The #2 seed College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats lost a heart-breaker to the #1 seed Northwestern Red Raiders (Iowa) in the Quarterfinals of the NAIA DII National Tournament Saturday evening, 71-70.
The Red Raiders came into the tournament ranked #4 in the latest NAIA Coaches’ Poll largely due to their size. Beginning in the first quarter, the Lady Cats attempted to counteract that size defensively by double teaming the post, causing seven Red Raider turnovers. Offensively, senior Kelsie Cleeton made her presence known early, netting 10 first-quarter points including a pair of three-point baskets. While the Lady Bobcats shot just 8 of 20 in the first frame, their zero turnovers resulted in a 22-15 advantage.
To open the second quarter, the Red Raiders began to mix-in a zone press but were only able to cause one Lady Cat miscue. Kelsie Cleeton and fellow senior Cassidy Johnson sliced through the pressure to hand out seven assists in the second quarter alone, including a pair of Aleksei Smith three-point bombs. Late in the first half, the stingy defense of the Lady Cats forced a shot clock violation and a subsequent Madisen Brethower turnaround jumper, which gave C of O a 39-29 lead at the break.
Overall in the first half the Lady Cat offense sputtered, shooting just 15 of 38 (39%) from the field, however, the defense caused 14 Red Raider turnovers while holding Northwestern to 43% shooting.
To open up the second half, Northwestern attempted to apply additional ball pressure and jump out into the passing lanes. C of O used their aggressiveness against them, including an early backdoor pass and lay-in from Cleeton to Johnson. On the next Bobcat possession, Abby Oliver blew by her defender to draw a foul at the hoop and knock down a pair of free throws. By mid-quarter, a Cassidy Johnson steal and three-pointer extended the Lady Bobcat lead to 51-34. After a timeout, Northwestern closed the quarter on a run to trim the C of O lead to 61-50.
The Red Raiders started the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run and benefited from a few calls that were reviewed. With just under two minutes remaining, Northwestern guard Sammy Blum drew a foul on a breakaway and knocked down a pair of free throws giving the Red Raiders their first lead of the half, 67-66.
A scrappy defensive rebound by Aleksei Smith and timeout with just 44 seconds remaining gave the Lady Bobcats a possession on their end. On the inbounds, Kelsie Cleeton and Madisen Brethower ran a give-and-go to recapture the Lady Bobcat lead, 68-67. Northwestern immediately answered back on a drive and bucket by their leading scorer Kassidy De Jong. With just 10 seconds remaining, Aleksei Smith drew a foul and converted both free throws to put C of O back up by one. Unfortunately, in a battle of which team has the last possession, Northwestern converted on a last-second inbounds play to win, 71-70.
Four C of O players scored double figures, including Aleksei Smith and Cassidy Johnson with 17 and 16 points respectively. Abby Oliver chipped in 10 points. Kelsie Cleeton scored a team-high 21 points, distributed 8 assists, and swiped five steals.
Special congratulations go our to Cass Johnson, whose 17 points in the game pushed her over the career 2000 point mark, adding one more highlight to an already impressive season and career. Cassidy's final point total stands at 2,005.
As the Lady Bobcats close an outstanding 2018-2019 season with a record of 31-4, their many season highlights leading up to the tournament are worth remembering:
- Lady Bobcats defeat NAIA DII #20 Tabor College, 67-55, to open the 2018-19 season.
- Lady Bobcats overwhelm Bethany College (RV), 82-49. Senior guard Madi Brethower led all scorers with a new career high of 22 points.
- Lady Bobcats soundly defeat #22 Cardinal Stritch University, 82-66. Sophomore guard Abby Oliver led the Lady Cats with a career-high 23 points on 5-6 three-point shooting.
- Lady Bobcats avenge the previous season’s NAIA DII Tournament-ending loss to #9 St. Francis (Ill.) with a 67-54 victory.
- Senior Kelsie Cleeton helps lead the Lady Cats to a decisive 86-49 victory over Cumberland University. The guard scored 14 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, one of which was her 1,000th career board.
- Lady Cats defeat previously unbeaten NAIA DI John Brown University, 66-57.
- Senior guard Cass Johnson is named A.I.I. Player of the Week.
- College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats’ Basketball Program is inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
- Lady Cats defeat Thomas University, 93-48. Freshman center Annie Noah records a career-high 14 points and 9 rebounds in the contest.
- Lady Bobcats defeat #15 Hastings College, 77-65. Two Lady Cats posted career highs, as Kelsie Cleeton led all scorers with 22 points and junior Ashley Forrest contributed 15.
- The Lady Bobcats defeat (RV) Bellevue University for the second time this season, 73-63.
- Lady Bobcats defeat conference rival #23 Indiana University Northwest, 74-57. Cass Johnson scored 20 points for the Lady Cats, netting 2 three-point baskets. With those two shots, Cass became the new Lady Cats’ All-Time record holder for Career Three-Point Shots Made (prior record was 331, Johnson has 401 to date).
- Senior guard Kelsie Cleeton garners A.I.I. and NCCAA Player of the Week honors.
- Kelsie Cleeton becomes Lady Cats’ All-Time Career Rebound record holder, breaking a record of 1,134 that had been in place for 28 years. Cleeton currently has 1,294.
- Kelsie Cleeton was recognized by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for being named an NAIA All-American in the previous season.
- Cass Johnson posts a career-high 28 points in a conference win over Northern New Mexico, 89-42.
- Kelsie Cleeton, in a Lady Cat win over A.I.I. foe Haskell Univ., chipped in 15 points, 12 boards, and 9 assists, one of which pushed her into the number one spot on the C of O All-Time Career Assists chart. Previous record was 469, set in 2015. To date, Cleeton has accrued 517 career assists.
- Kelsie Cleeton collects A.I.I., NCCAA, and NAIA DII Player of the Week honors on the heels of posting a quadruple double (14 points, 13 rebounds, 12 steals (career high), and 11 assists)—the first quadruple double in Lady Cats’ history.
Note: the rankings of teams noted above relate to the opponent’s ranking at the time they played College of the Ozarks, and Top Ten standings are as of the close of conference tournament play.
LADY BOBCATS’ TEAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
- Posted a 29-3 record to head into the NAIA National Championship tournament.
- Captured third consecutive Association of Independent Institutions Conference Championship with an 88-65 victory over #18 Indiana Northwest University.
- Ranked in Top 10 of NAIA DII in:
- No. 1: Assist/Turnover Ratio (1.779), Scoring Margin (30.219), and 3-pt FG Pct. (40%)
- No. 2: 3-pt FG made (386), Total Assists (637), and Scoring Defense per game (53.344)
- No. 3: 3-pt FG made per game (12.063), Assists per game (19.906), and Total Scoring Offense (2,674)
- No. 5: 3-pt FG Pct. Defense (26%) and Scoring Offense per game (83.563)
- No. 8: Turnover Margin (6.188)
- No. 9: Field Goal Pct. (44.9%) and Total Rebound Offense (1,331)
- This is the Lady Cats’ sixth time to qualify for the NAIA DII Women’s Basketball National Championship under the leadership of six-year Head Coach Becky (Vest) Mullis.
- The Lady Cats have qualified for the NAIA DII National Championship event for eighteen consecutive seasons. This is their 25th appearance in the championship event.
LADY BOBCATS’ TEAM MEMBER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- Kelsie Cleeton has gathered 17 double-doubles, three triple doubles, and one quadruple double to date in 32 games played. She closed out the regular season being named the NAIA DII WBB Player of the Week.
- A.I.I. Awards
- Kelsie Cleeton – A.I.I. Player of the Year (second consecutive year), Defensive Player of the Year (third consecutive year), and A.I.I. Tournament Most Outstanding Player (second consecutive year)
- Cass Johnson – First Team All-Conference (second consecutive year), A.I.I. All-Tournament Team, A.I.I. Champion of Character
- Abby Oliver – 2nd Team All-Conference, A.I.I. All-Tournament Team (second consecutive year)
- Madi Brethower – Honorable Mention All-Conference, A.I.I. Tournament Team
- Coach Becky (Vest) Mullis – A.I.I. Coach of the Year (second consecutive year)
- Ranked in Top 10 of NAIA DII:
- Cass Johnson #1: 3-pt FG made per game (3.844), Total 3-pt FG made (123); #2: 3-pt FG Pct. (46.4%); #8 Total Scoring (607); #9 Points per Game (18.969).
- Annie Noah #2: Assist/Turnover Ratio (3.429).
- Kelsie Cleeton #3: Total Rebounds (375); #4: Total Steals (97), Total Rebounds per game (11.719), Offensive Rebounds per game (4.313); #5: Total Assists (180), Assists per game (5.625); #6 Assist/Turnover Ratio (2.951); #7 Steals per Game (3.031); #8 Defensive Rebounds per Game (7.406).
A special thank you goes out to our three senior leaders—Madi Brethower, Kelsie Cleeton, and Cassidy Johnson—for their amazing contributions to the Lady Bobcats’ program!