Northern Iowa ends Seattle U women's season, 68-64
Northern Iowa earned a spot in the Women's Basketball Invitational title game with a win at Connolly Center.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Dismayed, Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren turned to the Connolly Center press row and asked, "Have you ever seen anything like this?"
In her third season as coach while Seattle University transitions back to a Division I basketball program, Joan Bonvicini has instilled in the team an aggressive nature that forces officials to make tough calls. The Redhawks did so again Wednesday night in their Women's Basketball Invitational semifinal against Northern Iowa.
That effort helped foul out two of Warren's best post players and paved the way for SU to rally from a 14-point deficit. But deft shooting by the Panthers helped them to a 68-64 win that puts them in the WBI championship game.
Northern Iowa (19-14) will play the winner of Friday's Manhattan-Minnesota semifinal.
"It's bittersweet to see a season end, but we have a lot to be proud of," SU sophomore Kacie Sowell said. "We played hard every game."
The Redhawks were within one possession of the lead five times in the final five minutes.
Down 62-60 with 1:29 remaining after a putback by SU senior Talisa Rhea, the Redhawks then missed two of four free throws and five shots after offensive rebounds.
Rhea led her team with 21 points while Sowell had 16 points and 13 rebounds for her 18th double-double of the season. But the Redhawks shot 28.1 percent from the field to nullify 28 offensive rebounds.
"I thought we played better in the second half," Rhea said, "but when your shots aren't falling, you have to find a way to do other things and we had a hard time going to the basket and finishing the way we're used to."
It seemed the curtain was beginning to close on Seattle U's season late in the opening half. With shots not dropping and visiting Northern Iowa nailing three-pointers like layups, SU (20-12) couldn't counter one of its most competitive opponents this season.
Katelin Oney led Northern Iowa with 22 points, nailing 6 of 10 three-point attempts. And when Bonvicini adjusted her team's defense to cover Oney better in the second half, Rachel Madrigal took over. She scored six of the Panthers' final 10 points.
"We had a lot of opportunities from underneath and free throws," Bonvicini said. "They're a good team and they were much more physical ... every time we made a run, and we made some good runs, we just could not get over the hump."
The Panthers are the only WBI team that was in the NCAA tournament last season, having won the automatic bid from the Missouri Valley Conference the past two years.
NIU's playoff experience showed against the Redhawks. It's a level of play SU is just learning. The Redhawks claimed their first 20-win season as a D-I program since 1979 and first postseason semifinal appearance.
As some of the 596 fans applauded the departing SU players in the Connolly Center hallway, Daidra Brown's and Sowell's eyes filled with tears. The Redhawks lose three active seniors. They got just one year from Rhea, a transfer from Oregon State.
"We're going to miss them a lot," Brown said. "They helped us all grow so much and they're a big part of our team."