The Chapman women's basketball team apparently has learned its lesson well.
Last season at this time, the Panthers played their way out of an NCAA Division III tournament spot. They lost their final three games knowing that one victory would have probably been enough to make the playoffs.
This year, there has been no Panther fade. Chapman is 19-5 with one game remaining in the regular season. Most important, the Panthers are surging to the finish, having won nine in a row. They are 16-2 since Christmas.
Needless to say, Coach Mary Hegarty likes what she's seeing. "Every time we've been challenged, we have fought back," she said. "We have shown a lot of maturity as a team, which is something you need to be successful in the tournament."
A case in poise. Tuesday, Redlands, and the referees at Redlands, were giving the Panthers fits. Chapman trailed by eight points with 10 minutes remaining and couldn't afford a loss to the 8-11 Bulldogs.
"At this stage of the season any loss hurts," Hegarty said, "but if you lose to a team with a losing record, that kind of kills you."
Fortunately for Hegarty and the Panthers, Chapman was able to rescue itself for a 84-75 victory. The Panthers got strong post play from Lyndsay Brown (23 points, nine rebounds) and Stef McNamara (20 points, nine rebounds).
Hegarty said the team, which struggled with inconsistency early in the season, has learned to focus on her one-game-at-a-time mantra while shooting for the postseason goal. "I think that's been a big reason for our success," she said.
The Redlands victory and a 74-40 victory over Pacific Christian Wednesday sets up Chapman's regular-season finale Saturday on the home court of its toughest rival, UC San Diego. San Diego and Chapman are the only Division III independents in the West Region still being considered for postseason bids.
Eight teams from the region make the playoffs based on rankings by the NCAA selection committee. San Diego is ranked fourth; Chapman is sixth.
The Tritons (16-5), who play at Point Loma Nazarene tonight, beat Chapman, 76-71, at Hutton Center. Said Hegarty: "We've split with them the past couple years, which hopefully will happen again this year."
Whatever happens Saturday, both teams are likely to make the playoffs. It's possible the teams will play again in the first round.
Hegarty, in her fourth season, isn't concerned about that. Chapman has never made the Division III playoffs in women's basketball.
"I don't care who we play," Hegarty said. "If we get in the tournament, we'll worry about it then."