ALLENDALE, Mich. – The Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women's basketball dynasty continues.
Ashland University's women's basketball team won its fourth consecutive GLIAC Tournament, earning a 65-58 win over Northern Michigan on Sunday (March 10) afternoon at Grand Valley State. The No. 6-ranked Eagles (29-2) have their sixth GLIAC Tournament championship in the last eight seasons, and AU is the first GLIAC team to win four consecutive league tourney titles since the Wildcats from 1995-98.
"I was so proud of our girls," said Ashland head coach Kari Pickens. "We fought through some adversity, and came out on top. We made some big shots down the stretch. It took all of us, and I couldn't be more proud."
With its first-ever GLIAC Tournament title away from Kates Gymnasium, Ashland is 30-14 all-time in the tournament, and has won 12 straight tournament contests. Sunday's victory also avenges the only other time Ashland and Northern played in the GLIAC Tournament title game – a 94-74 Wildcat victory on Feb. 28, 1998.
The tournament Most Valuable Player is junior forward Sara Loomis, whose strong title-game showing of 22 points, 15 rebounds, two assists and two blocks were a key factor in Sunday's win. Pickens said it probably was Loomis' best game as an Eagle.
"It was just a team effort," Loomis said. "Before the game, we really emphasized that whatever team gets the most rebounds is going to win the game, so just having that mindset going in was big."
THE TOP TEN
1. Ashland's two junior guards – Jodi Johnson and Renee Stimpert – also landed on the all-tournament team. On Sunday, Stimpert posted 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while Johnson added 11 points, seven boards and three helpers.
2. Rounding out the four Eagle double-digit scorers was junior guard/forward Sarah Hart, who had 11 points in just 14 minutes off the bench due to foul trouble.
3. Both teams finished the game at 50 percent from the field, but the major discrepancy was Ashland's 38-16 rebounding margin.
"We told them that if we could dominate the boards, that we would win this game," said Pickens. "And we did."
4. The Eagles dished out 18 assists on 28 made field goals, while the Wildcats, using isolation plays on offense for most of the contest, had just one assist.
5. Ashland made just three 3-point field goals on Sunday, the first time all season the Eagles haven't connected on at least five.
6. The game's first 10 minutes was about what would be expected for two tough defensive teams. The score was tied at 16, and Ashland overcame four turnovers, NMU's hot shooting (7-for-12) and eight points by the Wildcats' Darby Youngstrom by grabbing nine of the period's 13 rebounds.
7. There was no reason to think the game would get away from either team in the second quarter, and it didn't. Ashland had a 24-22 lead at the media timeout, and by halftime, that advantage was 32-29. The Eagles' recent domination of the boards continued at a 21-7 clip, as Loomis had eight caroms to go with 10 points – countering Youngstrom's 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
8. Northern took a 33-32 lead early in the third quarter, but a 6-0 spurt for AU gave it a 38-33 advantage. The Eagles couldn't extend their lead past five points, however, and going into the final stanza, Ashland's lead was two points at 46-44. Youngstrom continued to make life tough for AU, scoring 21 points through three, but Loomis was starting to take over at 14 points and 12 rebounds.
9. Inside of the seven-minute mark, Ashland took its first lead of more than five points at 54-47, then did it again at 56-49. A Hart triple from the top of the key inside of two minutes lifted the Eagles to a 63-55 bulge, and they went on to victory from there.
10. For the Wildcats (22-9), Youngstrom finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting.
The 2019 NCAA Division II women's basketball postseason selection show on Sunday at 10 p.m. on NCAA.com.
"This is the kind of game we needed going into (the NCAA) tournament," Pickens said. "Our girls did a great job."