March 14, 2012
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Northwestern (Iowa) lost its grip on first place in the Great Plains Athletic Conference race in 2011-12, but the Red Raiders came alive when it mattered most. For the third-straight season, Northwestern claimed the State-Farm NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship.
Behind Tournament MVP Kami Kuhlmann, the Red Raiders dug out of an early-season funk, and won 24 of its final 27 games. They capped the season with a 75-62 victory over the College of the Ozarks (Mo.) on Tuesday to raise their fifth banner in school history.
“That was a big turning point that the kids on our basketball team decided they have the choice to go to work, put one foot in front of the other and keep believing in who we are and what we do,” Northwestern head coach Chris Yaw said. “From there it was just a team that continued to grow and get better. They grew as a team and just continued to play at a higher caliber each time we had an opportunity to do so.”
The Red Raiders saved their best basketball for Sioux City, mowing down Indiana Southeast, Jamestown (N.D.), Indiana Wesleyan and Briar Cliff (Iowa) on the road to the title game. Senior guard Kuhlmann exemplified the team’s elevated level of play, averaging 22.4 points per game throughout the tournament.
But as Kuhlmann typically does, she deflected credit from herself on a night where she shined brightest.
“To sum it up, I don’t even know what to say,” Kuhlmann said. “I have an incredible love for my teammates and coaches and just for the Northwestern community.”
She started out hot again on Tuesday, notching 12 of the team’s first 15 points as Northwestern led 15-8 at the 12:05 mark of the first half. The Red Raiders would score the next five and continued to dominate most of the first half. They extended their lead to 36-18 with 4:29 left in the half after a mid-range jumper by Kendra De Jong.
However, Northwestern would score just one more point the rest of the half to allow the Lady Bobcats to claw within 37-31 at the break. Fittingly, it was Morgan Smith, who put together one stellar performance after another at the tournament, who tied the score at 48 with a bucket at the 13:32 mark of the second half. Ozarks had effectively erased an 18-point deficit.
The Red Raider’s Mel Babcock responded by nailing a two-point jumper to make the score 50-48 with 12:36 remaining and Northwestern never looked back. The Red Raiders proceeded to outscore the Lady Bobcats 25-14 the rest of the way, aided by Kuhlmann’s seven points in the last four-and-a-half minutes. Her jumper with 1:25 to go increased the Raider advantage to 12 and drove a stake through the heart of the Ozarks.
De Jong went for 16 points and 10 rebounds, giving her a double-double in all five tournament games. She joined Kuhlmann on the all-tournament team.
Yaw, in his first season as a head coach, earned his first national championship after taking over for newly-minted NAIA Hall of Famer Earl Woudstra. Woudstra led the Red Raiders to their first four national championships, three of which Yaw enjoyed as an assistant.
“First thing that went through my mind are the past people that made this program what it is,” Yaw said. “There’s been lots of great players go through this program. Coach Woudstra has put a tremendous stamp on this basketball program. That’s honestly the first thoughts I had, just how blessed I am to be on the receiving end of that.”
Smith finished as the tournament’s leading scorer with an average of 23.0 points per game. She had another monster effort on Tuesday with 23 points and 15 rebounds as she kept her team within striking distance until late.
Lady Bobcat head coach George Wilson has led the Ozarks to all four of its national championship appearances, but is still searching for his first title. Ozarks lost in three-consecutive national title games from 2006 to 2008. Tuesday's loss snapped the team’s streak of 24-straight wins.
Kelsey Combs, College of the Ozarks (Mo.)
Kendra De Jong, Northwestern (Iowa)
Jennifer Jorgensen, Grand View (Iowa)
Kami Kuhlmann, Northwestern (Iowa)
Katie Rich, Concordia (Neb.)
Morgan Smith, College of the Ozarks (Mo.)
Korrie Bourn, Eastern Oregon
Kristen Conahan, Concordia (Neb.)
Kelsey Evans, Briar Cliff (Iowa)
Bria Fields, Mount Mercy (Iowa)
Krystal Stoneking, Indiana Wesleyan
Most Valuable Player:
Kami Kuhlmann, Northwestern (Iowa): 22.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.6 spg, 32/37 FT (86.5%) in 5 games
Morgan Hickey, Ozarks (Mo.)