Slugfest goes to Briar Cliff in GPAC semifinal clash

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 25, 2023 in Women's Basketball

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Stylistically, the matchup played out similar to the one between the Concordia University Women’s Basketball team and Briar Cliff that occurred on Feb. 15. In Saturday (Feb. 25)’s GPAC semifinal clash, the Bulldogs tried to grind out a come-from-behind win on the road, but an early hole and offensive struggles resulted in a 66-57 defeat at the hands of the second-seeded Chargers. Concordia shot 31.7 percent from the floor in its second trip this season to the Newman Flanagan Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad already felt that it was comfortably in the national tournament field, but a trip to the GPAC tournament final would have been a real feather in its cap. Instead, the Bulldogs (19-11) will now wait for their national tournament draw.

“We came out a little timid in the first quarter and got knocked around a little bit,” Olson said. “We finally started to fight back in the second quarter and had some nice runs – a good spurt in the third quarter and a good spurt in the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, we were not good enough to win on the road. We didn’t do a lot of the little things and didn’t capitalize on some plays we would normally make. There were some adjustments I should have made going into the game.”

The Bulldogs never held a lead the entire afternoon and stared down an 18-3 deficit out of the gates. Considering the rough start and its cold shooting (19-for-60 for the game), Concordia felt fortunate to find itself within two (53-51) in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs’ 8-2 run to begin the final period included a trey apiece from Kendal Brigham and Abby Krieser. Concordia then made only two field goals over the closing six minutes.

On the other side, star Konnor Sudmann stuck the dagger in with a basket at the 4:12 mark and then a triple at the 3:16 mark. Those scores pushed the Charger lead back to eight (61-53). Sudmann finished with 15 points, second most in the game to teammate Kennedy Benne (18). Briar Cliff made up for its own pedestrian shooting from the floor (38.5 percent) by draining 20-of-24 (.833) free throws. As is customary for Briar Cliff, it played its starters for the vast majority of the contest (each one played at least 33 minutes).

Four Bulldogs scored in double figures: Krieser (12), Brigham (11), Sadie Powell (11) and Abby Heemstra (10). Heemstra and Powell pulled down seven rebounds apiece while Krieser and Powell both swiped four steals. It was a turnover-heavy contest as Briar Cliff committed 22 of them and Concordia gave it away 20 times. Bulldog leading scorer Taysha Rushton was unable to get on track and went 0-for-11 from the floor.

At their best, the Bulldogs are capable of making a run at the national tournament. The 73-67 win at No. 19 Jamestown in the GPAC quarterfinals was a show of what Concordia is capable of when it’s going well. During the journey to this point, the Bulldogs started out 1-3 in GPAC play and then entered the final week of the regular season with a shot at placing as high as second in the conference standings.

Said Olson, “It’s a mentality thing. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. I think we’ll be ready to go for the national tournament. We have to do a good job game planning and executing.”

National tournament qualifiers and the complete bracket will be announced by the NAIA via a selection show at 6 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 2. Concordia is expecting to make the program’s 22nd all-time national tournament appearance and 12th in a row.