The two-time defending national champion Northwestern College Red Raiders defeated the No. 1 Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats 57-52 in the opening game of the quarterfinals.
“We didn’t expect much different than for it to be a grind and for two teams just butting heads together,” said Chris Yaw, Northwestern head coach. “Nobody wanted to go down and I anticipated this would end this way, with one team just escaping the other one.”
Northwestern’s senior Kami Kuhlmann hit a two-point jumper with 31 seconds remaining to give the Red Raiders a 53-52 lead. That lead would be enough to help the Red Raiders defeat Indiana Wesleyan in the quarterfinals for their second straight year. Northwestern defeated the Wildcats 79-68 last year.
“I was just glad I got a shot up,” Kuhlmann said. “I had Val Kleinjan on the corner – she’s an awesome three-point shooter. They had to guard her, which left me wide open.”
Indiana Wesleyan’s senior Krystal Stoneking had a chance to put the Wildcats back ahead with 20 seconds left, but she missed her last second fade-away in the paint.
“That’s the shot she’s hit all year,” said Steve Brooks, Indiana Wesleyan head coach. “It’s just that she missed it, but she played hard. Two nights she was in the hospital, so I can’t complain about her effort at all.”
Stoneking was in the hospital for flu-like symptoms.
Prior to Kuhlman’s big game-clincher, Indiana Wesleyan’s junior Claire Freeman hit a major three-pointer to put the Wildcats up 52-51 with 55 seconds left. It was Indiana Wesleyan’s first lead in over 16 minutes.
“Our kids never quit, they haven’t quit all year and they battled all the way until the end,” Brooks said. “We changed our defense up, went to a little bit more of the trap, I probably should have went to it earlier but our kids stayed focused and we finally made some shots.”
The Red Raiders went on a 22-4 run that lasted almost ten minutes to give the Raiders a 47-39 led with less than six minutes remaining in the game.
“They got us to play the style of game that they wanted,” Yaw said. “We didn’t get out and run other than a few times and just hats off to our ladies for battling like crazy.”
With 0.2 seconds left, Northwestern’s junior Kendra De Jong was able to get her third double-double this tournament as she made both of her free-throws giving her 10 points and 13 rebounds for the day.
“When you’ve got a kid getting double figure rebounds and double figure points in a national tournament against quality teams, they done some great things,” Yaw said.
Senior Kami Kuhlmann led the game with 22 points and made all 11 of her free-throws, while Stoneking led Indiana Wesleyan with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Indiana Wesleyan’s senior Ashley Brooks received the first technical foul of this year’s tournament with less than six minutes remaining.
In the first half, Indiana Wesleyan narrowed an early 19-12 Red Raider lead to a one-point margin, as Northwestern led at half 21-20.
After the Wildcats jumped to an early 10-5 lead, Northwestern went on a 12-0 run and gave the Red Raiders a lead of seven points with less than seven minutes remaining. It was their largest lead in the first half.
In a defensive match, both programs shot around 30 percent and forced a total of 17 turnovers. The Red Raiders grabbed 20 of their 22 rebounds on defense.
Indiana Wesleyan scored 16 of their total points in the paint.
Northwestern’s Kuhlmann led the half in scoring with 10 points, while Stone scored eight and posted five rebounds.
The Red Raiders will now move on to play either Briar Cliff or Mount Mercy in the semifinals on Monday at 6 p.m.