Composure has been the word of the year for the St. Xavier (Ill.) Cougars who took down the Concordia (Neb.) Bulldogs Monday night in the semifinals, 91-83 to advance to the title game of the 2017 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship. For a majority of the first half, the Cougars struggled to stay composed. With media timeouts in to play, Concordia (Neb.) head coach Drew Olson decided it would be a good idea to prevent the Cougars from resting midway through the first quarter and burned one of his team timeouts immediately instead.
“We had a great start to the game,” Olson said. “We had the strategy to call the timeout and not let them have the rest in that first quarter. I thought it was good, you know, we jumped out on them pretty good and got a big lead. Then, it was just lights out. I’ve never seen a team shoot like that.”
By Olson’s use of the timeout, it was charged as a media timeout and erased the typical timeout called for commercial breaks during the first dead ball under the five-minute mark of every quarter. Olson’s plan seemed to work through the first quarter, until St. Xavier (Ill.) caught fire during the second. The Cougars went on one of a few scoring runs throughout the night to start the second quarter. St. Xavier (Ill.), however, would not hold a first half lead, going into the break down by eight.
The second half was a whole new Cougar team. St. Xavier (Ill.) limited Concordia’s (Neb.) production to just nine points opposed to the Cougars’ 25. Another run, this time of 18 straight points, gave the Cougars their first lead with 1:36 to play in the third quarter. St. Xavier (Ill.) took an eight point lead into the fourth quarter and Concordia (Neb.) would find themselves in an unfamiliar position: behind on the scoreboard.
In most high-scoring affairs, such as this one, three-point shooting typically plays a key role for one squad or the other. On Monday night, the theory held true for both teams. Concordia (Neb.) shot an even 50-percent from beyond the arc, going 12-of-24. St. Xavier (Ill.), on the other hand, bettered the Bulldogs going 16-of-28 from three.
“We were extremely hot. The ball went in all the time, and it had to be a good spectator game. The fans love the three,” St. Xavier head coach Bob Hallberg said. “When we made a three, I thought we had some breathing room. Then, (Concordia would) come down and hit a three. . . I have a hard time remembering the misses. All I thought of as the coach were the ones that were going in all the time.”
Concordia (Neb.) had five players in double figures, while St. Cavier (Ill.) had four. Junior Dani Andersen finished with 21 points for the Bulldogs. Junior Kara Krolicki led the Cougars with a game-high 26 points and freshman Maddie Welter added 24 points as well.
St. Xavier (Ill.) will get an opportunity to play for the National Championship, however, Concordia (Neb.) cannot help but wonder what could have been. The Bulldogs, had they been victorious, would have had a rematch against the Marian (Ind.) Knights. The two teams met in the first game of the season at a neutral site where Marian (Ind.) held on for the victory. While their season ends with a final record of 34-3, Olson talked about the season the Bulldogs had.
“It was a great season; an incredible team,” Olson said. “The accomplishments are many, but at the same time, you are a competitor, you always want to get to that next level, you always want to find a way to win that last game. So, we are disappointed, but we will go back to work next year.”
As for the Cougars, playing Marian (Ind.) will be a different style of game than they have seen throughout the Championship so far.
“I think (Marian is) a different type of team,” Hallberg said. “We really drew the pressure bracket. . . we go up against Friends (Kan.) the other night, and they are relentless and trapping all over the place. Then, we’ve got to play Concordia (Neb.) and they are trapping all over the place. So, it’ll be a different type of style tomorrow. Marian’s a well-coached team. . . but it’s a different type of team. They won’t put the same zone pressure on you. So, we will be prepared for much more man-to-man defense on our end and on their end tomorrow.”
St. Xavier (Ill.) and Marian (Ind.) will face off in the Tyson Events Center on Tuesday, Mar. 14th. The winner goes home with the title of “2017 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Champion.” Tipoff is set for 7:04 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the NAIA Network.