By Jacob Knabel, Concordia (Neb.) Sports Information Director
SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score - Bracket) One of the all-time winningest programs at the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships, College of the Ozarks (Mo.) avoided the upset that two No. 2 seeds had already fallen victim to at the 2016 event, presented by Mercy Medical Center and Seaboard Triumph Foods. The Lady Bobcats rode a career high 29 points from senior forward Brandy Uchtman to an 85-68 win over Friends (Kan.) inside the Tyson Events Center on Thursday.
Head coach Becky Vest’s battle-tested squad bumped its overall season record to 28-4 and has advanced to Friday’s second-round action in Sioux City, Iowa. Meanwhile, head coach RaeAnne Boothe’s Falcons end the 2015-16 campaign with a record of 22-11. They are 1-7 all-time on the national stage.
The Lady Bobcats raced out to an 11-2 lead in the opening minutes of Thursday’s late-night contest. But Friends eventually came back to grab brief advantages in the third quarter before College of the Ozarks reasserted itself. Uchtman went wild with a career high 29 points and the Bobcats controlled the boards, 49-24. It all added up to the 36th national championships win in program history.
College of the Ozarks held a slight 65-61 lead with just over seven minutes remaining, but pulled away with a 20-7 spurt to end the game. During that outburst, post Lakin Simmerman poured in 10 of her 19 points to help put the game in the books. Off the bench, 5-foot-7 Ozarks guard Kelsie Cleeton made waves in her first taste of the big stage. She dropped nine dimes and raced down 16 rebounds, 11 on the defensive end. Two other Bobcats finished in double figures: Cassidy Johnson (13) and Shelby Roberts (10).
On the other side, Shann Sellers racked up a team best 22 points. She added nine rebounds and a pair of steals. Ayanna Holtz made just one basket, but it was her triple at the 7:47 mark of the third period that gave Friends a 42-40 lead and hopes of an upset.
College of the Ozarks will take on third-seeded Mount Marty (S.D.) at 8:45 p.m. CT on Friday. Just before the Bobcats took the floor, the Lancers held off Purdue Calumet (Ind.), 73-69, in another first-round game.
Picture of Brandy Uchtman by John Hyatt