By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern
Sioux City, Iowa – No. 3 College of the Ozarks (Mo.) got all it could handle in a first round matchup with unranked Valley City State (N.D.) on Thursday at the State Farm-NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship. The Lady Bobcats escaped with a 57-51 victory over the Vikings and extended their nation’s best winning streak to 21 games.
Valley City State, which made its first tournament appearance last season, led by as many as eight points in the first half in its bid to send shockwaves throughout the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Star forward Brittany Lehner poured in 16 points, but struggled with foul trouble before fouling out with just over three minutes remaining.
A pair of Lehner free throws gave the Vikings a 19-11 lead at the 5:58 mark, but College of the Ozarks responded with an 11-2 run culminated by a Morgan Hickey 3-pointer with 3:00 remaining in the first half.
The Lady Bobcats, led by the 19 points and seven rebounds from Morgan Smith, played on the lead for the majority of the remainder of the game and never enjoyed an advantage greater than eight points until the final 30 seconds. Valley City State’s offensive struggles down the stretch (zero points in the last 2:50) allowed College of the Ozarks to avoid the upset.
College of the Ozarks now shifts focus to Friday’s 1:45 p.m. second round game with Hastings (Neb.). Hastings recorded a 57-43 win over Tennessee Wesleyan earlier in the day.