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College of the Ozarks Continues National Tournament Magic

March 12, 2015
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) National Championship regular No. 2 College of the Ozarks (Mo.) advanced to the second round of the 2015 NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm, for the eighth-consecutive season by way of Thursday evening’s 88-69 victory over No. 5 Siena Heights (Mich.).

Second-year head coach Becky Vest’s squad improved to 24-8 overall with the program’s 36th victory all-time at the national championship. Eleventh-year leader Sue Syljebeck’s group ended the season with a mark of 26-8.

Ozarks senior guard Kayla Kepler gave her team separation with a personal 7-0 run that gave her squad a 39-31 lead late in the first half. Kepler drained a pair of shots from beyond the arc during the run as part of her team high 21-point performance.

Vest’s squad had an answer for every Siena Heights bucket. The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference tournament runner-up never cut its deficit to fewer than nine points over the final 20 minutes. Ozarks then ballooned the lead late in the half when it lived at the free throw line. Kepler made 10 of 13 shots from the foul line and Ozarks went 28-for-36 from the charity stripe as a team.

Thirteenth-ranked Ozarks shot better than 50 percent in the opening half in building a 12-point advantage (48-36) at the break. Ozarks turned to the defensive end in the second half and pestered Siena Heights into 10-for-31 (32.3 percent) shooting over the final 20 minutes.

Kepler, who also had six assists and four steals, got plenty of help from her teammates. Three others reached double-figures: Hannah Wisdom (18 points, 7-for-7 free throw shooting), Maggie McMenamy (10 points and 10 rebounds) and Brandy Uchtman (10 points). McMenamy served as a catalyst for Ozarks’ 50-38 advantage on the boards.

Siena Heights’ Sierra Calhoun poured in a game high 22 points. Jessie Arnold and Morgan Warfield added 10 points apiece.

Ozarks has advanced to the second round where it will take on either No. 4 Saint Xavier (Ill.) (29-3) or Oregon Tech (23-10) at 8:45 p.m. CDT on Friday.