SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The 2014-15 Concordia University women’s basketball team has leapt a hurdle never before cleared in the history of the program. On Monday night the third-ranked Bulldogs blitzed No. 19 Briar Cliff down the stretch and pulled away for a 72-62 win in the national semifinals. The victory vaulted Concordia into the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national final for the first time ever.
The Bulldog women’s basketball program had struck out in its first three attempts at reaching the national title game, having made semifinal appearances in 2003, 2005 and 2012. Now ninth-year head coach Drew Olson’s program will play for the first national championship for any sport in Concordia University athletics history.
The Bulldogs will take on top-ranked Morningside (36-1) at 7:05 p.m. CDT in Tuesday’s title game. The Mustangs have won two of the three matchups this season.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Bulldog sophomore Becky Mueller said of being in the title game. “Last year we lost first round and it was really disappointing. This year we came in so confident as a team and we knew we deserved it. I’m just super excited for tomorrow.”
In an off-shooting game for senior All-American Bailey Morris, Concordia flashed the depth of its roster. During a game-defining 15-0 run in the final five minutes, Becky Mueller curled in a trey just ahead of the shot clock buzzer and Mary Janovich dropped in a mid-range jumper.
Morris wouldn’t stay cold all night. After going 2-for-16 to begin the game, Morris drilled a pair of triples from the left corner during the run. The second triple was a back breaker with 1:22 left that put the Bulldogs up 69-56. Like all season long, Morris and company again played big in crunch time.
“They’re a team that always finds ways to win,” Olson said. “Once I calmed down and allowed the team to calm down, good things happened. They always make the plays. I had the confidence that they were going to pull it out.”
Concordia pulled it out by placing five different players in double figures. When Tracy Peitz retreated to the bench with four fouls, Jericca Pearson picked up the slack inside. She scored 10 of her 13 points in the second half and helped subdue a Briar Cliff team that took the lead three times over the final 20 minutes.
Not only that, Mueller surfaced with one of her finest games of the season. She went for 18 points while knocking down three treys and 7 of 8 free throw attempts. Peitz, who had a monster first half, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, freshman Mary Janovich continued her tremendous tournament with 14 points (4-for-9 from 3-point range).
The battle that featured plenty of 2-3 zone defenses on both sides ended with Concordia fending off a physical and confident Briar Cliff group that pulled upsets over No. 2 Davenport University and No. 15 Menlo College as part of its magical run to the semifinals. The Chargers used those same guts to fight back from a 10-point first-half deficit.
Foul trouble factored into play for both teams. Morris sat out the final few minutes of the first half after being whistled for the third time on an offensive foul. In the second half Peitz picked up her fourth foul, as did Briar Cliff standout Slone Masters.
A first team all-conference selection, Masters topped Briar Cliff with 15 points and helped keep her team neck and neck with Concordia. Masters drained a three during the Chargers’ 9-1 run to begin the second half. There was little separation for most of the second half until the Bulldogs went on their game-winning run.
Concordia shot 39.7 percent (23-for-58) from the field compared to 35.0 percent (21-for-60) shooting by Briar Cliff. The Bulldogs knocked down 11 treys.
In its run to the championship, Concordia has defeated Bryan College, No. 14 College of Saint Mary, No. 10 University of Jamestown and No. 19 Briar Cliff. The Bulldogs have won each of their first four games by 10 points or more.
Now Concordia will try to take down Morningside, as it did in the GPAC tournament title game on March 3.
“We know each other so well,” Olson said. “We know what they’re going to do. They know what we’re going to do. It’s going to be a great battle.”