Photo by St. Xavier University
SXU players rejoice after winning a national semifinal game on Monday.
St. Xavier’s women’s basketball team started a long trip to Sioux City, Iowa, on a bus on March 8 and there was some slow going on the way there because of hail.
The Cougars were hoping for a long stay in Sioux City with the end result of being hailed as the NAIA Division II champions.
A bookend of hails, so to speak.
They did stay in Iowa a long time. And for the first half of Tuesday night’s championship game at the Tyson Events Center, it looked like they were about to grab that title as they owned a 30-23 lead.
But the Cougars were pelted by baskets and were outscored 24-8 in the third quarter and dropped a 66-52 decision to defending national champion Marian (Ind.) to finish in second place – the best finish ever by coach Bob Hallberg and his program.
SXU (34-3) and its fans saw a little of everything on this five-game journey. They saw a 30-30 quarter. A 6-6 quarter. They saw a couple of blowouts, a couple of come-from-behind victories and, ultimately, a loss after holding the lead as late as 3 minutes, 10 seconds in the third period in front of a crowd of 1,600 at the Tyson facility and a large crowd watching the feed of the game at the Shannon Center in Chicago.
Brittany Collins led the Cougars with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Junior Kara Krolicki was limited to 10 points but after the game was named the NAIA Division II Player of the Year.
“You can’t judge (the season) off of one game,” Krolicki told reporters after the game. “I had a great time playing this season. I loved playing with all these girls and this is the game that everybody wants, but this time it didn’t come out in our favor. . . We are hoping that we can come back here next year and get what we want. I couldn’t ask for more this season.”
To get to the final, the Cougars trailed Concordia University (Neb.) 28-11 early but went on to dominate the rest of the way in a 91-83 triumph. Unlike Tuesday night, when the Cougars had their share of woes in the third quarter, the third quarter of the semifinal game saw them outscore their opponent 25-9.
"It's amazing; just an unbelievable feeling," said Krolicki, who had 26 points.
"We went into halftime with the lead cut down. We knew we could do it. We had another 20 minutes of basketball left. The first half we had to get used to what they were doing and settle down and see what worked for us. We were a little calmer."
Freshman guard Maddie Welter connected on a pair of three-pointers in under a minute in the third to give the Cougars the lead for the first time. Senior guard Mikayla Leyden drained a long-range shot at the third-quarter buzzer to head into the final 10 minutes ahead, 61-53 and the Cougars never looked back.
Junior center Collins continued to be a force on the glass as she pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds – 10 on the defensive end. She also scored 18 points on the night to log her 20th double-double of the season.
Concordia, making its second national semifinal in three years, was led by junior Dani Andersen who recorded a team-high 21 points.
Collins had 21 points and a career-best 23 rebounds in a 69-53 victory over the College of the Ozarks in the quarterfinals Saturday to reach the Final Four.
SXU never trailed and led by as many as 24 points (33-9) in the second quarter. Collins became just the second player in Saint Xavier women’s basketball history to grab 20 or more rebounds and score 20 or more points in a game.
Freshman forward Chanel Fanter added 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks to aid the victory.
The Cougars set all kinds of records and milestones in a 96-66 over Friends University (Kan.) in the second round on Friday night. The team set a record for wins (32) and Krolicki became just the second player in program history to go over 2,000 points for her career as she scored 29 points. Morgan Stuut (2011-15) is the only other player in Cougar history to hit that mark. Senior Leyden set a single-game Cougars record for assists with 13 and broke the SXU career mark with 511.
The Cougars got off to a slow start falling behind by as many as seven points (12-5) near the midpoint of the first quarter but the team righted the ship and dominated the rest of the way.
The team opened the nationals with a 100-61 victory over Indiana University-Kokomo as Collins had 24 points and 12 rebounds. The team shot 63 percent from the field, with Collins dropping 11 of her 12 shots. It was the 12th time this season the Cougars scored in triple figures.