By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern
SIOUX City, Iowa – College of the Ozarks’ (Mo.) Morgan Smith put together a semifinal performance that left head coach George Wilson beaming.
“My gosh, what a heck of a line is that,” Wilson said after rifling through her statistics on Monday. “She had a terrific game.”
Smith finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, four assists, one steal and just one turnover in 37 minutes of action as she boosted Ozarks to a 74-70 barn-burner semifinal victory over second-ranked Concordia (Neb.). The Lady Bobcats raced out to an 13-2 lead after a Smith bucket in the paint at the 16:11 mark of the first half. But the Bulldogs gradually worked their way back and trailed by just one at halftime.
The final minutes saw plenty of drama in a contest that was not decided until Emily Walker made the second of two free throws to push across the game’s final tally with :03 remaining. Walker was sent to the line immediately following a missed 3-point attempt by Concordia’s Kristen Conahan that could have tied the score with :07 left. The ensuing rebound resulted in a jump ball, giving possession to Ozarks.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well enough,” Bulldog head coach Drew Olson said. “We didn’t make the plays that we normally do. Morgan Smith was too big inside, and our press wasn’t as effective as it has been. It was just a matter of us not making the plays we needed to.”
Katie Rich came through with a team-high 20 points for Concordia, while Amber Kistler added 17. Star point guard Conahan was held to eight points on 3-for-13 shooting.
The Lady Bobcats will make their fourth appearance in the national title game in school history when they battle Northwestern on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in a game televised live by CBS Sports Network. Wilson, who has been the coach for all three of the Ozarks’ title game losses, and the Bobcats are hoping for better luck the fourth time around.
Smith, a junior center from Nixa, Mo., is determined to lead Ozarks to its first national championship victory.
“I feel pretty good that whatever my team needs from me I’m going to try to do,” Smith said. “The first half I was more on than I was the second half. In the second half I got a little off with my shot, but we put things together and we had a lot of different people contribute to that win.”
Walker was the only other Bobcat to finish in double-figures in scoring as she recorded 10 points. Morgan Hickey left early with an injury and was limited to seven points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes of play.
Hickey hopes to return to the lineup on Tuesday to capture a banner her team badly wants to bring back for their veteran coach.
“We’ve got ourselves there and now I think it’s time to capitalize on it,” Smith said. “I think coach needs one to hang up and take home so that’s definitely our goal, and we’re hopefully not done yet.”
Tuesday’s National Championship game is a rematch of the 2008 title contest when Northwestern won 82-75. Ozarks also lost in the championship in 2006 to Hastings (Neb.) and in 2007 to Indiana Wesleyan.