March 10, 2012
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Another year, another trip to the Fab Four of the State Farm-NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship for Northwestern (Iowa). The Red Raiders blew a 13-point, then jumped on the back of senior guard Kami Kuhlmann who nailed the big shot that carried Northwestern to a 57-52 victory over top-ranked Indiana Wesleyan.
“I was glad I got a shot up,” Kuhlmann said. “Really, it’s not about what I do. My teammates are moving around the whole time trying to get open, so that creates space. I know I had Val Kleinjan in the corner. She’s an awesome 3-point shooter. They had to go guard her so that left me wide open. It’s really that we have so many threats, you can’t take all of them away.”
Kuhlmann’s jumper just inside the 3-point line with :31 remaining gave the Red Raiders a 53-52 lead and highlighted Northwestern’s 6-0 run to end the game. That spurt came on the heals of a huge 3-pointer by the Wildcats’ Claire Freeman, which capped off an 18-4 run that spanned almost four minutes and ended at the 1:49 mark. Freeman’s 3-pointer led the Wildcats all the way back from a 47-34 disadvantage.
Freeman ended up with 14 points, including 12 during Indiana Wesleyan’s final push to get Northwestern back for a 79-58 loss in last season’s quarterfinal round. Despite dictating a slower-paced, defensive game, Indiana Wesleyan was unable to eliminate the two-time defending champs.
“They got us to play the style of game they wanted,” Northwestern head coach Chris Yaw said. “We didn’t get out and run other than a few times. Hats off to our ladies for battling like crazy, continuing to play and make plays even though there was maybe some uncomfortable times because that’s not how we’re used to playing – at their tempo. The kids just made plays. The thing that was steady was defending.”
The Red Raiders gave Indiana Wesleyan, the nation’s top scoring defense, a dose of its own medicine in a physical game that saw low shooting percentages on both sides. The two teams combined for just 41 points in a first half that the Red Raiders came away from with a 21-20 lead.
After scoring only 11 points in Northwestern’s first-round win over Indiana Southeast, Kuhlmann has filled the net with 31 and 22 points in her last two games, respectively. Her 11-for-11 afternoon from the free throw line was especially important in a tight game in which both squads struggled offensively.
Senior center Krystal Stoneking, playing in her final game for the Wildcats, earned a hard-fought team-high 16 points and nine rebounds. Northwestern’s zone defense limited Indiana Wesleyan to 33.3 percent shooting.
The Red Raiders (27-7) have advanced to the Fab Four for the fifth-consecutive season. They await the winner of Mount Mercy (Iowa) and Briar Cliff (Iowa). Northwestern’s semifinal game will take place on Monday at 6 p.m. CST.