Story by Jake Knabel, NAIA Assistant Media Coordinator
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Second-seeded College of the Ozarks (Mo.) and third-seeded Morningside (Iowa) met back on Dec. 3 in Sioux City. The Mustangs won going away, 83-63 . The matchup on March 10 proved much different. In Friday night’s second-round action at the 2017 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships, the Lady Bobcats stifled Morningside’s leading scorer and notched a 80-72 victory inside the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
Head coach Becky Vest’s squad moves on to the quarterfinals and is now one win away from reaching the national semifinals for the sixth time in program history. Meanwhile, Jamie Sale’s Mustangs, winner of four national titles, end their season at 24-9 overall.
The Lady Bobcats withstood a huge effort from Morningside’s Taylor Bahensky, who dropped 26 points and led the Mustangs all the way back from a 10-point (61-51) fourth-quarter deficit. Bahensky tied it at 65-65 and then added a free throw with 5:21 left to put Morningside in the lead.
But College of the Ozarks has championship mettle. The Lady Bobcats ended the game on an 8-2 run initiated by a Kelsie Cleeton bucket. In the final two minutes, the Mustangs managed only a Sydney Hupp layup and watched as the College of the Ozarks made all six of its free throw attempts in the final 30 seconds.
Vest’s battle-tested group relied upon a stingy defense, that yielded Morningside a 38.1 shooting percentage, and balanced offense. Cleeton topped the Lady Bobcats attack with 15 points. She also reeled in 12 rebounds to help her team dominate the boards, 47-33. Madisen Brethower came off the bench to supply 14 points. Cassidy Johnson chipped in 12 points. As a team, College of the Ozarks shot 43.9 percent (29-for-66).
The Mustangs’ Madison Braun entered the tournament averaging nearly 16 points per game. In the first meeting with the Lady Bobcats, Braun scorched the nets for 33 points while going 7-for-8 from 3-point range. On Friday, Braun went just 1-for-10 from the floor and had four points. Hupp put up 19 points and Lexi Ackerman tallied 11 points and six rebounds.
College of Ozarks will play top-seeded Saint Xavier (Ill.) (33-2) in the Duer Bracket final at 8 PM on Saturday.