THE NET: NKU’s Cassie Brannen is all smiles
after leading the Norse to a 60-52 win over Missouri S&T
in Monday night’s NCAA II Great Lakes Region championship
game. Brannen scored 25 points and was named the tournament’s
most outstanding player.
FOR PHOTO GALLERY
Mo. - None of the current players on the Northern Kentucky University
women’s basketball roster have ever been to the NCAA Division
II Elite Eight as participants.
The Norse women
can start packing their luggage for Kearney, Neb., and the NCAA
Division II Elite Eight after posting a 60-52 win over Missouri
S&T in the championship game of the Great Lakes Region Tournament
on Monday night. NKU improved to 25-8 and captured its first regional
title since 2003.
It marked the
fifth regional championship in the past 10 years for NKU, which
also collected titles in 1999, 2000, '02 and '03. This one was especially
satisfying for Norse head coach Nancy Winstel, who had to replace
five talented seniors from last season's 21-win team.
had told me in November we would be going to the Elite Eight, well,
I probably would have laughed," said Winstel, who guided NKU
to the 2000 NCAA Division II national championship. "About
three weeks ago, after we lost at Bellarmine and Kentucky Wesleyan,
it looked bleak as far as even making the NCAA Tournament.
that, we took a break. Everyone came back refreshed and renewed.
Since then, we have played very well, and that continued tonight
against a very good Missouri S&T team. The second half has belonged
to us the past three games, and this one was no different."
S&T took a 39-34 lead with 12:12 remaining in the game, NKU
responded in big-time fashion. Cassie Brannen sandwiched four free
throws around an Angela Healy basket to give the Norse a 40-39 advantage.
With the score
tied at 42-all, Jessie Slack began a 7-0 NKU run with a pair of
free throws. Brannen then powered in a basket to extend the Norse's
lead to 46-42, and Slack capped the spurt by draining a 3-pointer
to make it 49-42 with 6:30 left on the clock. When asked if she
was concerned about a possible letdown after NKU's 84-65 win over
top-seeded Drury, Slack said no way.
for the regional championship and the Elite Eight, and we know S&T
is a very good team, so we were ready," said Slack, who was
named to the Great Lakes Region all-tournament team. "No one
was going to let down in this game, and we carried it over from
the Drury game."
Slack drives to the basket.
Danyelle Echoles each made a pair of free throws in the final 1:24
to seal the win and regional title for NKU, which held Missouri
S&T to 34.5 percent shooting from the field. Brannen scored
a game-high 25 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the field. She also
converted all eight of her free-throw attempts and grabbed five
Brannen, a graduate
of Mount Notre Dame High School, was named the regional’s
most outstanding player. Two nights earlier, the 6-foot-1 junior
post player poured in 29 points against Drury.
Brannen was incredible in this tournament, and she deserved that
award," Winstel said. "She did a great job of scoring,
but she also played very good defense. Cassie drew fouls and made
the free throws, and that is how you win tournament games. We started
moving the ball around very well in the second half and were aggressive.
Our entire team made plays, and Cassie was just great."
12 points and seven rebounds for NKU, which was 18-for-20 from the
free-throw line. Echoles finished with nine points and four assists,
while Nicole Chiodi added eight points and seven rebounds.
led Missouri S&T (24-7) with 15 points, while teammate Jaime
Forsberg added 11 points.
NKU will meet
South Atlantic Region champion Wingate (N.C.) in the NCAA Division
II Elite Eight on March 26 at Kearney, Neb. Wingate (25-7) knocked
off Clayton (Ga.) State to advance to the Elite Eight.
excited to go to Nebraska, and this is a fun time to play basketball,"
Winstel said, "but we are going there to try and win. It's
a great accomplishment to win a regional championship, and we are
looking forward to being back in the Elite Eight. What a great feeling
for our players, their parents, who are awesome fans, and everyone