CHICAGO - Win UND's first DI women's basketball conference title. Check.
In its final season as a member of the Great West Conference, the top-ranked Fighting Sioux said good-bye with a 69-56 win over second-seeded Utah Valley in the title game of the 2012 GWC Tournament. It's been a championship in the making as tonight's game marked the third straight title game appearance for the Sioux, who also nabbed this year's regular-season title with a league record of 9-1.
"Utah Valley is just a scrappy team," head coach Gene Roebuck said. "They are as hard-nosed as any team we've played. They bring it, and they bring it every game. If they shoot the ball well, they are going to win. If they don't shoot the ball well, they have trouble.
"We played zone and forced them to take the outside shots. That was our game plan tonight. If you play them man-to-man, they are a good enough team that they'll just go to the basket. They have a great group of kids that can really penetrate and do a nice job."
Senior guard Charnay Mothershed put the Sioux on the board first as the Phoenix, Ariz., native posted back-to-back buckets, but Utah Valley fired back with seven straight points to take a 7-4 lead. The Sioux quickly responded as sophomore guard Megan Lauck (Shoreview, Minn.), redshirt freshman Emily Evers (Grand Forks, N.D.), and true freshman guard Brianna Williams (Minneapolis Minn.) teamed up for a 9-2 run, giving UND a four-point lead.
The Wolverines fought back, but with a free throw from Williams to break a 15-15 tie, the Sioux headed out on a 17-5 clip to lead 32-20 with 3:43 remaining in the opening half. Not a team to lie down, Utah Valley finished the half with nine unanswered points as Jenna Johnson connected on a pair of field goals and Taylor Huber hit a jumper and long three just outside the one-minute mark.
At the half, UND led 32-29.
With a fresh 20 on the clock, North Dakota wasted no time pushing the margin back to double figures. Sophomore forward Madi Buck (Bismarck, N.D.) kicked things off with a layup just 27 seconds in. UVU's Erika Newbold answered with a layup of her own (19:00), but that would prove to be just one of three field goals for the Wolverines in the first five minutes of the second half as the Sioux opened with a 20-7 clip.
Holding a 16-point, 52-36 lead (13:11) - its largest lead of the game thus far - North Dakota continued to take it to UVU. The Wolverines put together a short 6-0 spurt, but Mothershed put a quick stop on it, draining her second three of the night.
UVU's Cydne Mason sent in the three-point answer and with a pair of field goals from Abbie Beutler, the Wolverines were back within single digits (58-49) with just over seven minutes remaining.
UND's response? Nine unanswered points, seven from the free throw line, to gain an 18-point advantage. Ninety seconds away from their first ever conference tournament title since beginning the transition to Division I, the Fighting Sioux led the Wolverines 67-49.
With the damage done and the seconds ticking away, the UND crowd of 30-plus fans got to their feet and cheered on as the Sioux defeated Utah Valley 69-56, winning its first conference title in five years.
Evers, who was named to the all-tournament team, led the Sioux with a career-high 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field and a 6-for-7 clip at the line. 2012 Great West Conference Tournament MVP Allyssa Wall (North Sioux City, S.D.) finished with 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds (five defensive). She shot 5-for-10 from the field and went 4-for-5 at the stripe.
"It was really physical in the paint, but we expected that early on," Wall said. "It was just as physical as the other two times that we played them this year, so you just have to work with what you get. After a while, we just figured out how to beat it."
Mothershed, who opened with a strong, seven-point first half, finished with 11 points and led the team with four assists.
UND shot 40 percent (24-for-60) from the field, 33.3 percent (4-for-12) from behind the arc, and 68 percent (17-for-25) at the free throw line. The Sioux won the rebounding advantage 45-37, scored 19 points off of UVU's 17 turnovers, and scored 32 points in the paint.
Utah Valley was led by Jenna Johnson, who finished 6-for-13 from the field for 12 points. Beutler came away with nine, and the Sioux held the 2012 Great West Conference Player of the Year Sammie Jensen to just seven points. The Wolverines finished 36.7 percent (22-for-60) from the field, 27.3 percent (6-for-22) from three-point range, and 50 percent (6-for-12) from the line.
North Dakota will have to wait until Monday to find out its postseason fate.
- Go Sioux -