Mavericks punch ticket to Elite Eight
They wanted to make history, be known as the best team ever to play women’s basketball at Colorado Mesa University.
And when the final horn sounded Monday night at Brownson Arena, Kelsey Sigl couldn’t stop crying as she bear-hugged Katrina Selsor.
“I couldn’t stop crying, and I was mad because you guys (with television cameras) were in my face and I’m an ugly crier,” said Sigl, who scored 24 points and was named the tournament’s outstanding player. “To go undefeated (at home) our senior year and to do it with this group of girls here ... I just feel so blessed to be in this opportunity. I was overwhelmed with emotion, I’m just very, very happy for our team.”
The two senior captains did exactly what they set out to do in the fall, leading the Colorado Mesa University women’s basketball team to the South Central Regional championship Monday night in arguably the best women’s basketball game ever played at Brownson Arena, a 69-65 victory over Midwestern State University.
Yes, they were outrebounded — for the third straight game in the tournament. Yes, they hit only 2 of 18 from the 3-point line. And at one point, they were shooting only 20 percent on their home floor.
None of that mattered in the end.
In the end, all that mattered is the fourth-ranked Mavericks (31-1) won the right to play in the first NCAA Division II Elite Eight in the program’s history. The Elite Eight is March 26-29 in San Antonio, with the Mavericks drawing the East Region champion, Dowling (N.Y.) University, which upended third-ranked Bentley 53-51. The Mavericks’ first game is at 1:30 p.m. on March 26.
The Mavericks withstood Midwestern’s opening run and fought back to tie the game at 31-31 at halftime.
The final margin of four points was the largest of the second half.
“Where to start?” CMU coach Taylor Wagner said. “Just a great game. We knew it as going to be close. We talked about we’re going to win it in the last minute. One of our goals all year was to not lose on our home floor, and I think we’re 19-0 here, and I’m sure glad we could win it like that in front of our fans and everybody who’s supported us.
“I’m just proud of the girls on the team, and there’s not a better way to send our seniors out in their last game on the home floor like that.”
That “win it in the last minute” was right. The key play for the Mavericks didn’t come until 1:21 remained in the game.
With the Mavericks clinging to a 64-63 lead, Dianna Jones found a seam and was headed for a layup. Sigl stepped in and blocked the shot into Effo Baker’s hands. She found Sharaya Selsor, who streaked down the floor, pump-faked on the low block as two defenders ran past her, and laid the ball in for a 66-63 lead.
“I don’t know if it was Bruna who got the steal and threw it up to Sharaya, but I felt that layup really sealed it for us,” said Katrina Selsor, who scored 12 points and made the all-tournament team. “It helped us get back on defense and work that much harder to get another stop. I think we went up two, and that’s when I knew, deep down, I was like, ‘OK, we’ve got this.’ We played that much harder.”
Midwestern State coach Noel Johnson called a timeout to set up a play, and Kirstie Degelia got the ball for a tying 3-point attempt. It bounced off, and Sigl latched onto the rebound with one minute to play, but she missed a 3-pointer on the other end with 33 seconds left.
“That’s when I called that full (timeout), to draw something up for us to execute,” Johnson said. “I felt like if we could get a bucket here and get a stop we had a chance to try to drive it off the bounce or get a foul and an and-one or something. I believe in these kids and what we do. You hate to see a loser in that game, and credit to Mesa, they made plays down the stretch. This is the type of game the NCAAs are about.”
With 8.3 seconds to go, Jones forced up a 3 that was low and headed out of bounds. Katrina Selsor tried to catch it before it went out, but it slipped off her hands, giving the Mustangs another chance.
With the shot clock about to expire, Sigl was called for a foul as she and Andrea Carter hit the floor. Carter made two free throws with 3.9 seconds left, cutting the lead to 66-65.
After a timeout, Katrina Selsor inbounded the ball to her sister, Sharaya, one of the Mavs’ top free-throw shooters, and she was quickly fouled.
The junior guard, who drew the assignment of guarding Degelia, calmly made both free throws with 3.3 seconds to go.
Midwestern threw the inbounds pass deep, and Sigl leaped to intercept it. The ball was bobbled, and she and Bruna Deichmann went to the floor, and Midwestern tied up the ball, but the Mavericks retained possession with two seconds to go.
Deichmann, the senior transfer, was fouled and hit one free throw with six-tenths of a second to play, and the tears started to flow.
Deichmann came off the bench and played her best game of the season, scoring 21 points, constantly driving on the Mustangs, who put a lot of pressure on the ball.
“Well, I didn’t want to stay here for spring break,” Deichmann said. “I wanted to go to San Antonio. I knew how hard the game was going to be and how physical they were, but that’s the game, that’s how I like to play. I like them up on me so I can drive on them, not just sagging off.”
The Mavericks got several key defensive stops late in the game and slowly but surely seemed to wear down the Mustangs. A couple of shots that were falling early in the game came up short, and Colorado Mesa took advantage.
And when the final horn sounded and the students rushed the floor, the Mavericks rushed right back at them. Sigl and Katrina Selsor were handed the NCAA regional championship trophy, and their teammates rushed to center court.
“We made quite a few goals,” Katrina Selsor said. “Conference champs, RMAC Shootout champs, we just kept going down the line.
“It just feels so good to have achieved everything we’ve set for ourselves. Words can’t describe it.”