In an MIAA Tournament quarterfinal matchup with one of the nation's stingiest defensive teams, Northwest Missouri State's recent wave of offensive success came to a screeching halt.
On their third and final try at an upset of the MIAA regular season champions, the dangerous Bearcats were rendered non-threatening in the second half by their worst offensive showing of the year in a 52-39 loss to the top-seeded Lady Blues at Municipal Auditorium.
Northwest held a five-point lead more than eight minutes in, but went to the half down six and spent the final 14:30 helplessly trying to make up a double-digit deficit that grew to as many as 18.
Winners of four straight coming into play, Northwest wrapped up an encouraging first season under head coach Mark Kellogg at 15-13.
The Lady Blues (23-4), who were pretty anemic offensively themselves, advanced to the tournament semifinals to play Emporia State.
"Obviously, it was a fairly ugly game from an offensive rhythm standpoint," said Kellogg. "I don't think either team found much rhythm. Obviously, they found a little more than we did. I thought we hung tough defensively and held them to 52. You would think that would give you a fighting chance. We kept battling, but it wasn't our night. We'll credit Washburn for that."
Facing the nation's No. 4 scoring defense, the Bearcats set a new season-low for points, shot their lowest percentage of the year (25.6 percent) and went 3-17 from three.
Their first half total of 16 points was also a new season-low.
This followed three consecutive games where the Bearcats had shot 50 percent or better from the field and scored more than 70 points, most recently 77 at Missouri Southern.
In the two previous games with Washburn, Northwest shot 42 percent or better and averaged 53.5 points. This time, they needed six late just to approach 40.
"We just missed shots," said Kellogg. "We had some open one's. We missed a lot of open three's tonight. We missed some easy one's inside. Some posts had some decent looks. They had some blocks and they affected us a little bit, but we still took the shots we take. We just didn't get any of them to fall down. That's what happens in the post-season. You have one night like that, it's too hard to overcome and your season is over."
Going against a more athletic front line that produced eight blocks, Northwest's three main post players Maggie Marnin, Annie Mathews and Alexis Boeh went a collective 7-29 from the field.
Marnin, the league leader in field goal percentage, missed all of her mid-range jumpers and finished 4-13 with 10 points, tying for the team lead in scoring with freshman Tember Schechinger.
Page 2 of 3 - Northwest's top perimeter threat, sophomore guard Ashleigh Nelson, missed all eight of her shots and was 0-6 from three, finishing with a single point following a 21-point outburst against Missouri Southern.
Compounding the shooting woes were 22 turnovers which was actually Northwest's fewest against Washburn in the three games.
"It was hard to get into rhythm because we just couldn't get any passes through," said Schechinger. "They just kept blocking our shots. It just really threw us off what we were supposed to do. I know our post entry passes, if we tried to lob it, they would tip it. If you tried to bounce pass, it was too slow."
Washburn struggled every bit as badly on offense as Northwest in the first half, shooting 8-28 with 22 points--its lowest first half total of the season--but was much more productive in the second half, shooting 12-23 with 30 points.
The Lady Blues still finished at only 39 percent and turned it over 25 times.
MIAA co-player of the year Laura Kinderknecht led the Lady Blues with 10 points, scoring seven of those in the second half. Tiara George and Dana Elliott each had eight points. Laura McMullin scored seven off the bench in the final 10 minutes.
Washburn got off to another horrendous start against Northwest, going 0-7 with three turnovers on its first 10 possessions.
But once again, the Bearcats failed to take full advantage offensively after hitting a couple early shots.
While holding Washburn scoreless for the first five minutes—a feat they also pulled off in Maryville—Northwest's lead was only 5-0 at that point.
LaVonda McCall broke Washburn's scoring drought with a transition layup and Elliott drilled a three to reduce Northwest's lead to two.
It returned to five on Schechinger's second three.
After that, Northwest went the next three minutes without a field goal, and Washburn took a 14-12 lead on a Kinderknecht three.
"We couldn't figure out how to sustain it," said Kellogg. "We jumped out in every game I think on them. I got to watch that one again and try to figure out exactly what's going on or why we can't sustain it. That's disappointing. You need to extend that a little bit more."
The Bearcats tied it at 14 on a Marnin bank shot, but scored just two more points over the final eight minutes of the half.
Washburn netted the six to go up 20-14 before its offense stalled, producing just two more points. A wide open missed layup by McCall after a theft of Ashley Thayer at halfcourt allowed Northwest to get to the half down only six.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Northwest's offense sparked briefly and they reduced an eight-point deficit to four.
Page 3 of 3 - But after scoring six points in the first 3:40, the Bearcats remained stuck on 22 for the next 5:59.
By that time, Washburn had slowly worked its lead up to double-digits.
With under 10 minutes left, Schechinger broke Northwest's extended field goal drought with a transition layup to make it 35-25.
Coming off a series of screens, Kinderknecht answered right back with a three and Washburn ran off seven straight to open up a 17-point lead. Northwest never got closer than 15 agains the Lady Blues had their third-string unit on the floor.
"It's one thing to get a stop," said Schechinger. "You have to score after it and we weren't getting the score after it. It felt like the stops weren't doing anything, so everything was just going downhill."
Despite the sour conclusion to the season, Northwest still finished with nine more wins than it had the year before and made it to Kansas City after being picked to finish 14th in the MIAA Preseason Poll.
With their entire starting lineup returning and plenty of room on the roster to add more young pieces, Northwest's program appears headed for even greater success in the coming years under Kellogg.
"This was a huge step for us," said Kellogg. "We had the goal to get here and at certain junctures we didn't know that was going to be the case. You want to get back. We asked them to remember the feeling when it hurts right now and how bad we want to work to make sure it doesn't happen again."