THE OPENING TIP
The University of Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball team (30-3 overall, 21-1 NSIC) will start its first ever Elite Eight trek out in St. Joseph, Mo. with a contest against Assumption on Monday, March 20 at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Civic Arena.
THE MAP TO MISSOURI
The Central Region’s path to St. Joseph ran through Romano, as the Bulldogs landed the No. 1 spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Central Regional. UMD’s road started with a matchup against No. 8 Southern Nazarene, the winners of both the regular season and tournament titles in the Great American Conference (GAC). It’s a contest the Bulldogs ended up taking 66-50, largely on the back of a third quarter in which UMD outscored SNU 24-12
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
–Brooke Olson: 32 points (15-22 shooting), eight rebounds
–Maesyn Thiesen: 10 points, four assists, four rebounds
-Team: shot 50% (28-58) from the field, held SNU to just 35.3% (18-51) shooting
Next came yet another meeting with Minnesota State, the third this year (including a run-in in the NSIC Tournament Championship). Two key figures proved to define this game: a 20-8 scoring effort for the Bulldogs in the third quarter, and… well, Olson’s scoring effort overall. A spoiler for the debrief: the graduate forward put up a staggering career-high of 43 points. On 16-20 shooting, no less. Oh, and she grabbed 14 rebounds, too. All of this helped cement not only a huge 86-70 win for the Bulldogs but just their second Regional Final appearance in program history.
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
-Olson: 43 points (16-20 shooting), 14 rebounds
–Taya Hakamaki: 13 points, five rebounds
-Thiesen: 12 points, three assists, five rebounds
–Taytum Rhoades: 12 points
-Team: shot 55.1% (27-49), held MSU to 34.4% (21-61) shooting
It’s in that Regional Championship that UMD squared up against third-seed Missouri Southern. It was the Lions that took control early in this one-and held it. By halftime, the score was 45-27 MSSU. And with just 2:07 to play in the game, the Lions’ lead was still in double-figures, the score 72-61.
The Bulldogs used that brief time frame to do the unthinkable.
From that 2:07 mark onwards, UMD would outscore MSSU by a whopping 16-4 margin. The Lions’ four points came spread across three trips to the line- they were held without a field goal in that entire span. In fact, MSSU didn’t score from anywhere other than the charity stripe for the last 5:31 of the game.
It was a case of Romano magic that was capped off with a ginormous Ella Gilbertson three-ball with just 15 seconds on the clock. After a Kryslyn Jones attempt on the other end failed to connect as time expired, the buzzer sounded. With a 77-76 win, the Bulldogs were officially off to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
-Olson: 21 points, 13 rebounds
-Gilbertson: 21 points (8-15 shooting), five rebounds
-Hakamaki: 14 points, four assists
-Team: shot 54.55% (12-22) in the fourth quarter
BROOKE’S BIG WEEK
It’s been some type of season for Olson, huh?
The D2CAA Central Region Player of the Year, NCAA Tournament Central Region Most Outstanding Player, the first player in conference history to ever win NSIC POY for a fourth-straight time, NSIC Tournament MVP for a third-straight time….
Keep going? Gladly. Olson is now the all-time leading scorer in NSIC history when it comes to regular season conference games, finishing her career with 1615 such points. She’s second not only in UMD history but across all active DII women’s players when it comes to overall scoring, sitting with 2455.
It’s quite the resume- and that’s only from this season! Still, Olson sure would love to add to it. One might expect this week between games to be a kind of a lull period, a stretch between all that’s already been accomplished and all that could be.
But this is Olson we’re talking about.
It all started with the Rice Lake, Wis. native being crowned the CSC’s DII Academic All-America Player of the Year on Wednesday. Olson became just the second player from the UMD women’s basketball program to take home the honor, joining Lindsey Dietz. The hits just kept on coming on Thursday, when Olson was named as a World Exposure Report (WER) First-Team All-American, her second time taking this exact honor and her third time on a WER All-American team in general. The graduate forward was also a finalist for the WER Player of the Year award, which she won back in 2020-21.
Little did anyone know that this was all just the rising action to something even bigger. Well, it is Olson, so maybe what would come next wasn’t much of a surprise after all.
On Friday, the graduate forward took on one of the most prestigious titles in all of the sport: the WBCA DII Player of the Year. When it comes to this award, Olson has no Bulldog company- she’s the first to ever win it in UMD history. Of course, the Rice Lake, Wis. native was also a WBCA All-American (for the fourth time).
STATS STATUS REPORT
It’s Olson that sits atop UMD’s scoring charts across the entire season, averaging 23 points a game on a 57.1% mark from the field. The graduate forward also leads the team in average assists with 7.4. In the tournament, though… Olson’s game has (somehow) evolved. The Rice Lake, Wis. native’s been an absolute monster in March, averaging a tournament-leading 32 points (on 65% shooting) and 11.7 rebounds a night across three games.
Second in team scoring right now is Gilbertson, who bumped her PPG average on the year back to double-digits after her performance in the Regional Championship. The junior guard’s averaging 10.1 points a night while shooting 40% from deep.
As a unit, these Bulldogs know how to take care of business on either side of the court. UMD’s offense is top-50 nationally (46th with 71.2 PPG) and shoots at a field goal percentage of 47.8 that’s fourth in the entire country. Meanwhile, the Bulldog defense holds opponents to an average of 56.8 points, the 20th-lowest mark in the country.
This is also a disciplined bunch, one that takes care of itself on both ends of the foul game. UMD’s free-throw percentage of 78.4 is ninth nationally while it’s rate of 13.5 fouls a night sits at 14th.
UMD’s hardly slowed down in any of these arenas in March. Across their three tournament wins, the Bulldogs shot 48.9% from the floor, the third-highest clip in the entire field of 64 teams. UMD’s sixth in the tournament in free throw percentage at an impressive 93%. Elsewhere in the stats world, the Bulldogs are 10th in scoring offense (76.3), eighth in scoring margin (+11) and eighth in assist-turnover ratio (1.10).
In the last WBCA Coaches Poll, UMD slotted all the way up at No. 6. In the most recent D2SIDA Poll, the Bulldogs were No. 4. Now, though, all that really matters is that No. 2 spot in the Elite Eight field, which the Bulldogs earned when the remaining teams were re-seeded.
BULLDOGS IN THE TOURNAMENT
This historic postseason is the 15th overall appearance for the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament, including a 2020 bid in a year where tournament games ended up being canceled due to COVID-19. This season marks the fifth-straight postseason bid the program’s received. Over the course of this unprecedented run, UMD’s boosted its overall record in the NCAA Tournament to 11-13.
SCOUTING REPORT ON ASSUMPTION
Assumption entered Selection Sunday with a 24-5 record. The Greyhounds’ 16-4 mark in the Northeast 10 (NE10) had been enough to secure them a share of the conference’s regular season title. Assumption made it to the semifinals of the NE10 Tournament before losing to Southern New Hampshire 67-60.
Ultimately, all of this was enough to land the Greyhounds the No. 1 spot in their East Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Thus, the East ended up running through Worcester, Mass.
THE ROAD SO FAR
Assumption wasted little time proving that it was worthy of playing the role of postseason host.
The Greyhounds opened the tournament by defeating No. 8 Dominican 71-49. Assumption really ran away with this one in the fourth, outscoring the Chargers 32-12.
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
-Molly Stokes: 26 points (10-15 shooting)
-Marina Callahan: 13 points (4-8 shooting)
Teagan Curran: 10 points (3-6 shooting)
-Monica Spain: eight rebounds
-Ja’Lyn Armstrong and Amanda Mieczkowski: five assists
-Team: shot 17-25 in the second half, held Dominican to just 15-67 shooting overall
Next was a meeting with fifth-seeded Bentley in the round of 32. Much like round one, the story of this game for Assumption can be traced back to one quarter- in this case, the third. There, the Greyhounds put up 18 points while holding the Falcons to just six. Assumption would ultimately win 62-47.
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
-Armstrong: 19 points (9-13 shooting), six rebounds, four assists
-Spain: 16 points (6-11 shooting), 10 rebounds
-Mieczkowski: eight points, five assists
-Callahan: eight rebounds
-Team: held Bentley to just 18-56 shooting
The Sweet Sixteen provided the Greyhounds with their strongest tournament test yet: No. 3 Jefferson. The Rams ran all the way out to an 11-0 start to open the first quarter, asserting early dominance on the road. Assumption would push back to within as few as three points at 29-26 JU with 1:30 left in the second only for the Rams to develop a double-digit lead once again. With 2:58 left in the 3rd, the score was 48-35 JU. But the Greyhounds saved their best basketball for last- from that point onwards, Assumption ended up outscoring Jefferson by a whopping 27-9 mark. With that, the Greyhounds escaped their home court with a 62-57 win and a big ticket to Missouri in-tow
GAME STATS DEBRIEF
-Curran: 20 points (8-15 shooting)
-Stokes: 12 points
-Mieczkowski: 10 points (4-7 shooting), five assists
-Spain: eight points, eight rebounds, seven assists
-Team: 6-9 shooting in the fourth, 10-17 from three in the game, held Jefferson to 24-66 shooting
SITTING AT NO. 7
Need an idea of how stacked this remaining tournament field is? When the remaining eight teams were re-seeded to form the Elite Eight bracket, Assumption landed at No, 7. That’s the kind of thing that happens with seven of the eight Regional one-seeds make it to St. Joseph.
A BALANCED OFFENSE
There is no one offensive commander to be found on this Greyhounds club- scoring is extremely distributed.
The sole double-digit averager on the year has been Stokes, who’s potting 12 a game. Other than that, there’s a quartet of players hovering on or around the nine-point line. Armstrong’s pairing her 9.6 points a game mark with averages of 4.4 rebounds and a team-leading 3.63 assists. Spain’s scoring nine points while grabbing a Greyhound-high 6.8 rebounds a night. Rounding out the list is Callahan, who’s scoring 8.9 points a contest while snagging 5.4 boards.
CAN’T GET AROUND THE GREYHOUNDS
There’s less of a need for a scoring machine or a unit of double-digit scorers when you boast arguably the best defense in the entire country.
The numbers speak for themselves. Over the entire season, Assumption’s held opposing teams to an average of just 50.8 points a game- that’s the lowest mark in the nation. It’s a low amount of scoring done with a low amount of ease. The Greyhounds have allowed just a 32.9% shooting mark from the field this year, also No. 1 nationally. Doesn’t get much better when looking at three-point land in isolation, where teams are shooting just 25.1% against Assumption- that’s fifth-best in the country.
None of this has really slowed down in March, either. The Greyhounds are second in both scoring defense (51 PPG allowed) and opposing field goal percentage (30.2%) across the entire 64-team field of the NCAA Tournament through postseason play.
EFFICIENCY IS KEY
All of that is great in and of itself, but something else is happening beneath the surface that makes this Greyhounds squad even more of a threat- its offense is really clicking.
Assumption’s never really been a stranger to three-point precision. On the season at-large, the team is 40th in the nation in that field, shooting 34.1%. But across three games played, the Greyhounds hold the highest team three-point percentage in the entire tournament, operating at 51.2%.
It’s a similar story when it comes to ball distribution. Assumption came into March at 66th in that arena, averaging an even 14 assists a night. In the tournament? That number’s bumped up to 17.7 a game, second among the 64 postseason teams.
THE CAREER OF KERRY
At the helm for this historic season is someone more-than-deserving to see this kind of moment: Kerry Phayre.
Phayre’s been the coach at Assumption for what has now been 26 seasons. In that time, she’s led the Greyhounds to 17 winning campaigns. Phayre’s nearly led Assumption to as many 20-win seasons (seven) as seasons below the .500 line (eight). Her overall record with the club is 432-308.
AN ELITE FIRST ENCOUNTER
Not only has Assumption never met UMD in the NCAA Tournament in any capacity before Monday, but the Greyhounds have never played any NSIC program in March.
Catch the Elite Eight action live through NCAA.com by following the link below:
vs No. 7 Assumption (Monday, March 20 @ 2:30 p.m. CT): bit.ly/3yOKPAx
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