SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Top-ranked Morningside (Iowa) quickly exerted control of eighth-seeded UC Merced (Calif.) en route to 79-45 victory inside the Tyson Events Center in a primetime matchup on Wednesday night. The Mustangs, national champions in 2004, 2005 and 2009, improved to 31-9 all-time on the national stage.
Head coach Jamie Sale’s squad, whose only loss came in the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship game, bumped its overall record to 33-1. The Bobcats bowed out of the bracket with a final mark of 14-12.
With Morningside first team all-conference post Ashlynn Muhl sidelined, junior Jessica Tietz dominated inside. She went for 16 points and six rebounds against an undersized UC-Merced group. It took less than five minutes for the Mustangs to build a double-digit lead. They led 44-18 at the half.
The Bobcats struggled to find any rhythm on offense. They shot 30.9 percent 17-for-55) from the field and committed 20 turnovers. Morningside made them pay by translating those miscues into a 24-12 advantage in points off turnovers. The Mustangs also had their way on the boards, 44-34.
The deep Morningside bunch got scoring from 12 different players. Taylor Bahensky led the way with 19 points while making all three of her long-range attempts. Morningside also finished with a 34-12 advantage in bench points.
UC Merced was led by 10 points and 11 rebounds from Brittany Martinez. The Bobcats, winner of the California Pacific Conference tournament championship, made their first-ever appearence to the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm.
Sale’s group won for the 23rd time by 10 points or more this season. The Mustangs entered the tournament ranked 12th nationally in scoring margin. On the other end, the Bobcats suffered their most lopsided defeat of the campaign.
Morningside moved to 12-1 all-time in first-round national tournament games and now looks forward to a second round matchup with either No. 16 Eastern Oregon (26-6) or No. 17 Oklahoma Wesleyan (26-6) at 7 p.m. CDT on Friday.