SEWARD, Neb. – There was no way the 2018 GPAC women’s basketball tournament could match the drama and sick-to-your stomach nervousness that the 2017 GPAC women’s basketball tournament produced. Right? Well, it did. For the second year in a row, a postseason championship contest between Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan delivered. Brenleigh Daum’s darting layup in the final second lifted the Bulldogs to a 90-88 victory inside a rambunctious Walz Arena on Tuesday night (Feb. 27).
Twelfth-year head coach Drew Olson’s program becomes the first in the GPAC era (2000-present) to sweep GPAC women's basketball regular-season and tournament titles in back-to-back years. Concordia is now 32-1 overall and has completed an undefeated home season for the second year in a row.
The latest victory won’t soon be forgotten.
“That was an incredible basketball game,” Olson said. “Awesome atmosphere and two teams that played really, really well. For our kids to show that kind of toughness and fight at the end is incredible. I’m so impressed with them.”
It’s hard to imagine a better way for a senior to end the final game of her career on the home court at Walz. At one point during a postgame television interview, Daum just wanted to go celebrate. “I love my teammates,” Daum shouted just before she jumped into the middle of a dancing huddle of Bulldogs.
You can dance if you want to, Brenleigh. The best stretch of her career led into perhaps the best singular moment of her career. With exactly 4.3 seconds remaining, Olson called timeout after Ashley Bray tied the game by sinking a pair of free throws. Daum wasn’t the No. 1 option on the play that was drawn up. She received the in-bounds out top from Sydney Feller, saw an opening and accelerated into the paint and kissed the ball off the glass with the left hand.
“It was actually supposed to go to Colby (Duvel),” Daum said. “But he said if the lob wasn’t there just to get it in and try to get fouled. Luckily I just made it. I just made it.
“That was really special for me on my last night on the home court.”
This was not the knock-down, drag-out defensive battle that the two sides engaged in 10 days ago in the regular-season finale. Led by Rylie Osthus (20 points), the Tigers (27-6) couldn’t miss, particularly during a 31-point second quarter. Dakota Wesleyan shot 62.1 percent from the floor in the first half – but still couldn’t shake Concordia, which hung within four (52-48) at the break.
The Bulldogs had seemingly taken control early in the fourth quarter when Daum splashed home a trey to cap a 13-2 run. Concordia led 71-64. But the Tigers and their dead-eye free throw shooting (27-for-28) mounted a rally. An Ashley Bray three-point play with 3:53 left provided Dakota Wesleyan an 81-77 advantage. Back came Daum, who buried another triple. Neither team led by more than two points the rest of the way in a pulse pounder to the very last tick.
Daum’s final shot left 0.7 seconds on the clock. Just before the buzzer, Kynedi Cheeseman lofted a potential game-winning three that came up well short of the mark. Just like 2017, the Concordia student body stormed the floor in celebration of another win over a dejected Dakota Wesleyan team.
Daum poured in a game high 21 points while adding four assists and a pair of steals. She helped make up for the limited minutes from Philly Lammers, who fouled out after playing only 18 minutes. Lammers scored 10 of her 16 points in the opening quarter and appeared on her way to another big night before being saddled by foul trouble. Daum had her back.
“I’m so proud of her and her growth,” Olson said. “I’ve said this many times. She’s grown so much as a player and a person. I’m just so proud of what she’s become. She’s an all-conference player in my opinion.”
Mary Janovich (12), Taylor Cockerill (11), Quinn Wragge (11) and Colby Duvel (10) all reached double figures in scoring for Concordia, which shot a healthy 50 percent from the floor. Duvel added seven rebounds and five steals.
Not all is lost for the Tigers, who have earned an automatic berth to the national tournament. In addition to a big game for Osthus, Makela Karst chipped in 16 points off the bench. Dakota Wesleyan shot 52.9 percent on the night.
The Bulldogs will learn of their national tournament draw on Wednesday (Feb. 28) when the NAIA unveils its Division II women’s basketball bracket. The championship event will begin on Wednesday, March 7. All tournament games will take place at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Concordia will make its 17th all-time appearance at the national tournament.