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Bentley 64, Pace 61

Brennan’s fantastic finish carries Bentley into Elite 8

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / March 16, 2011

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WALTHAM — Kim Brennan has played more minutes than any player in the history of the Bentley women’s basketball program. None, however, will quite match the dramatic final 38 seconds of last night’s NCAA Division 2 East Regional final.

With the host Falcons trailing Northeast-10 rival Pace by 4 points, and their season, and Brennan’s magnificent career on the brink, the senior floor leader simply would not let her team lose.

Brennan poured in the game’s final 7 points, including a go-ahead 12-foot floater off her own steal with 12 seconds remaining as Bentley pulled out a thrilling 64-61 win, securing the program’s 18th trip to the Elite 8 — and first since 2003.

“Wow . . . I’ve been doing this a while, and have been in games like this before, this was certainly one of the most dramatic wins I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said 25-year coach Barbara Stevens after earning the 821st win of her career.

Stevens’s 15th-ranked Falcons (28-4) will play Southeast champion Clayton State (32-1) in a national quarterfinal in St. Joseph, Mo., Tuesday.

That flight appeared in doubt after Maral Javadifar gave Pace (24-9) a 4-point cushion (61-57).

Brennan answered with a hard drive to the basket eight seconds later, was fouled, and drained the free throw to trim the deficit to 1 before pocketing her biggest steal in four years. The 5-foot-8-inch Brennan (16 points) leaped near midcourt at the scorer’s table to snare a Pace pass, dribbled down the left side, and then calmly swished the go-ahead basket with 12 seconds left.

“You can’t be intimidated by a 4-point deficit with 30 seconds left,’’ said Brennan, who capped her night with a pair of free throws with a second left. “You stick to what you’re doing. We needed a basket, and we got the and-1 too.’’

“Big-time players make big-time plays,’’ said Stevens.

Brennan, the lone senior in a starting lineup featuring three first-year players, was not alone.

Freshman forward Jacqui Brugliera (21 points, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line) continued her stellar play that earned the 6-foot Wachusett Regional grad NE-10 Rookie of the Year honors. Her presence, and physical play in the post, led to the exit of Pace’s best inside player, Brittany Shields (14 points, 10 rebounds), with three minutes remaining with her fifth foul. Courtney Finn (11 points), a red-shirt sophomore out of Winthrop, was clutch too, including a trey that triggered a 7-0 Bentley run early in the second half.

But it was Brennan who stepped forward for her shining moment, allowing Bentley to escape a furious second-half assault by Pace and silky smooth senior forward Brittany Huggins (25 points, 17 in the second half).

“It’s been our goal all season to get to the Elite 8, but we’re not done yet,’’ Brennan said.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.