By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – College of the Ozarks’ (Mo.) Morgan Smith was limited to six minutes of action in the first half on Saturday, but no sweat, another Morgan had her back. The Lady Bobcats’ Morgan Hickey grabbed the torch from Smith and controlled the paint with 12 points and five rebounds in the first stanza. Aided by first-half rest, Smith came alive in the second half and the tandem fueled Ozarks to a 74-55 quarterfinal victory over Eastern Oregon at the State Farm-NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship.
“If anybody was to have fresh legs I would love for it to be Morgan Smith coming in for the second half,” Hickey said. “That was good for us. It was kind of a catch-22 for them. Yeah, she was out for the first half when we picked up the slack. Then she was coming in second half with fresh legs.”
Smith’s feed to Hickey, who made a picture-perfect cut to the basket, for a layup that gave the Bobcats a 58-44 with 6:47 left in the game summed up the day for both squads. Smith ignited for 12 points and five rebounds of her own in the second half and finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Hickey led all players with 18 points and also added eight rebounds.
“We had to have it,” Ozarks head coach George Wilson said. “We had (Emily) Walker and Smith both go to the bench. They hardly got up a sweat, especially Walker. And Smith played five or six minutes (in the first half).
“Morgan Hickey was awesome today. She rebounded, she scored.”
Behind a legion of fans who made the trip, the Bobcats got out to a much better start than they did in the win over Hastings on Friday. Ozarks allowed the Broncos to go up 14 points in the second-round matchup, but on Saturday the Bobcats got a three from Maranda Vaught to open the game and extended the lead to nine points at the 4:14 mark of the first half with a Vaught two-point basket.
Ozarks then iced the game with the free throw shooting of five different teammates in the final four minutes to salt away the win over the tournament’s Cinderella story in Eastern Oregon. The Bobcats appeared as cool customers in dispatching of the Mountaineers, but their exteriors were far from the entire story.
“We’ve been a bundle of nerves since we got to Sioux City, me included,” Wilson joked. “At least we started with a basket today, which is fairly rare of course. The other two games it was late before we finally did something offensively, but I thought we had a great first half today.”
Eastern Oregon bows out after making the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. The Mountaineers upset 11th-ranked Ave Maria (Fla.) and No. 6 Concordia (Mich.) before falling to the Bobcats. Eastern Oregon was paced by Korrie Bourn’s 14 points on Saturday.
Ozarks (33-3) advances to the Fab Four for the first time since 2009 and the fourth time overall. The Bobcats will play either Grand View (Iowa) or Concordia (Neb.) at 8 p.m. on Monday in the semifinals.