SIOUX CITY – Concordia is back in the NAIA Division II National Women's Basketball championship game and the Bulldogs hope things turn out differently this time around.
Second-ranked Concordia made it an All-Great Plains Athletic Conference final by downing Northwestern 84-77 in the second semifinal Monday at the Tyson Events Center.
After chalking up their third win of the season over Northwestern, the Bulldogs meet another familiar foe for all the marbles Tuesday night. Dakota Wesleyan knocked off Saint Xavier (Ill.) 81-66 in the other semifinal.
The last time two GPAC schools met for the crown, Morningside came away a 59-57 winner in an epic 2015 contest. That was Concordia's only other trip to the title game, while DWU reached the final game in 2003, falling to Hastings.
Concordia proved to have too much firepower for the Red Raiders, using a surge that started late in the second quarter and continued into early in the third to take command.
“We're very excited to be in the championship game, it's something we've been striving for all year,” Concordia Coach Drew Olson said. “We've marked off all of our goals for this year and this is the last one.”
Northwestern had a 38-36 lead with a couple of minutes left before halftime, but the Bulldogs scored the final eight points of the second quarter and first six of the third.
The 50-38 deficit forced the Red Raiders to play catchup and although they battled hard, the closest they came the rest of the game was the final seven-point spread. Concordia had a 65-50 lead after three quarters and Northwestern trimmed it to single digits early in the fourth, but it was too much to overcome.
“Our game plan was to make sure we were helping on the post and make the guards beat us and we needed to rebound the ball,” Olson said. “The first quarter we didn't do that very well and that's why they were in the game. And I think our press also allowed them to get some easy baskets. We took off the press and rebounded a lot better in the second half.”
Northwestern (25-9) shot 38.5 percent from the field and just 9-for-34 from the arc. The Red Raiders did, however, have all five starters reach double figures.
“We had a goal of making it really far in this tournament and our season went really well,” Northwestern senior Paige Danner said. “We knew we needed to play well, Concordia is a good team. We weren't able to get a couple stops like we needed to. We knew that we had to work together as a team. They're a threat on the three and very physical down low and were just able to overpower us.”
Junior Haley Birks had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds for Northwestern. Renee Maneman scored 19 points and dished out nine assists in her final game and led the nation in assists each of the last two seasons.
Kassidy De Jong, another of the key returnees for the Red Raiders next season, also double-doubled with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Danner scored 11 points.
“They're a pretty potent offensive team in that they have a number of kids who have a great ability to shoot the basketball,” Northwestern Coach Chris Yaw said. “They have strong, physical kids on the interior. They're just a potent team and when we go back and watch film I'll bet there's plenty of teams they've done that too over the course of their 36 wins.
“Our kids were working their tail off but when it's a case where you just can't miss one assignment by two or three feet over the course of the game. Credit them, they found those creases and made a good strong run at the end of the first half for us.”
Philly Lammers finished with 23 points and nine rebounds, edging closer to becoming the fifth Concordia player with 1,000 career points. Quinn Wragge, who has already reached that plateau, scored 17 points while MacKenzie Halman had 13 on 3-for-5 accuracy from the arc.
Concordia beat Northwestern 84-80 on Dec. 15 in Orange City, Iowa, and 80-67 on Feb. 3 in Seward, Nebraska.