Fast-starting Panthers fall to Shockers in overtime

ST. CHARLES, Mo. – The battle between fellow first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference members Jacqui Kalin and Alex Harden was an enjoyable scene Saturday during a semifinal matchup in the conference tournament.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, it was Harden’s top-seeded Wichita State Shockers who came out on top as Harden’s career-high 28 points led the Shockers to a 75-71 victory in overtime at Family Arena.

“First of all, I have to give credit to UNI,” Wichita State coach Jody Adams said. “What a game. A lot of fight there between two great teams. It has taken us a long time to get to this point. It has not been one season. It is about these players growing up in our program and in our environment.”

UNI coach Tanya Warren said the Shockers made big shots when they needed to, and Harden lived up to her reputation of being a great player.

“They stuck some big shots,” Warren said. “(Alex) Harden is phenomenal. She’s outstanding. You’ve got to give her credit, and her teammates stepped up and hit big shots. They won the regular season for a reason, and their experience paid huge dividends today.”

Kalin finished with 26 points, six assists and five rebounds, but the fourth-seeded Panthers dropped to 16-16 on the season. Amber Kirschbaum had her second straight double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

No other UNI player was in double figures.

The Shockers (23-9) also got 15 points off the bench from Jessica Diamond and will next face third-seeded Illinois State in today’s championship game. The Redbirds (23-9) beat No. 2-seeded Creighton (23-7) in overtime, 64-61, in the other semifinal.

“I think it means everything,” Adams said of getting to the MVC finals. “Came here five years ago and it’s what you’re brought in to do as a coach and that’s why I’ve never thought anything differently but to turn this program into where it had a winning tradition and tradition of being in that final game.”

The Panthers led by 11 at halftime thanks to a late 3-pointer from former AGWSR prep Jess McDowell. UNI grabbed the lead after shooting 48 percent from the floor.

The lead was short-lived though as Wichita State began the second half on a 9-1 run and trimmed its deficit to three. Kalin, who scored 21 of her 26 points after halftime, pushed the advantage back to six, but the Shockers continued their momentum and eventually took the lead at the 14:15 mark.

It was back-and-forth from that point on. There were four different lead changes in the final 5 minutes.

Wichita State led by three following two free throws from Harden with less than 10 seconds to go in the game, but Kalin sent the game into the extra session with a deep triple with 7 seconds on the clock. The Shockers made four freebies in the final minute to keep the game going.

“Jacqui Kalin defines character,” Warren said of her senior guard. “She’s everything you want your program to continue to be. She is what excellence is.”

Brooke Brown, on the other hand, missed two free throws with the Panthers up one with 1:16 to go in the game. It was two of UNI’s three misses on the day as the Panthers were 17-of-20 from the charity stripe.

The Panthers could not keep the momentum of Kalin’s big shot in the overtime period as the Shockers opened overtime with a 9-2 run as they made four of their first five shots from the floor.

“Anytime a team makes the tying shot to head into overtime, you steal some of that momentum,” said Kalin, who was recently named Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. “We were locked in and excited to take it to overtime. (WSU) made big plays down the stretch. You’ve got to give them credit. They made a lot of tough, big shots in overtime.”

UNI got to within three with 49 seconds to go after Brown hit two free throws. Harden missed three of her four free throw attempts in the final 30 seconds to give UNI a chance, but McDowell missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 9 seconds to go and then missed another 3-pointer as time expired.

Wichita State scored twice as many points as UNI did in the paint and had 19 points off 14 Northern Iowa turnovers. The Shockers also held UNI to no second-chance points and no fastbreak points.

The lead changed hands 12 times and there were five ties.

The MVC championship game between Wichita State and Illinois State will tip off at 2:05 p.m. today and can be seen on Fox Sports Midwest.

The Shockers will be making their second trip to the conference tournament championship game. They have never played in the NCAA tournament.

Illinois State 64, Creighton 61, OT

Candace Sykes had 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench to lead Illinois State to a small upset in the other semifinal at Family Arena on Saturday.

The Redbirds (23-9) also got 13 points from Alex Foley and 11 points and eight rebounds from Janae Smith in the win.

Illinois State led by 11 at halftime before Creighton rallied behind McKenzie Fujan and Ally Jensen in the second half.

Fujan finished with 22 points for the Bluejays (24-7), while Jensen, a former Ballard prep, added 18 points and five rebounds in the loss. Sarah Nelson also 11 rebounds. Creighton lost despite making 10 shots from 3-point range.