The Boston College women's basketball team has been scaling the mountain in the Big East tournament since Saturday. First the Eagles knocked off the No. 12 seed, Syracuse, then No. 4 Miami, then the top-seed Connecticut Huskies. They reached the summit last night as they defeated Rutgers, 75-57, at Hartford Civic Center to win their first Big East championship.
The tournament crown gives BC, ranked 23d in the country, an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
There might not been a flag to plant at the end of their journey, but there was a net to be cut down. At the conclusion of their victory, the Eagles joyously danced around the court before ascending a ladder to clip their prized souvenir.
Junior Jessalyn Deveny, who scored 72 points over the four games, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, and teammates Amber Jacobs and Kathrin Ress were named to the All-Tournament team.
The Eagles, who led by 17 points at the half, opened up a 24-point margin with 14:05 to play. By the last minute of the game, coach Cathy Inglese had cleared the bench and the starters were cheering on the reserves. Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by Jacobs's 22. Deveny had 20 points (with 7 rebounds), while Ress had 13 points and Clare Droesch 12.
Jacobs, wearing the net like a necklace after the game, said the hardest part may have been playing four games in as many days. It was the first time a Big East team -- men or women -- had won four games in a conference tournament.
"It's just an unbelievable experience that I don't think you can describe," Jacobs said. "This is a goal that this team this year has wanted, and we've believed since Day One. We had to fight through being a fifth seed and not getting a bye that first round, and I think we gave our hearts and persevered every game.
"That win against UConn obviously was great, but we knew too that this was going to be an even better win. So it just feels incredible."
Rutgers was short on personnel to begin the tournament -- eight players on the roster -- and it went down another when senior guard Dawn McCullouch injured her right knee going up for an uncontested layup in Monday's win against West Virginia. With McCullouch on crutches last night, Stringer had to reinforce her team by having two team managers dress for action.
Rutgers won the opening tipoff and scored the first basket. But Droesch hit a jumper and Deveny scored three layups in a row as BC stepped out to a 17-10 lead. Cappie Pondexter (27 points) tried to bring the Scarlet Knights back, getting them within 5 at 17-12 and again at 19-14.
But the Eagles pressured Rutgers, which committed nine turnovers and four clock violations in the first half. After shooting 68 percent (17 for 25), BC walked off at halftime with a 41-24 lead.
In the second half, Rutgers fell behind by 24 and never got closer than 11 after that.
Coach C. Vivian Stringer brought in the two managers at the end of the game, but nothing could help Rutgers.
Stringer saluted the Eagles, saying it "certainly wasn't a fluke that they beat Connecticut, because they've been coming through in so many different ways."
The announced crowd was 11,394, but the arena was devoid of the enthusiastic fans who had expected to see the Huskies in the championship. There were no blue-and-white jerseys on the floor, although UConn players did watch from the stands, an unfamiliar place for the winners of 11 Big East tournaments.
The Eagles, meanwhile, hope the winner's circle won't be an unfamiliar spot for them from now on.
"They have motivated me throughout this whole season," said Inglese. "They believed before we left Chestnut Hill that we had the opportunity to be doing this tonight, and I can't say enough about them. I'm just ecstatic."
The team is already thinking ahead to the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.
"We believe we can go as far as we want to go," Ress said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing against. If we believe we can do it, we can."
They obviously believed last night.