March 13, 2009

Courtesy of Grand Valley State Athletics

Highland Heights, Ky. - Grand Valley State played right along with the defending national champions for 40 minutes, but #1 Northern Kentucky prevailed with a 66-57 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament. The Lakers trailed by four points at halftime before NKU pulled away late in the game on Friday night (Mar. 13).

Northern Kentucky (29-2) jumped out of the gates quickly, scoring the game's first 10 points, including a pair of three-pointers and two layups in the opening minutes. The Lakers halted the early run as senior forward Kim Wyngaard banked in a jumper from the paint around the 17:10 mark to put GVSU (20-10) on the board.

The Norse pushed the lead out to 13-4 before freshman point guard Jasmine Padin, GVSU's single-season three-point leader, added two more triples to her total by knocking down a pair and going inside for a layup to make the score 13-12. Padin continued her 11-0 onslaught, draining a third triple from long range and the Lakers had their first lead, 15-13.

Immediately answering for NKU was its all-region guard, Jessie Slack. She responded with a triple and forward Brandi Rayburn added another trifecta to re-gain a 19-15 lead. Wyngaard then hit another jumper in the paint off of a feed from Padin. Slack quickly answered with a three-pointer on the other end, to which Padin scored a layup in response. In what was amounting to an early one-on-one battle, Slack put in a layup in the paint and NKU was on top, 26-20, with both Padin and Slack totaling 13 points in the early going.

Sophomore forward Kara Crawford cut the NKU lead in half by draining a three-pointer from the top of the key to make the score 26-23 at the 4:00 mark. Slack answered with a triple and guard Rachel Lantry scored on a jumper from the elbow moments later to up the Norse advantage to 31-23. The Lakers scored the final four points of the half, all from GLIAC Freshman of the Year Emma Veach. She cut the lead to 31-25 on a running jumper in the paint and with the first-half clock running down, Veach crossed over her defender and floated in a jumper with less than five seconds on the clock. GVSU went into halftime trailing, 31-27, after keeping Northern Kentucky off the scoreboard for the final 3:11 of the first half.

In the opening frame, the Lakers shot 31.3 percent from the field and made just 4-of-13 three-pointers, but trailed by just four points. That stat is even more impressive considering Northern Kentucky shot 54.5 percent from the floor and made 7-of-12 triple tries (58.3 percent). Grand Valley State stayed in the game by forcing 13 NKU turnovers in the opening half, while GVSU made just five miscues.

Similar to the opening minutes of the first half, Northern Kentucky also came out quickly at the beginning of the second half. NKU used a 10-2 run to increase its advantage to 41-29 at the 15:34 mark, including a four-point play from Slack, who made a three-pointer and the ensuing free throw after being fouled on the shot.

Veach tossed in another running jumper inside the paint and junior forward Lauren Buresh added a triple from the top of the key to cut the NKU lead to 44-35 with 11:57 remaining. The Norse began to pull away in the next four minutes, as they knocked down three three-pointers and pushed their advantage to 55-39 with just over eight minutes remaining. At that point, Northern Kentucky was 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) from three-point range. Entering the game, the Lakers allowed their opponents to make just 33.3 percent of its long-distance attempts.

GVSU scored the next five points on a pair of free throws from freshman guard Kelly Kretz and another three-pointer from Padin to cut the NKU lead to 55-44. Both teams traded buckets over the next four minutes to keep the Norse lead at 11 points at 59-48 with 3:36 remaining.

Veach scored in the paint on a layup to cut the lead to eight points before Rayburn knocked down NKU's 13th three-pointer of the game. Wyngaard responded with a bucket on the other end to make the score 62-53. Norse forward Cassie Brannen then tallied an old-fashioned three-point play to up the lead to 65-53 at the 2:15 mark. Northern Kentucky closed the game out at 66-57.

For the game, GVSU shot 30.6 percent from the floor and made just 6-of-25 three-pointers (24.0 percent). The Lakers did force 23 NKU turnovers, but the Norse shot 47.9 percent from the field and made 13-of-24 triple tries (54.2 percent). Northern Kentucky won the rebounding battle, 39-32.

Padin paced the Laker offense by scoring 18 points and adding three assists. Veach shot 6-of-10 from the field and finished with 14 points, while Wyngaard tallied 13 points, nine rebounds, and four steals. Wyngaard ends her terrific career with a 90-33 record, including being a member on the 2005-06 Division II National Championship team. Sophomore guard Elizabeth Van Tiflin tied for the game-high with 10 rebounds.

NKU was led by Slack's game-high 24 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. Guard Danyelle Echoles made all four of her shots from three-point range on her way to 12 points. The other three Norse starters combined for 23 points.