The University of Saint Francis women's basketball team has won a national title. The Cougars beat the College of the Ozarks Tuesday to stay undefeated and take home the university's first NAIA Division II Women's National Championship. March 18, 2014
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Putting perfection into words was almost as hard as the achievment for the University of Saint Francis women's team after the No. 1-ranked Lady Cougars won their first NAIA Division II Women's National Championship title with a 75-68 win over College of the Ozarks on Tuesday night at Tyson Events Center.
USF senior guard Skylarr Shurn scored 30 points and was named NAIA Championship Most-Valuable-Player. Teammate Brooke Ridley posted a double-double on one good ankle — 14 rebounds, 13 points — and was named to the all-championship first team while senior teammate Jenelle Wilson scored 19 points and was named to the all-championship second team.
NAIA Top 25 No. 1 USF led 37-36 at halftime and outscored the unranked Bobcats 38-32 in the second half.
“I still don't think it's sunk in yet,” a smiling Shurn said while holding the MVP award. “I'm kind of speechless. To finish my senior year 38-0 with a championship, there's really no better way to go out. I don't know what else to say. It's great.”
“Words really can't describe it,” Wilson said. “Amazing . . . finally, my fourth year, we did it and it feels amazing. 38-0 . . . My freshman year we made the long trip and lost. Then we didn't even make it the next year. Last year we had a tough loss. I don't even know what to say about it. Nobody at USF has ever done it before at Saint Francis, so to be a part of that is really special.”
Skylarr Shurn (10) dribbles the ball out of trouble as Emily Montgomery (15) and Jenelle Wilson (right) are there for support if needed.
and the Bobcats responded to that inspiration taking as much as a six-point lead twice, the last time at 20-14 with 10:06 to play. The Lady Cougars clawed back to tie the game at 20, again at 22 and again at 29 before Kalah Baer gave USF the lead for good putting back a Shurn miss at 3:39 to play in the first half.
Baer added 12 rebounds to the USF advantage, 43-32, 27-17 in the second half.
The Bobcats (27-10) had upset the No. 2 seed St. Xavier 68-43, No. 3-seed Mayville 92-87 in overtime, No. 1-seed Northwestern 90-76 and No. 2 NAIA Top 25 Davenport 75-72, but the Lady Cougars had other plans. Shurn hit two free throws for a 33-29 lead, but Alice Heinzler buried a 3-pointer drawing COO back within a point, 33-32 with 1:56 to play. Wilson drove and scored for a 35-32 lead, but Brandy Uchtman scored and the lead was back to one. Baer hit another second-change bucket at 1:01, then Tanner Merriman scored with 17 seconds left to settle the first half scoring.
Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the period, including a 53.8 percent (14-for-26) effort by College of the Ozarks.
“They were running their sets well, but we fought back and got a lead,” Shurn observed. “At halftime, we talked about delivering that first punch to start the second half, try to get a lead, we got it up to 10, they hit some 3s toward the end, but we were able to hit some free throws and get the win.”
Both teams struggled to score in the first two minutes before Shurn got the lid off the basket scoring in the paint with 17:45 to play in the second half. Shurn scored on a fastbreak and was fouled and scored at 17:21 after officials changed a charge call to a blocking foul. Shurn scored again at 16:53 and in less than a minute USF led by eight, the first real separation of the game for the Lady Cougars.
After COO hit 1 of 2 free throws, Wilson answere with two free throws opening up a 46-37 lead at 15:49. COO got as close as three on three different occasions — 49-46, 51-48, and 55-52. Emily Montgomery buried a 3-pointer at 7:35 for a 58-52 lead. Wilson hit one of two free throws, Ridley hit a shot in the paint at 6:18 and then Shurn scored on a fastbreak and Wilson hit one of two free throws and USF led 65-53 at the end of a 10-1 run.
“That's the thing about this team, we don't panic,” USF Head Coach Gary Andrews said after accepting the Phyllis Holmes Coach of the Year Award. “You get out here to nationals, there are so many good teams, you just never know, but we kept getting better and more confident. I am so proud of this team and how whenever there was a challenge or some adversity, they pulled together to solve whatever came our way.”
COO hit three 3-pointers in the final 1:05 to keep things interesting, but connected on seven of eight free throws to keep the Bobcats at bay. Jeana Raper drew COO within five, 73-68 with just 11 seconds to play, but Shurn assured the USF win hitting two free throws with 10 seconds to play.
College of the Ozarks, who falls to 0-5 all-time in the nation championship final, was led in scoring by freshman Alice Heinzler's 22 points. She ended the game 8-for-20 from the field, including a 4-for-11 effort from 3-point range. Emily Walker also scored in double-digits with 11 points.
The Bobcats ended the night shooting 40.7 percent (24-for-59) from the field.
College of the Ozarks ends the season with a 27-10 record.
USF finished shooting .455 for the game, .385 in the second half on 10-for-26 shooting. The Lady Cougars shot .250 from 3-point (2 for 8) and USF shot .742 from the free-throw line (23 for 31). USF shot .810 at the free-throw line hitting 17-of-21 shots in the second half. USF outscored COO 36-28, 8-5 in fastbreak points.
Baer finished with six points, Montgomery four and Jessica Harrison two points on a rebound basket and a blocked shot.
2014 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship All-Tournament Team
Michelle Piepenburg, Cardinal Stritch (Wis.)
Tiesha Stokes, Davenport (Mich.)
Brooke Ridley, Saint Francis (Ind.)
Alice Heinzler, College of the Ozarks (Mo.)
Skylarr Shurn, Saint Francis (Ind.)
Alli Engbertson, Northwestern (Iowa)
Jamie Van Kirk, Hastings (Neb.)
Ashlynn Muhl, Morningside (Iowa)
Emily Walker, College of the Ozarks (Mo.)
Jenelle Wilson, Saint Francis (Ind.)
Championship Most Valuable Player
Skylarr Shurn, Saint Francis (Ind.)
NAIA Hustle Award
Kayla Kepler, College of the Ozarks (Mo.)
Source: Saint Francis University