After seeing 15-point lead in the closing minutes cut to just two, the Southwestern Oklahoma State University women's basketball team managed to hold off Central Missouri for a 73-71 win in first round of the NCAA Division II Central Regional.
The Lady Bulldog offense was held down in the first half by the athletic Central Missouri defense. SWOSU shot just 33.3 percent from the field, knocking down 11-of-33 attempts in the half, but a late 8-0 run sparked by Kimmi Sawatzky and TaNita Dewberry gave the Bulldogs a 31-29 lead at the break.
After Central Missouri tied the game on the first possession of the second half, outscored the Jennies 22-10 over the next six minutes to take a 53-41 lead on a three-point play by Natalia Gibson with 13:15 to play. UCM made a couple runs at the Lady Bulldogs, but got no closer than six points before Michelle Fisher pulled up for a three and extending the lead to 61-52.
Fisher held the hot hand for SWOSU in the second half and she scored eight of the Bulldogs' next 10 points over the next four minutes, stretching the lead to 15 points, 71-56, with 4:12 to play.
Central Missouri still had plenty of fight left in them and they would make a late run at the Bulldogs, who were trying to close out their first NCAA postseason victory.
Nicole Caddell and Keuna Flax scored back-to-back buckets to get UCM within single digits at 71-62 before BreAnna Lewis hit a trio of three pointers in the final minute to put the Jennies within range of SWOSU. Dewberry knocked down two free throws with 33 seconds remaining to set the lead just out of reach for UCM and the Bulldogs held on for the 73-71 victory.
For the game, SWOSU shot 40.9 percent (27-66) from the field and built a large enough lead to withstand the late Central Missouri run and end the Jennies season at 24-6. That record is also what SWOSU improves to with the win.
Fisher led SWOSU with a game-high 24 points, her third 20-point outing of the postseason and she added three steals and two rebounds for SWOSU. Fisher knocked down 5-of-7 attempts from long range and shot 9-of-17 overall. Dewberry was part of the SWOSU bench which outscored UCM's bench 31-13. Dewberry scored 10 points, including those two crucial free throws, and grabbed eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
The rest of the SWOSU offense was a balanced effort with MaRiah Oyler and Gibson each scoring nine points off the bench and Elizabeth Lay and Kimmi Sawatzky both chipping in six points. In addition, Lay pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked three shots.
SWOSU will now advance to the semifinals of the regional to face the No. 6 seed Augustana, a 78-66 winner over Concordia-St. Paul in the first quarterfinal game on Friday. That game will be played on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Lee Arena in Topeka and will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.