-point win prevented a three-peat, but the power illustrated makes this matchup on Monday a compelling fight against BC, a team that won its first postseason appearance in over 10 years.
“It’s hard to [win] when you set out and have this goal for this year,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “We didn’t just say postseason. We said we wanted to go to the NCAA Tournament. So that was a goal that we had set all year long, and we still think we did enough to get there. It could have been easy for these players, especially our older players, to be down in the dumps and hang it up. I think I got the exact opposite, and I don’t think our team has been this together since the start of the season.”
Bernabei-McNamee’s words were tailored towards her BC team after beating Maine, but the message could apply to any of the teams that appeared in the WNIT’s First Round. They ring especially true for a team like Quinnipiac, which year after year factors into a conference championship race. The Bobcats won 25 games on six separate occasions over a seven-year span and went a combined 70-6 in conference play over the four-year period that included three league titles.
Over the past three seasons, they still haven’t finished lower than third in the MAAC, but never receiving an opportunity to play for the league title in 2020 led to last year’s weird COVID year. Even this year, finishing third carried no negativity after Fairfield went 25-7 with a 19-1 league record. The Stags had lightning in a bottle and romped their way to a conference championship, and in mid-major basketball, that meant a more likely trip to the WNIT.
And so after beating URI on Friday, Quinnipiac will travel to Chestnut Hill for its first game against Boston College since the Eagles beat the Bobcats by 30 during the 2005-2006 season. BC jumped out to a 24-point lead at halftime in that game thanks to its 55 percent shooting in the first half and coasted to a 74-44 win after Kathrin Ress and Kindyll Dorsey scored a combined 35 points.
The Eagles committed a combined eight fouls in that game while dominating the glass, and every player got involved in at least one category after Brooke Queenan had eight boards and Sarah Marshall ahd six assists. Both Aja Parham and Ress finished with two blocks, but Lisa Macchia had four stuffs off the bench. Quinnipiac never got its mojo going but forced BC to commit 19 turnovers.
That game was in Hamden and was one year after a nationally-ranked BC team won by 31. Things have changed drastically over the past 16 years, but on Monday, the next chapter of two programs bump into each other in a game that’s only as good as the next one it produced.
Boston College and Quinnipiac’s WNIT Second Round game tips off at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on Monday night at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on the ACC Network Extra package provided to ACC Network subscribers and is available via the ESPN online streaming platform.