The No. 2 seed Northwestern College Red Raiders defeated the hometown No. 4 seed Briar Cliff Chargers 79-67 and now move on to their third consecutive national championship appearance.
“During the second half we made a decision together as a team to play together and keep pushing the ball,” said Kami Kuhlmann, Northwestern senior.
After trailing their conference rivals 49-48 with 14 minutes remaining, the Red Raiders surged with a 17-0 run that lasted over seven minutes and led by double figures for the rest of the night.
“It was just a matter of being who we are and staying on the attack offensively to go with some stops and putting the ball in the basket,” said Chris Yaw, Northwestern head coach.
Northwestern’s junior Kendra De Jong earned her fourth double-double of the tournament, scoring 22 points and posting 14 rebounds to help the Red Raiders rebound Briar Cliff by 13 boards.
Kuhlmann also scored 21 points for the Red Raiders. In this year’s tournament, the 5-foot-7-inch guard has averaged over 21 points per game and has made over 44 percent of her shots.
Briar Cliff worked their way back from a four-point deficit at the start of the second half and took their first lead in nearly ten minutes thanks to a two-point jumper made by Christa Stewart to give the Chargers a 45-44 lead four minutes into the second half.
While both teams made over 80 percent of their free throws, the Red Raiders went to the line 19 more times than Briar Cliff and made 16 free throws.
“We did not want them living at the line. That was part of what we planned to do,” Yaw said.
Northwestern held the nation’s top scoring offense to 19 points below their regular season average, as the Chargers only made 35 percent of their 68 shots.
Despite their below average offense production, Briar Cliff still made 34 percent of their 32 attempted three-pointers. In total, both teams shot over 54 three-pointers.
Northwestern led the Chargers 38-34 at half, despite Briar Cliff making over 46 percent of their shots.
Briar Cliff, led by Kelsey Evans, connected on seven of their 17 shots (41 percent) from behind the arch and brought the game to a 38-36 Northwestern lead with less than two minutes remaining, but two De Jong free throws brought the Red Raider lead back to four before half-time.
Evans made all six of her shots in the first half, including three three-pointers, and led the half with 15 points.
After both programs exchanged 12 lead changes in the first 15 minutes, Northwestern was able to jump out to a six-point lead with three minutes left, the half’s largest lead.
The Red Raiders maintained their lead for the remaining half by out-rebounding Briar Cliff and by making nine of their 11 free-throw attempts. Northwestern posted eight more offensive rebounds than Briar Cliff and limited the Chargers to just one free-throw attempt in the first half.
This was the third meeting between both programs this year. Prior to tonight, the series was split 1-1 with Briar Cliff winning the first on the road 76-69 on Sept. 16 and Northwestern wining the second 89-88 at Sioux City on Jan. 25.
Both programs met two years ago in the semifinals, where Northwestern defeated the Chargers 91-83 on route to their first of two consecutive national titles.
Northwestern will play College of the Ozarks tomorrow at 8 p.m.