SIOUX CITY | All-Americans have a tendency to make plays at crucial times and St. Xavier’s Kara Krolicki rose to the occasion against Morningside Saturday.
The reigning NAIA Division II women’s basketball player of the year scored 12 of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, leading second-ranked St. Xavier to an 83-75 victory over the No. 10 Mustangs in the Morningside Classic at Allee Gym.
Krolicki’s heroics helped the talented Cougars rally from a four-point deficit at the end of the third quarter and the 5-foot-7 senior put a dagger in Morningside’s chances when, after the Mustangs missed two potential game-tying 3-pointers, she nailed a step-back 3 and two free throws in the final 24 seconds.
St. Xavier, last year’s national runner-up, returned four of five starters including Krolicki, a two-time first-team All-American. Morningside, meanwhile, started a freshman and two sophomores while playing several more freshmen extensively.
“They’re an awesome team, they were in the finals and have just about everybody back and are hard to guard,” Morningside Coach Jamie Sale said. “We played five freshmen and two sophomores and hung in there. We wanted to test ourselves early in the year and we have. We’re not quite good enough yet but at least we have some things we can look at and learn from and get better.”
The game was tight throughout with 10 ties and 14 lead changes. St. Xavier led 23-19 after one quarter and it was tied 34-34 at halftime. Morningside scored the final nine points of the third quarter to surge in front, 60-56.
The Mustangs’ Madison Braun tossed in 12 of her team-high 20 points in the third quarter. Sophomore Sydney Hupp scored 14 points and freshman Sierra Mitchell 11 while Lauren Lehmkuhl added 10 points off the bench.
Hupp took a feed from Braun to tie the game at 71-71 with 3:30 remaining, but St. Xavier’s outstanding senior post Brittany Collins scored at the other end. After Hupp tied it again at the 2:42 mark, Maddie Welter hit a crucial 3-pointer for the Cougars.
St. Xavier was clinging to a 78-75 advantage when Morningside missed two open looks at 3-pointers with just inside a minute left. Krolicki, though, dashed the Mustangs’ hopes.
Collins finished with 18 points and six rebounds, while Chanel Fanter scored 17 points and Welter 14. Those are the four returning regulars who were on the floor when St. Xavier lost to Marian 66-52 in the national championship game at the Tyson Events Center last March.
Veteran Bob Hallberg picked up his 450th coaching win at St. Xavier Friday night, 80-69, over Briar Cliff.
Morningside launched 38 3-point shots and St. Xavier 28. The Mustangs held a 43-31 rebound advantage but shot just 39 percent from the field.
“We need to utilize our inside players a little bit more, we get a little bit too three happy at times,” Sale said. “Defensively we have to get better. We play hard and we can get stops but late in the game it seems like we have trouble getting the real important stops. We have very talented players, but some of them like to show their talents a little bit too much instead of playing together.”