SEWARD, Neb. – The previous two GPAC tournament championship games were tons of fun, but the Concordia University women’s basketball team was just fine seeing one of these things not come down to a last second shot for once. In another high intensity clash with rival Dakota Wesleyan, the Bulldogs turned a two-point game in the fourth quarter into a 75-63 win inside raucous Walz Arena on Tuesday night (Feb. 26). Junior point guard Grace Barry stole the show down the stretch.
Wins like this have become a common theme for 13th-year head coach Drew Olson’s program. Concordia (30-3) has now accomplished the remarkable feat of sweeping GPAC regular season and postseason titles for the third year in a row. Oh yeah, it has also again reached the 30-win mark.
“It’s just a really special group,” Olson said. “Every year is a unique, different team. This team is full of phenomenal kids – tough as nails. I love them.”
The previous two GPAC championship battles with the Tigers were decided by a grand total of three points, with one of those contests going to overtime. Barry was not interested in turning the stomachs of Bulldog fans inside out this time. The Lincoln East High School product opened the final quarter with a trey before delivering her patented runner in the lane. Twice in the final three minutes, Barry stole the ball away and either dished for two or took it in herself.
Barry posted 12 of her team high 18 points in the final stanza. Before she went off, it certainly looked like another epic conclusion was possible. A 10-point Concordia halftime lead had melted completely away during a third quarter that saw Dakota Wesleyan (28-5) take a one-point lead on two occasions. Sarah Carr, who had poured in 37 points in the Tigers’ GPAC quarterfinal win, was a tough customer. She had 18 on this night.
But the Bulldogs were determined to overcome it. Senior Quinn Wragge did not want to go down in the final Walz appearance of her career.
“I love Concordia. I’ve said that before,” Wragge said. “Our fans were amazing tonight. The atmosphere here when the fans are going crazy is incredible. I love it. It’s definitely a last home game that I’ll remember.”
Wragge swatted one of the nine blocked shots recorded by the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Concordia’s length and active hands did a number on Dakota Wesleyan star Kynedi Cheeseman, who went 3-for-17 from the field. The Tigers shot 34.3 percent as a team. That was a key number in a game in which Dakota Wesleyan committed only 10 turnovers.
Barry certainly had help. Taylor Cockerill notched 13 points while Philly Lammers added 10 points and seven rebounds. Wragge contributed five points and eight rebounds in her Walz swan song. Off the bench, Colby Duvel played big with six points, eight rebounds and three rejections. With the way the Bulldogs got after it defensively and rebounded (49-35 edge), their 43.1 percent shooting was plenty good enough.
It all added up to the sixth GPAC tournament title in program history (five during Olson’s tenure). Concordia has won seven of the last eight meetings with Dakota Wesleyan, which still has yet to ever earn a victory inside Walz Arena.
“It was a phenomenal game from two really good teams,” Olson said of the latest meeting. “It came down to us in the fourth quarter stepping up and making plays offensively. Grace was really unbelievable on the attack with her ability to finish. Defensively I thought we did a great job contesting shots and finishing with the rebound.”
Rylie Osthus (12) and Madison Mathews (11) joined Carr in double figures for the visitors. All five Tiger starters played 32 or more minutes for a squad that typically goes just seven deep.
The Bulldogs now await their national tournament draw. The NAIA is scheduled to announce the national championships bracket at 6 p.m. CST on Wednesday (Feb. 27). A live selection show can be viewed at that time via the NAIA’s Facebook page. The 2019 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships will take place March 6-12 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
“It’s the pinnacle of our season,” Wragge said. “It’s our goal every year (to be there). It’s a ton of fun. We’re going to take it game by game, but we’re really looking forward to it.”
Listen to the game here.