In a back-and-forth defensive battle, the Northern State University women’s basketball team sealed a 55-52 victory in the NSIC Finals over reigning champions, the Sioux Falls Cougars. The title marks the second in three years for the Wolves who now qualify for the Central Region Tournament for the fourth-straight season.
NSU struggled early in the contest as Sioux Falls went on a 13-4 run post-tip-off by knocking down five of their first seven field goals. The Cougars collected six steals to round out the first quarter, up by nine points.
Northern State held USF scoreless through the first seven minutes of the second quarter and tied the contest at the four minute mark.
After knocking down three shots in transition, Sioux Falls earned the ball back with 0.9 seconds left in the half. The Cougars inbounded the ball to Mariah Szymanski who sank a baseline three-point basket to close the half 36-27 in favor of USF.
Sioux Falls gained their largest lead of 12 points midway through the third quarter, however the Wolves answered with back-to-back threes by Jill Conrad and Jessi Marti to cut their deficit to just four points. Tied at 44 all, the title would come down to the final ten minutes of action.
NSU tacked on five points to start the fourth, but the Cougars climbed within one with eight seconds on the clock. After a timeout, the Wolves received the ball on their own end of the court. Marti was fouled and hit both free throws to put NSU back on top by three.
The Cougars advanced the ball quickly with seven seconds remaining in the game. Mariah Szymanski attempted a game tying three-point basket with just a tick left on the scoreboard, but Brianna Kusler rejected the shot and the Wolves would earn the three-point victory.
As a unit, Northern State shot 38.8 percent from field goal range, 50.0 percent from the three-point arc and 81.3 percent from the charity stripe, while collecting 24 points in the paint, 11 points off turnovers, six second chance points and seven points off the bench. The Wolves held USF to a shooting percent of just 30.0 and forced ten team turnovers.
Conrad led the Wolves for the third-straight night, shooting 8-of-14 from the floor for 18 total points. Conrad also picked up six rebounds and a career-matching three steals.
Center Miranda Ristau aided the Wolves with her ninth double-double of the year. The junior picked up 15 points, 11 rebounds and a team-high four assists.Paige Waytashek followed up with nine points, four boards and three assists, while Marti nabbed five points and seven rebounds.
Conrad, Ristau, and Waytashek were all named to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate All-Conference Team after combining for 159 of the Wolves’ 265 points in the tournament.
Northern’s Central Region opponent will be announced on March 5 at the NCAA Women’s Basketball Selection Show on NCAA.com.
NSU Sports Information
Photo courtesy NSU Sports Information.