MISSOULA – Wendy Schuller’s team battled to the end, but D’Shara Strange and the Northern Colorado Bears were too much to overcome.
Strange scored 27 points and nabbed five steals, including three thefts in overtime, as the second-seeded Bears advanced to the championship game of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament with a 70-64 win over third-seeded Eastern Washington on Friday.
“That was a war out there between two teams that I think have a lot of respect for each other and that you could really see it,” said Schuller, EWU’s 12th-year head coach. “As the game was getting into overtime, kids were knocking each other down and picking each other back up.
“We’ve won a lot of games just because we play so hard and we are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes. Life, limb, face – whatever it comes down to. We just didn’t have enough today.”
Eastern trailed 55-46 with 3 minutes, 36 seconds to play in regulation. The Eagles went on an 11-2 run to force extra time, spurred by Carrie Ojeda’s tough play. The senior center scored six of EWU’s final eight points, including a jumper with 17 seconds left to tie the action at 57-57. She also took a key charge with 33 seconds remaining in regulation to set up the game-tying bucket.
“Carrie was a warrior for us today, and she has been all year,” Schuller said. “They didn’t have anyone who could play in the paint with her. She was a beast, in beast mode.”
UNC hit just one field goal in overtime – senior forward Lauren Oosdyke took a steal and converted it into a three-point play to begin the extra period – but the Bears sealed the win by hitting 11 of 15 free throws in the extra period. Strange hit 7 of 8 from the line in the final 2:09.
“We didn’t want the game to be that long, but our kids really persevered,” UNC coach Jamie White said after her team won for the 20th time this winter.
Ojeda, a 6-foot-1 senior from Tacoma, finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
“It hurts,” Ojeda said with tears in her eyes. “But I wouldn’t have wanted to finish it with any other team. I love my teammates so much and they play so hard, even for me. It’s bittersweet, but we went down fighting.”
Montana 73, Sacramento State 53: The top-seeded Grizzlies (23-7) advanced to the championship game by defeating the fifth-seeded Hornets (19-12).
Senior Katie Baker, who played high school ball at Lake City, scored a game-high 17 points.