CHICAGO — On their way out of the Great West Conference, North Dakota’s women snagged a tournament championship that had eluded them the past two years. They can thank their two 6-foot-4 centers for leading the way.
Backup Emily Evers scored 16 points and starter Allyssa Wall had 14 to go with nine rebounds Saturday night as North Dakota beat Utah Valley 69-56 in the championship game.
“We got two post players who would start for any team in the league,” coach Gene Roebuck said. “They are both tough to guard, have great hands, can catch the ball in traffic and can finish. The nicest thing about it is one is a sophomore and one is a freshman.“
They’ll take their talents now to the Big Sky, where North Dakota is headed next season.
First will be a likely slot in the WBI as a reward for winning the Great West.
North Dakota reached all three of the goals it set before the season — win the regular season, get to 20 victories and then capture the tournament, as well.
North Dakota (21-10) was appearing in its third straight Great West tournament final — it lost the previous two, including a setback in the 2010 finals to Utah Valley.
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“They’re just scrappy. They’re as hard-nosed as any team we play,” Roebuck said of the Wolverines. “If they shoot the ball well they are going to win games. If they don’t shoot it well, they are going to have trouble. We played a zone to make them take the outside shots. That was our game plan.“
The league’s regular season champion, North Dakota won its 12th straight game and beat Utah Valley for the second time in a week, having also defeated the Wolverines in the March 3 regular-season finale. North Dakota’s last loss came on Jan. 21 — to Utah Valley.
North Dakota appeared ready to run away, building a 12-point lead with 3:43 left in the opening half but Utah Valley rallied with a 9-0 run and cut it to 32-29 by halftime.
But North Dakota came out more aggressively after halftime and Wall scored six points during a 14-3 run that eventually opened up a 52-36 lead.
Utah Valley whittled it to nine but Nicole Smart sank a key jumper — her only basket of the game — with about four minutes left to douse the rally.
The play on the inside was physical, something that Wall and Evers expected from the two previous games with Utah Valley.
“You have to work for what you get,” Wall said.
“We knew we were taller, but didn’t necessarily know it would be a big advantage,” Evers said. “But we knew we could take them.“