Three days in March.
That is the battle cry for many a collegiate basketball coach at the mid-major level trying to motivate his or her team to reach the ultimate goal of competing in the NCAA Championships.
And three great days in March of 2007 is what Phil Stern's women's basketball program produced to land at No. 4 in the #retriever50for50 countdown.
Stern came to UMBC in 2002, and in his first season, led the Retrievers to the title game in the Northeast Conference Tournament. The athletic program moved to the America East the following fall, where women's basketball was a national top-ten program.
It was rough sledding in the first three years as UMBC compiled a 12-40 record in league play. Stern's Princeton-style offense and stubborn defense was keeping UMBC close in games and non-conference success was building, but America East wins were tough to come by.
By the 2006-07 season, Stern's early recruits were upperclassmen and he brought in a highly-touted scoring guard in Carlee Cassidy that fall. UMBC won 7 of 13 games in the non-conference slate and opened league play with an upset win over Boston University.
But the toughness of the league reared its head and the Retrievers suffered through a four-game slide mid-winter. A few eyebrows were raised on Feb. 20, when UMBC won, 80-72, at Vermont, but, after back-to-back losses to close the regular season, the Retrievers earned a No. 7 seed in the tournament to be held at Binghamton's Events Center.
In the quarterfinals, second-seeded Stony Brook jumped out to a 16-5 lead and the script looked like it would be followed. But UMBC had other ideas – they closed the half on a massive 28-11 run and led, 33-27 at the break. Stony Brook fought back to gain a late tie at 51-all, but Sharri Rohde put UMBC ahead for good with 1:49 remaining as UMBC edged the Seawolves, 67-64.
Third-seeded Vermont was up next for UMBC in the semifinals. UMBC trailed at the half, but erased that early in the second half and converted 14 second half free throws to prevail, 67-56. Center Amanda Robinson began to assert herself, leading the way with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Top-seeded Hartford played its role, winning two games and was shooting for its third consecutive tournament title. On March 11, 2007, the Connecticut-based fans were on hand to support the Hawks, but were balanced out by the enthusiasm and talents of UMBC's performance teams, most notably the Down and Dirty Dawg Band.
The game was played cautiously throughout, as neither team shot well from the field. But Cassidy scored 11 first half points to give the Retrievers a slim halftime edge. Leading 25-24 at the half, Rohde hit a pair of jumpers around a Kristin Drabyn trey and UMBC surged ahead by eight. The lead grew to 12, but the defending champions dug in and held UMBC to a pair of field goals in the final ten minutes.
In the final minute, which seemed like an eternity to all involved, the Hawks got to within 48-46, but missed four free throws with chances to knot the score. Rohde stepped to the line with six seconds left to attempt to ice the game for the Retrievers, but she was off on the front end of a one-and one opportunity. Hartford rushed the ball up the court, but a long three-point attempt fell short and UMBC's nearly impossible task was realized.
Robinson earned AE Championship Most Valuable Player honors and was joined on the all-tournament team by Rohde and Cassidy. UMBC became the first program in the league's history to win the tournament from the No. 7 seed, a mark that stands to this day.
The Retrievers faced top-seeded and storied U.Conn in the tournament. They lost to the Huskies in the Hartford Civic Center, but gained an invaluable experience in the month of March, 2007.
The program is celebrating the ten-year anniversary of that magical run during UMBC's 50th anniversary this winter. Coach Stern is still at the helm of the Retrievers, while Carlee Cassidy has become Coach Cassidy and next to Stern on the bench as UMBC looks to make another great run in March.