Navy women beat Holy Cross 72-53 to win PatriotHoly Cross guard Brisje Malone, left, and Navy guard Alix Membreno chase after a loose ball as Holy Cross forward Emily Parker and Navy forward Jade Geif watch during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game for the championship of the Patriot League tournament in Annapolis, Md., Saturday, March 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- The Navy women's basketball team has become rather adept at the practice of cutting down the basketball net after winning the Patriot League title.
For the third straight year, the Midshipmen took turns climbing a ladder and snipping away at the nylon mesh. On Saturday night, the celebration occurred after a 72-53 rout of Holy Cross.
Navy (21-11) is the second team to win three consecutive Patriot League championships; Holy Cross captured four in a row from 1998-2001.
''It's great to do that for your school,'' Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. ''This year was so awesome. ... We're incredibly proud of where we sit right now.''
Kara Pollinger tied a career high with 24 points and Chole Stapleton added 19 for the Midshipmen. The victory comes with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
''We're obviously going to get a really low seed in the tournament,'' Pemper conceded because, after all, the Midshipmen lost twice to Army and fell to Stony Brook, High Point and Mount Saint Mary's.
Navy has never won an NCAA tournament game, but at this point, the team's confidence is high.
''I definitely think that we're playing the best basketball that we've played all year,'' said guard Alix Membreno, the Patriot League tournament MVP. ''I'd definitely say we're ready. You can't ask for a better opportunity.''
Navy does not have a senior on the roster. The second-seeded Midshipmen beat Holy Cross by 13 and 24 points during the regular season, and this game was similarly lopsided.
''Before the game our players felt genuinely confident, and they brought that out onto the court,'' Pemper said. ''It was just a real mature effort by the women on our team.''
Brisje Malone scored 17 for the fourth-seeded Crusaders (18-14), who went 4 for 20 from 3-point range.
''Four for 20 isn't going to win you many games,'' Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons said. ''We lost to a better basketball team. I've got to credit Navy. I thought they played terrific. They shot the ball great, they executed great. Sometimes, you've just got to tip your hat. It's a game of miss-make. They made and we missed.''
Holy Cross shot 35.6 percent (21 of 59) from the floor compared to 44.8 percent (26 of 58) by Navy. More importantly, the Midshipmen connected on 13 of 29 tries from beyond the arc.
Navy trailed 9-7 before Pollinger made a three-point play to put the Midshipmen ahead for good. That was part of an 11-0 run that concluded with successive 3-pointers by Stapleton.
Minutes later, Stapleton drilled another 3 to spark a 10-2 spurt that gave Navy a 33-19 lead.
Holy Cross closed 39-33 with 14:26 to go in the game, but successive 3-pointers by Stapleton and Pollinger upped the margin to 12 and ended any hope the Crusaders had to mount a comeback.
''That was a key,'' Gibbons said. ''Those two 3s were a dagger.''
And not long after that, the Midshipmen were cutting down the net. Again.
''Each one is special in its own way,'' Pollinger said. ''What's really awesome about this one is we're all coming back next year.''