SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) No. 7 College of the Ozarks became the highest seed to ever reach the banner game, since the current format was established in 2003, as the Bobcats knocked off top-seeded Davenport (Mich.), 75-72, Monday evening in semifinal action of the 2014 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm. The victory is the fourth-straight for College of the Ozarks since falling in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on March 1.
College of the Ozarks, who is making its NAIA record 20th appearance in the national championship, is making its fifth trip to the banner game and will play No. 1 Saint Francis (Ind.) on Monday. Tip off is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. CDT and the contest will be broadcast live on www.ESPN3.com.
“My kids have tremendous heart,” said College of the Ozarks head coach Becky Vest. “They’ve worked all year for this. They went through two-a-days in the fall for moments like these. They went through tough practices for moments like these. It was just a tremendous team effort.”
The game was a nail-biter throughout and came down to the final three minutes of the second half. With Davenport up 66-60 with just over three minutes remaining, All-Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference forward Tiesha Stokes came to the free throw line with a chance to extend the Panther lead and possibly put the game out of reach.
However, the sophomore missed both attempts, leading to a 7-0 run by College of the Ozarks en route to a 67-66 advantage with 2:18 on the clock. Unfazed by the prior missed free throws, Stokes ended the run with a contested layup to put Davenport back up one.
A pair of Alison Bouman free throws pushed Davenport’s lead out to 70-67, but again College of Ozarks answered the bell when sophomore forward Brandy Uchtman nailed a 3-pointer at the top of the key. The Panthers regained the lead moments later on a Kelly Dineen jumper in the lane, 72-70.
Then, on arguably the largest possession of the contest, freshman guard Alice Heinzler came through a screen and found herself with an open look on the wing. The Republic, Mo., native never hesitated, draining the 3-pointer to give College of the Ozarks a 73-72 lead with 12 seconds left on the clock.
Davenports attempt to tie fell off the mark and the Bobcats sealed the victory with a pair of Emily Walker free throws.
Overall, College of the Ozarks ended the night shooting 41.1 percent (23-for-56) from the field and 50.0 percent (9-for-18) from 3-point range. The Bobcats also held a slight edge in rebounding, 40-37.
Heinzler lead all scorers with a career-high tying 27 points on 7-for-14 shooting. She was also 5-for-8 from beyond the arch and 8-for-8 at the charity stripe.
Joining Heinzler in double figures for College of the Ozarks was Kayla Kepler with 14 points and Uchtman with 13 points.
Davenport shot a respectable 44.4 percent (28-for-63), but struggled from 3-point range, converting only 5-of-24 attempts. The Panthers were led in scoring by Kayleigh VanKeulen’s 16-point effort off the bench.
Davenport, which was vying for its second-straight trip to the national title game, ends the season with a 34-2 record. Prior to the loss, the Panthers were riding a 29-game winning streak, which was second to only unbeaten Saint Francis’ (Ind.) 37-game streak.