REDHAWKS LOSE: A crowd of fans gathered in the hallway outside the Connolly Center’s North Gym to applaud the players and Bonvicini for the magical season. Although the Redhawks couldn’t get over the hump in the closing minutes of the 68-64 loss to NIU, it did breakthrough the DII mold this year. I forgot about the matchups against No. 2 Stanford and BYU, so NIU was one of the most competitive teams SU has faced this season and the Redhawks battled from a 14-point deficit to trail 60-62 with 1:29 remaining in the game before a crowd of 596. Yet, it all can be summed up in one possession, SU gathered four offensive boards and couldn’t put the ball in the hoop to tie or take the lead. Oney, who made six three-pointers in the game, made two FTs in the closing six seconds to close out the win. NIU (19-14) could host the championship if Manhattan wins its semifinal matchup with Minnesota on Friday. Rhea led SU with 21 points, eight rebounds, and five steals while Sowell added 16 points and 13 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the season. Only SU’s whopping 28 O-boards were nullified by 28.1 percent shooting from the field. Oney had 22 points and Madrigal, who scored six of team’s final 10 points, added 16. “It sucks only having one year here,” said Rhea, a transfer from Oregon State. “I’ve definitely enjoyed it and wish I had another year to come back and play with them. We’ve had fun every single day in practice and in the games and we work really hard and do so much together. We’re very close. It’s been awesome.” Rhea and Kerfoot plan to attend the NCAA Final Four, participating in the “So, you want to be a coach” seminar and Rhea could make the end of a training camp for possible WNBA draft picks. For SU (20-12), they’ve helped the team collect its first DI 20-win season since 1979 and first semifinal postseason appearance in school history. “This opportunity for us to be in this tournament has really helped our program,” Bonvicini said. “We’ve grown leaps and bounds. For Talisa and Elle and our other seniors, their leadership and competitiveness and this team is really close – what they’ve been able to do is set the groundwork of what we want for the future by what we’ve done this year.”
BREAK TIME: Shutting down to write the newspaper version. Please follow me on Twitter (@JaydaEvans) for the final score (or look to your right and read the feed) and check back later for a final wrap of the game. SU is down 54-44 with 7:52 left in the game.
GAME OVER?: The instinct is to call this game after NIU pieced together a 17-2 run with deft shooting and SU still clanking shots. Then you ask, “What can (Daidra) Brown do for you?” How about two quick buckets and a steal to keep hope alive. SU is down 54-44 with plenty of time left (8:23). Oh, and Kirschbaum has fouled out.
SHHH!: Oney is hiding in SU’s pressure defense, teammates sneaking her the ball to nail dagger three-pointers. Her last with 12:11 on the clock stunted a 6-0 Redhawks run.
TIME: Bonvicini called a timeout after her team gave up another three-pointer and is down 44-32. Momentum is on NIU’s side. It may be curtains on SU’s storied season.
BRICK HOUSE: SU is shooting 28.6 percent to open the second half (2-for-7). It’s making the feasible seven-point deficit feel like a 20-point differential. NIU’s postseason experience is starting to ooze out. The Panthers were in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and the WNIT in 2001, 2003, and 2006. But the WBI is the first time the team has won a postseason game. NIU is now up 41-32 with 13:45 left in the game.
SHHH!: Madrigal’s three-pointer at the top of the key quickly hushed the crowd, though. SU is down 37-30 with 16:37 left.
FOUL TROUBLE: Warren had to go to her bench early, pulling Kirschbaum after the post collected her fourth foul with 17:51 remaining in the game. Sowell made both ensuing FTs and later added a layin off a Shephard assist to pull the Redhawks within 34-30 with 16:50 left in the game.
HALFTIME: SU is down 32-25 at the break, getting outscored 11-2 in the closing 4:14 of the half. The Redhawks had some good looks, but couldn’t hit, shooting 25.8 percent in the half. It’s putting a damper on the fact that SU grabbed 11 offensive boards in outrebounding the NIU 26-22 overall. The Panthers shooting 6-for-16 from three-point range is tough to beat. Oney is the main culprit, making four of her seven attempts from long range. She leads all scorers with 12 points. Rhea has eight points for SU while Brown popped off the bench to add six points and six boards. If SU can get its offense going, they have a chance in advancing. There’s 20 minutes to get it right.
WHISTLE HAPPY: Refs Patterson and Baldwin made the trip from Corvallis with me to be at Wednesday’s game, their whistles not feeling tired from the trip after officiating the Washington-Oregon State game on Tuesday. Neither Bonvicini or NIU coach Tanya Warren are happy with the calls, Patterson not even letting NIU talk it over with the crew. The players are hitting the freebies, so the calls are only making a difference in who is on the court.
WARD MISSING?: Ward is normally an unsung hero on the court, but she’s appears to be a little off against NIU. She’s only attempted one shot and has two fouls, limiting her play. SU is searching for offense punch. Here’s hoping she shakes whatever loose to help the team. Sowell is back in the game, but the defense gave up a putback to Kirschbaum and the Panthers are up 28-23 with 1:33 remaining in the first half. SU coach Joan Bonvicini called a timeout to discuss.
KNOTTED UP: As expected the numbers are pretty even early. NIU is definitely one of SU’s toughest challenges of the season. The Redhawks are shooting 35 percent from the firsl and holding the Panthers to 33.3 percent. Turnovers are the killer on SU’s side, giving up six for four NIU points early. But Rhea is hot, nailing another picturesque jumper for a 20-18 lead with 6:25 on the clock.
FOUL TROUBLE: Sowell is on the bench with two early fouls. SU is down 11-8 with 10:40 on the clock. But wait, Rhea nailed her second three-pointer of the game and the Redhawks are tied at 11. Hold it, Daidra Brown collected a steal and converted it into a fast break layin for a 13-11 lead. There’s 9:47 left in the half.
STILL SKETCHY: NIU is starting to figure out SU’s plays and get its offense going, but it’s not pretty on either side of the ball. A driving layin by Jess McDowell and a three-pointer by Oney has the Panthers up 11-7 with 11:57 remaining in the half.
BRIGHT LIGHTS: Local media coverage increased about 150 percent with the semifinal game. We’ve sent a photographer and there are two television cameras from what I can tell. SU is up 4-2 with 15:03 left in the half.
ONE AND DONE: Sowell is gobbling up the rebounds, keeping the Panthers from warming up offensively. Kerfoot has also gotten her hands on a few passes to force turnovers. But it’s slow to add up to points, SU leading 3-2 with 15:42 remaining in the first half.
SWIMMERS: SU’s athletic department is really supportive of one another and the swimming team probably gets the award for most spirit. The guys are out in full force Wednesday, heckling missed NIU layups during warmups. Let’s hope they keep it classy.
It’s semifinal play in the Women’s Basketball Invitational at the Connolly Center. Seattle University is hosting Northern Iowa for the right play for the third-annual WBI title.
It’s the Redhawks (20-11) first semifinal appearance on the Division I level in school history and first for any sport since beginning the reclassification process in 2008. SU will be NCAA-tournament eligible next season.
The Panthers (18-14) are already NCAA tournament experienced, losing in the opening round the past two seasons. UNI is led by a senior guard trio, K.K. Armstrong topping the list at 13.6 points. The Panthers are bigger, but not as athletic and offensively potent as the Redhawks.
Seattle University is shooting 43.6 percent from the field, led by sophomore F Kacie Sowell’s 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds. Sowell has 17 double-doubles this season.
One player SU has been without the past three matchups is senior G Amani Butler, who I’m told has a sickness and will not dress. Everyone else is eager to give the Redhawks their first postseason title. It starts with a win on Wednesday.
Possible? Of course, but it can’t begin without the opening lineups:
F Katelin Oney
F Rachel Madrigal
C Amber Kirschbaum
G K.K. Armstrong
G Brooke Brown
F Sylvia Shephard
F Ashley Ward
C Kacie Sowell
G Elle Kerfoot
G Talisa Rhea
Tonight’s officials are Penny Davis, Bart Baldwin, and Paul Patterson.