NCAA Women: Reid's game-winner sends Buffalo dancing
Conference tournament week saw the highest of highs and lowest of lows for the Aussies. Stephanie Reid led Buffalo to a most unexpected MAC title, whilst Ashleigh Karaitiana led Hawaii to the Big West title. Idaho’s quartet of Aussies also secured a spot in the national tournament with a win over in-state rivals Idaho State. Unfortunately, it wasn't such good news for some of the Aussies, with South Dakota and Saint Mary's falling agonisingly short of reaching the big dance.
Buffalo came from the clouds to earn their first NCAA Tournament bid, winning the MAC Tournament despite coming in as the 8th seed, and Stephanie Reid was integral to the Bulls’ run to the title. Reid hit 6/7 from the line on her way to 16 points as Buffalo handled Ohio 72-60 in the first round. The semi-finals saw the Bulls take on Akron, and in a match that went right down to the wire, Reid scored another 13 points and also dished out 4 assists as Buffalo sneaked home in a nailbiter, 88-87.
The coup de grace was to come in the championship game against Central Michigan. Coming in as underdogs, Buffalo almost had the win in regulation, but last second free throws allowed Central Michigan to tie the game at 64-64 and send the game into overtime. Then came Reid’s time to do something massive in the final seconds. Shooting only 4/12 for the game, but with 12 assists, the Victorian was given the ball with three seconds to play and the score tied at 71-71. Putting the ball on the floor, Reid drove in the lane before putting up a runner, which fell, capturing the MAC Championship and sending the Buffalo faithful into delirium. Fellow Australian Katherine Ups also put in a solid effort in the conference championship game, finishing with 9 points.
South Dakota were favourites to take the Summit League’s bid, but despite Nicole Seekamp’s best efforts they were unable to go all the way in the conference tournament, leaving the Coyotes agonisingly short of a ticket to the dance. South Dakota easily accounted for Denver in the first round, with Seekamp responsible for 17 points and 6 assists in the 73-54 win. The semi-finals saw the Coyotes take on Oral Roberts, and Seekamp once again led from the front. The South Australian finished a perfect 4 from 4 from the charity stripe on the way to 14 points as South Dakota cruised in a 78-61 victory. Jasmine Trimboli also contributed 6 points and 8 rebounds as South Dakota moved into a championship match-up against in-state rivals South Dakota State.
In a rivalry that had seen South Dakota finally get the wood over the Jackrabbits in the regular season, South Dakota State had their sights set on revenge. Unfortunately, they got that revenge. Seekamp scored 22 points, and also contributed 4 assists and 4 steals, but the Coyotes fell agonisingly short of a national tournament bid, going down 61-55. Despite the tournament loss, Seekamp received some good news on a personal level - the senior was named Summit League Player of the Year in her final season of college basketball.
Hawaii came into the Big West tournament as the #2 seed, and with tournament MVP Ashleigh Karaitiana at the helm, they were able to secure the conference’s auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. Receiving a double-bye, the Wahine only needed to win two matches to capture the Big West crown. In the semi-final against Long Beach State, Karaitiana notched up 13 points and also collected four rebounds as Hawaii easily accounted for the 49ers, winning 76-60. #4 seed UC Davis would be their surprise final opponents, but the Wahine showed no mercy for their unfancied challengers. Karaitiana hit 5/9 from beyond the arc, finishing with 17 points as Hawaii cruised to a 78-59 victory, punching their ticket to the dance.
As the #2 seed in the Big Sky, Idaho were well placed to have a real crack at winning the conference tournament. Whilst the Aussies were used sparingly in the Vandals’ march to the title, Renae Mokrzycki and Geraldine McCorkell did see some decent playing time. Mokrzycki pulled down 6 rebounds in the side’s quarter-final win over Weber State, whilst McCorkell played 26 minutes in the Vandals’ title game victory over rivals Idaho State, finishing with 5 points and 4 rebounds as Idaho cut down the nets and secured their spot in the national tournament.
Baylor were expected to cruise to the Big 12 championship, and Kristy Wallace helped ensure there would be no slip-ups as the Lady Bears clinched their sixth consecutive conference title. Wallace hit 7/11 from the field on the way to 15 points as Baylor demolished Texas Tech 82-51 in the first round. Used more sparingly in the semi-final against Oklahoma, Wallace was still able to contribute 8 points in 18 minutes of play as the top seeded Lady Bears cruised to another comprehensive victory, 84-57. The championship game saw Baylor pitted against Texas for the third time this season. Having defeated the Longhorns twice this season already, Baylor made it a perfect three from three, dispatching of their rivals 79-63. Wallace’s numbers were down for this game, scoring just five points. However, her all-round play still saw the sophomore log 26 minutes in the victory.
Needing no less than a conference tournament final appearance to have even a chance at an at-large bid, Lauren Nicholson and Saint Mary’s were denied by eventual conference champions San Francisco in the semi-finals. Behind 24 points from Nicholson, which included 7/13 from the field and perfect 8/8 from the line, the Gaels comfortably dealt with first round opponents Loyola Marymount. Megan McKay also contributed 13 points and 9 rebounds, whilst Carly Turner chipped in with 6 points and 8 rebounds. This win saw Saint Mary’s into a semi-final against San Francisco. Nicholson finished with 22 points, shooting 8/16 from the field and 6/7 from the line. The senior also contributed 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. Unfortunately, with less than a minute remaining and Saint Mary’s down, Nicholson was forced to commit her fifth and final foul to stop the clock, leaving the Gaels without their leader in the dying moments. Saint Mary’s had a chance in the final 10 seconds to grab the win, but the inbounds pass was picked off by San Francisco, leading to more free throws and an unassailable lead for the Dons. McKay performed excellently again, finishing with 15 points and 8 rebounds, whilst Turner was again solid, contributing 6 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.