Morningside’s bid for a seventh trip to the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Final Four came up one game short when 20th-ranked Cardinal Stritch stunned the fifth-ranked Mustangs 82-71 in Saturday’s quarterfinals of the national tournament.
Morningside’s bid for a seventh trip to the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Final Four came up one game short when 20th-ranked Cardinal Stritch stunned the fifth-ranked Mustangs 82-71 in Saturday’s quarterfinals of the national tournament in Sioux City.
The Mustangs, one of four teams to share this year’s Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) regular season championship, bowed out with a final record of 29-7, while the Wolves moved on with a 27-6 record to take on No. 1-ranked Saint Francis in a Monday semifinal.
The Wolves’ upset victory capped a Saturday GPAC massacre for the nation’s premier NAIA II women’s basketball league. Morningside, Hastings, and Northwestern all went down by double figure margins in Saturday’s quarterfinals, as the day claimed the three GPAC schools that had combined to win 11 of the last 13 national titles.
Cardinal Stritch knocked off its second giant in as many days after it had taken down No. 3 Jamestown 76-54 in Friday’s second round. The Wolves, who were 20-1 and ranked sixth in the nation through their first 21 games, have righted the ship at the national tournament after they had limped in with a 4-5 record over their previous nine games.
Saturday’s loss in the quarterfinals provided a bit of déjà vu for the Mustangs, who had a string of two consecutive national championships end with an 80-60 loss against Cardinal Stritch in the 2006 second round.
The Wolves shot 49.1 percent from the field, including a sizzling 57.1 percent in the second half, to pull away from a 34-34 tie at the intermission. Aside from Stritch’s hot shooting, the Mustangs were also undone by 23 turnovers.
Becky Gilbreath scored a game-high 23 points for the Wolves, which was three times her scoring norm of 7.1 points per game coming into the tournament. Emily Neitzel doubled her 10-point scoring norm with 22 tallies, while the Mustangs limited Julie Raeder, the leading scorer in Stritch history with 1,836 career points, and 2013 NAIA II honorable mention All-American Michelle Piepenburg, to 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Ashlynn Muhl scored 18 points in the second half to lead the Mustangs with 22 tallies, but was their only player in double figures. Leann Osten, Allison Bachman, and Lacey Lehmann were next with eight points each.
Muhl added a game-high 12 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season and to lead the Mustangs to a 39-34 advantage on the boards.
Neitzel had nine rebounds and a game-high seven assists and four steals for the Wolves.
Lexi Ackerman had six assists and two steals for the Mustangs.
The teams played to a 34-34 standoff in the first half in an opening 20 minutes where Stritch raced to a 17-7 lead seven minutes into the contest and the Mustangs outscored the Wolves 17-7 over the last seven minutes of the half to tie it.
After Mika Passini made a 3-pointer to give Stritch a 27-17 lead at the seven-minute mark, the Mustangs went on a 16-1 run and opened a five-point lead, 33-28, when Wollenburg struck from 3-point range with 1:38 left in the half. A basket by Jenny Shernell ended a flurry of 10 unanswered Morningside points and the Wolves added four free throws in the final 53 seconds to tie it at the intermission.
Morningside continued its momentum to start the second half and went on an 8-2 run to open its largest lead of the game, 42-36, on a basket by Muhl with 18:10 left to play.
The Wolves regained the lead at 43-42 on a put back by Raeder with 16:04 left and eventually capped a pivotal 18-2 six-minute scoring run on a basket by Shernell to open a 10-point lead, 54-44, with 12:03 left.
Morningside made one final charge and closed within three points, 56-53, on a baseline drive by Bachman with 8:27 left. The Wolves pushed the difference back to double figures on a fast break layup by Neitzel with 4:18 left and maintained a lead of at least eight points the rest of the way.