Sunday, March 26, 2000

NKU rally took a lot of heart

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Suzie Smith (15), Heather Livingstone (11) and Ann Mobley (32) celebrate.
(AP photos)
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        PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The buzzer sounded, and Northern Kentucky University's women raced to midcourt, a circle of friends in a circle of tears.

        Within minutes, national champion T-shirts had been donned. Then came the ladder-and-scissors drill. Seventy minutes after the final buzzer, coach Nancy Winstel jumped fully clothed into the pool at the Ramada Inn next door, and the Norse followed suit, still in their uniforms.

        There was one final game plan: With a 5:15 a.m. wake-up call today to make a flight, the players were to prevent oversleeping by simply not sleeping.

        “Heck, it's not like we have practice tomorrow,” Winstel said.

        For the first national title of any kind in school history, there was to be no celebration left unfinished. An all-night party was the least they could do.

        “It's almost undescribeable,” junior guard Heather Livingstone said. “I wish I would have looked in a dictionary to find a word for this. It's absolutely the best feeling in the world.”

Michelle Cottrell, tournament MVP.
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        What began as a rebuilding season ended in rejoicing, the Norse rallying for a 71-62 overtime triumph over North Dakota State for the NCAA Division II basketball crown Saturday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. A team figured a year away from its peak somehow stands at the summit.

        NKU had no seniors in its nine-player rotation. It had just four players back from last season, two of them starters.

        Yet it had heart. NKU trailed late in the second half of all five of its tournament games, behind by double digits in two of them. It rallied from seven points down with 15 minutes left Saturday, then regrouped after losing a four-point lead in the final 80 seconds of regulation.

        “Our team has more heart than anyone,” forward Amy Mobley said.

        Mobley, a freshman from Harrison, scored 13 points Saturday, 11 of them after halftime.

        Michelle Cottrell, a sophomore forward from Boone County, earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors after totaling 23 points and 19 rebounds. Michele Tuchfarber, a junior guard from Mount Notre Dame, totaled nine points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals and also made the all-tourney team.

Lisa Geiman
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        NKU finished 32-2, ending with a 24-game winning streak. North Dakota State, a five-time national champ, went 28-4.

        “This is one of the few times I have ever been speechless,” Winstel said. “When we went into this year, we didn't ever think about winning a national championship. We're so young, we never looked ahead past the next game.”

        The secret Saturday was defense. NKU held the Bisons to one basket the last 11:27 of play, including 0-of-7 shooting in overtime. They shot 33.9 percent, making just seven of 30 shots after halftime.

        Division II Player of the Year Jayne Even scored just 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting.

        “They were all over Jayne defensively, and their offensive execution was much better than ours,” NDSU coach Amy Ruley said.

        The lead changed hands throughout the second half, but the Bisons used two free throws and a basket with 39 seconds left to tie the score. Livingstone missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer, NDSU turned over the ball, and Cottrell missed a heavily guarded shot at the buzzer.

        After 32 years as a university, another five minutes wasn't too much longer to wait.

        “Everyone was tired, but we had so much adrenaline,” NKU junior Julie Cowens said. “We knew we were wearing them out.”

        NKU started the overtime strong, working the ball to Cot trell for a bank shot 21 seconds into the period, then fed her for another basket and a four-point lead. It beat NDSU's press for three layups, and at 6:55p.m. Eastern time, the long wait had ended.

        The heartache over two previous Final Four losses — in 1987 and last year — was gone. So was the sting of the men's basketball team's losses in back-to-back championship games in 1996 and '97, the latter by a point.

        This was NKU's sixth NCAA Tournament team in the last 13 months: women's basketball (twice), women's tennis, volleyball, women's soccer and men's basketball. The volleyball and soccer teams reached the Final Four.

        “Our athletic program continues to grow,” President James Votruba said.

        The players, coaches and fans lingered on the court afterward, many wearing stunned smiles.

        “I can't even believe it,” Athletic Director Jane Meier said. “It's so neat when you say, "NKU, national champions.' What a ring to it.”

        N. KENTUCKY (32-2) — Livingstone 1-5 2-2 5, Tuchfarber 3-9 2-3 9, Cottrell 7-14 9-12 23, Cowens 5-9 2-2 12, Jenson 2-6 2-2 7, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Mobley 4-7 4-10 13, Polosky 0-1 0-0 0, Flanagan 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-53 21-31 71.

        N. DAKOTA ST. (28-4) — Burns 2-4 0-1 4, Amundson 5-9 1-2 11, Gehrke 2-14 3-4 8, Boeddeker 1-3 0-0 2, Even 5-18 4-8 14, Berry 4-12 6-6 16, Ditty 1-1 2-2 4, Reif 0-0 0-1 0, Perrizo 1-1 0-2 3, Mayor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-62 16-26 62.

        Halftime—NDSU 33, NKU 29. 3-Point goals— NKU 4-11 (Tuchfarber 1-1, Livingstone 1-3, Jenson 1-3, Mobley 1-3, Cowens 0-1), NDSU 4-19 (Berry 2-5, Perrizo 1-1, Gehrke 1-8, Amundson 0-1, Even 0-4). Fouled out—Tuchfarber, Boeddeker. Rebounds—NKU 44 (Cottrell 19), NDSU 41 (Even, Berry 10). Assists—NKU 13 (Livingstone, Tuchfarber 4), NDSU 11 (Gehrke 4). Total fouls—NKU 20, NDSU 21. A—476.


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