Women’s basketball: Jessie Ruffner’s last-second basket lifts Smith College past Wisconsin-Oshkosh, into NCAA Div. III Elite 8

Smith College guard Jessie Ruffner (14) drives to the hoop for a layup against WPI earlier this season at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton.

Smith College guard Jessie Ruffner (14) drives to the hoop for a layup against WPI earlier this season at Ainsworth Gymnasium in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Reports

Published: 03-08-2024 6:47 PM

Modified: 03-08-2024 9:33 PM

For the second year in a row, the Smith College women’s basketball team will play for a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four.

With the game tied and under 10 seconds to play in their Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Friday night, Smith’s Jessie Ruffner went to the basket for the game-winning layup with 6.8 seconds remaining to lift the Pioneers to a 61-59 victory at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Smith (28-3) will play host Bowdoin, which beat Baldwin Wallace in the late game, in the Elite 8 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Pioneers are seeking a return to the Final Four for the second consecutive year after earning their first-ever trip in 2023.

The Pioneers used an 11-0 run in the second quarter to erase an early deficit, then held on in some tenuous moments late. Smith’s lead grew to 51-42 with 5:52 left in regulation after Sofia Rosa banked in a shot off the glass.

But the Titans (24-6) used some clutch 3-point shooting to get back in range, and Kayce Vaile’s two free throws with 1:03 left had them within 59-57.

Smith was called for a shot clock violation the next time down the floor, and Wisconsin-Oshkosh tied the game at 59 after Kate Huml was fouled with 24 seconds left and sank both free throws.

That set the stage for Ruffner, who scored a game-high 23 points (14 in the second half). With the clock winding down and Smith holding for a good look, she followed a well-timed screen from teammate Ally Yamada and broke in toward the hoop all alone. Her easy layup with 6.8 seconds to go gave the Pioneers a 61-59 advantage and forced a Titans timeout.

Smith had a foul to give and chose to foul Huml with five seconds remaining on the ensuing possession. The Titans called a final play that resulted in a baseline jumper, but Smith’s Jazmyn Washington (four rebounds) altered the shot and Yamada grabbed the loose ball and dribbled out the clock to secure a spot in the Elite 8.

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Ruffner grabbed nine rebounds to go with her 23 points, while Jane Loo came up big with 14 points and six rebounds in the win. Rosa added 11 points and eight boards, while Salem Maher scored all eight of her points in the first half. Smith held a 36-31 edge in rebounding on the night.

Huml paced the Titans with 17 points, and Mallory H oitink added 14.