The Northern Kentucky University women’s basketball team is going back to a familiar place, the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. However, unlike the past, the Norse has had to go through a tougher path to get back there.
Especially after losing to the University of Southern Indiana by 10 points in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament championship, the cards didn’t seem to be in NKU’s favor. Despite the defeat, the Norse proved strong by winning three games in three days to capture the Great Lakes Regional title in Evansville, Indiana. NKU is now moving on to the Elite Eight for the third time in the past four seasons.
“It was remarkable and unbelievable. It was a miraculous performance,” NKU head coach Nancy Winstel said. “All of the credit goes to the kids, everyone of them.”
The Norse, who were the No. 3 seed in the region, capped off the three-day performance on March 9 by upsetting No. 1 seed Southern Indiana 69-66 on their PAC Arena homecourt.
NKU senior Michelle Cottrell again showed why she is the leader on the team, scoring a game-high 31 points, 23 of them coming in the second half. Another senior, Suzie Smith, also played a major role in the victory. She scored 12 points in the victory, including a big three-pointer late in the game.
“(Dana) Schubeler’s presence was big help to us. All three of our seniors stepped up big,” Winstel said.
Winstel went on to say that even junior Amy Mobley showed her competitiveness on the court, scoring seven points and dishing out six assists in the game.
“Her passing ability against the press was phenomenal. She passed it to the right people at the right time. That made a huge difference.”
The Norse had lost their previous two games this season against the Lady Eagles on their homecourt, but NKU found a way to win in probably their most important game of the year.
Southern Indiana trailed by six points with less than three minutes left in the game but made a late run to cut the deficit to two. “We mishandled the ball and one of their players hit a big three. We were surprised,” Winstel said. Cottrell saved her team’s season by hitting a key free throw with 13 seconds left. Erin Wall (12 points) of the Lady Eagles eventually missed a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Norse prevailed.
“You don’t beat someone by ten without a fight at the end. It was a great game,” Winstel said. “We hung on at the end and didn’t let it slip away. That was huge.”
But before getting to the regional championship game, NKU had to play two other games to get to that point. The Norse first played the No. 6 seed Northern Michigan and won easily by a score of 73-60.
NKU then faced No. 2 Lake Superior State in the semifinals, a team they had never defeated in the NCAA Tournament. The Norse led by 11 points at halftime and never really looked back. The Lakers did cut the lead to four with three minutes left the game but that was as close as they would get. NKU went on to win the game 71-62 to advance to the Great Lakes Regional championship.
“We struggled defensively, and it wasn’t our greatest performance,” Winstel said. “We hung on and found a way to win.”
Cottrell and Smith again led the team in the victory, scoring 21 and 16 points respectively. Also, Norse junior Kristin Polosky scored 12 points and junior Bridget Flanagan finished with 11 points in the game, including three 3-pointers in the second half.
“Polosky, Cottrell and Smith played great. Flanagan hit some key three-point shots. Everyone stepped up the whole weekend,” Winstel said.
NKU will await its next challenger as the team heads out to Rochester, Minnesota to play in the Elite Eight. The Norse (26-6) will play South Dakota State (27-8) on March 20 at 7 p.m.
“They score a lot of points. They put on a lot of pressure and shoot a lot of 3s,” Winstel said. “They are a fairly young team and are in a very, very tough region.”
If NKU wins that game, it will advance to the Final Four on March 21. The NCAA Division II national championship game is slated for March 23.