Bears best Cowgirls in WNIT First Round
By HEATHER KENNEDY
LARAMIE, Wyo. – There's a reason Northern Colorado Women's Basketball coach Jaime White ends every practice with the team shooting free throws.
Tonight it paid off as the Bears won their first NCAA Division I postseason game (outside the Big Sky Championship), defeating Wyoming 71-63 in the first round of the WNIT at Arena Auditorium.
Northern Colorado made 17 of 20 from the free-throw line, including all five attempts in the first half and seven of eight in the final minute of the second half, to snap a seven-game losing skid against the Cowgirls (24-8), dating back to 1988.
The Bears (21-12) will now host a second round game at 2 p.m. Sunday against St. Mary's at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. Northern Colorado's 21 wins is tied for the school record for single-season wins, matching the 1997-98 team that went 21-8 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA D-II North Central Regional.
Tickets will go on sale Friday for Sunday's game with the Gaels. Stay connected with uncbears.com for more information.
"It's really such an honor to get a home game," White said. "The WNIT has been really good to us and it's so nice to be playing in front of our home crowd again."
Senior forward Lauren Oosdyke (Coto de Caza, Calif.) led the team with 16 points, while junior guard D'shara Strange (Fort Carson, Colo.) and sophomore Lindsey Mallon (Lone Tree, Colo.) each had 15. Mallon's points are a career-high, bettering her previous mark of 10 from Feb. 28 against Eastern Washington.
Strange also led the team with five rebounds, five assists and two steals, despite leaving the game with six minutes to go with an ankle injury.
The Northern Colorado bench, which hadn't scored more than nine points since Feb. 21 at North Dakota, chipped in 18 points and missed just one shot the entire game, going 7-for-8.
Playing in her hometown, freshman Kyleigh Hiser recorded the first blocked shot of her collegiate career, forcing a Wyoming shot clock violation with 15 seconds left in the first half. That block led to Northern Colorado closing the first half on a 9-0 run, including six points by Mallon.
"That first half, we just kept answering," White said. "And answering and answering. Whether it was Kyleigh Hiser or Lindsey Mallon having a run of six (of nine) points and I thought we had such good effort off the bench. Hannah Thornton did a great job."
Wyoming started the second half on an 8-2 run of its own, but was never able to close any closer than four, 50-46.
"Our kids just continued to play defense and it was a great defensive effort," White said. "I really thought we had a great defensive effort on [Kayla] Woodward and [Kaitlyn] Mileto. We knew they were great three-point shooters and they could break a game open. I thought we did a great job defending and getting a hand in their face."
The one drawback to the evening in White's eyes was she had to face mentor and friend Joe Legerski in the game. Both coaches were assistants together at Utah and then White served as an assistant at Wyoming for three years under Legerski before becoming the Northern Colorado head coach in 2006.
"It's never a good feeling," White said. "We're friends and Joe's a great coach and a great guy and it's always hard. Obviously I like winning, but he has a great team and he does a great job here and it's always hard to compete against him."