SIOUX CITY, Iowa – College of the Ozarks entered its game against Kansas Wesleyan as the top-rated 3-point shooting team in NAIA Division II women’s basketball.
The No. 5-ranked Bobcats’ long-range shooting prowess was on full display during the first half against the Coyotes as the made 12 shots from the beyond the arc that produced a 31-point halftime lead and propelled them to a 91-51 victory in a first-round game of the Women’s National Championship on Thursday night at the Tyson Events Center.
Leading 25-18 early in the second quarter after six consecutive Wesleyan points, COO broke loose on a devastating 31-7 run the rest of the period, fueled by seven 3-pointers, and led 56-25 at halftime.
Cass Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, led the charge, going 6 of 8 from deep and scoring all 21 of her points in the first half. She has 271 3-pointers on the season.
“They came out and hit some shots and kind of got us on our heels,” KWU coach Ryan Showman said. “That was tough because they’re such a good team. They’re so disciplined that it’s tough to come back from a deficit. We just dug ourselves too great of a hole too early.”
Showman pointed to the Bobcats national tournament experience as a big factor. Ozarks is making its 18th consecutive appearance in the national tournament and 25th overall. The Coyotes were making their fourth appearance and first since 2011.
“They’ve been here 18 years in a row and their kids are used to playing at this time of year and in this venue,” he said. “We have kids who haven’t been here and I think that showed a little bit early.”
Ozarks, 30-3 and the No. 2 seed in the tournament’s Cramer quadrant, made just one 3-pointer the second half, but still managed to extend the lead to 80-35 after three quarters, outscoring KWU 24-10 in the third quarter.
The Bobcats made 13 of their 21 3-point attempts for the game and shot 50 percent overall (37 of 74). Kelsie Cleeton also had a huge game, finishing with 19 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and seven steals. Madi Brethower added 12 points and Abby Oliver 10.
Ozarks won the rebounding battle 45-31 and had 16 turnovers.
Gabbie Miller (SR/Kiefer, Okla.) led Wesleyan (21-12) with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals while Amanda Hill (SO/Rossville, Kan.) had 10 points off the bench and Kayla Kivinski (SR/Port Richey, Fla.) added eight. KWU shot 35 percent (20 of 57), including 5 of 22 from 3-point range, and committed 27 turnovers.
Showman said the loss won’t diminish what the Coyotes accomplished this season.
“The legacy of this team is going to go beyond this game, the score isn’t going to be remembered after a while,” he said. “It’s the fact this is the team that got us back, this is the team that won 23 games (on the court) – fourth most in program history – and the fourth national qualifier in program history.
“It’s going to take moments like this to get where we eventually want to be. We talk about trusting our process and wanting to take that next step, and for the longest time this was that next step. This team will be remembered as the team that took that step. I’m really proud of them for that.”
It was the final game for KWU’s six seniors – Gabbie Miller, her twin sister Maddie, Kivinski, Sydney Mortensen (SR/Wichita, Kan.), Janai Mitchell (SR/Salina, Kan.) and Valerie Most (SR/Brady, Neb.).
“This was a huge step and I’m so happy these kids got to experience (the national tournament) because it is one of those experiences that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives,” Showman said.