When the band strikes up “I Feel Good” during a timeout and the coach sings along, it’s a pretty strong sign that things couldn’t be much better.
Chris Carlson had a lot of reasons to feel good Friday.
Dominant from the opening tip, his North Idaho College Cardinals sprinted into the championship game of the NJCAA Region 18 women’s basketball tournament with a 57-33 rout of Salt Lake Community College at Christianson Gymnasium in Coeur d’Alene.
“That kind of energy and effort – it was beautiful,” said Carlson. “The girls played so hard and fought for everything they could get.”
The fight continues today when the Cardinals (28-3) try to earn their fifth trip to the national tournament, and first since winning it all in 2011, against regular-season co-champ College of Southern Idaho in the 5 p.m. title game. The Golden Eagles (20-11) pushed aside Snow 57-43 in the other semifinal.
Salt Lake (20-11) was the only other Scenic West Athletic Conference team besides CSI to beat the Cardinals this season, and also lost a two-point decision just two weeks ago. But this one was over before it really got started.
NIC blasted out to a 20-2 lead, the visiting Bruins missing 15 of their first 16 shots and turning the ball over eight times in the first 12 minutes. What looks they did get were challenged or rushed, their rhythm compromised by NIC’s switching defenses.
“We’ve been straight ‘man’ for about seven or eight games,” Carlson said, “just making sure we know how to guard people’s ‘man’ stuff. We went back to mixing it up and it was effective. I was a little nervous about it, but we were good at it earlier in the season, and we were good today.”
In particular, the Cardinals were nails at neutralizing the SWAC’s most dominant inside player, Rachel Morris.
The Bruins tried to go to Morris their first trip down the floor after winning the opening tip, and NIC’s Kabri Emerson stepped in front of her for a steal.
By the time Morris picked up her second foul 7:17 into the game, the 6-foot-4 sophomore had yet to get off a shot.
She was scoreless in the first half, which ended with NIC up 28-13, and finished with just three points and four rebounds, though fouls limited her to 22 minutes.
Point guard Georgia Stirton led the way with 11 points for NIC while Hannah Love added 10.