ST. PAUL, Minn. – An unbelievable first quarter and timely second half shots powered the University of St. Thomas women's basketball team to a sixth-straight Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Playoff championship, and kept the nation's No. 2-ranked team undefeated at a perfect 27-0 Sunday in St. Paul, Minn.
The fitting conclusion to the MIAC women's basketball season pitted the Tommies against No.-2-seeded and No. 13-ranked Gustavus Adolphus College (25-2), as the two entered the title game a combined 51-1. However, St. Thomas' early lead was too much, and despite several promising runs by the Gusties in the second half, the Tommies always had an answer en route to a 66-49 title-game win.
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The victory sent St. Thomas back to the NCAA Tournament with the MIAC's automatic bid, and gave it a sixth-straight MIAC Playoff crown, and a seventh conference tournament title in the last eight years. Head Coach Ruth Sinn's program has now appeared in every Playoff title game since 2010, and won each title since 2012. This was Gustavus' fourth trip to the championship game, and ended with the Gusties still seeking their first MIAC tournament title.
Reigning MIAC Player-of-the-Year and All-American Kaitlin Langer had a monster game to lead the Tommies. The UST center scored 29 points, grabbed nine boards and blocked three shots while shooting 10-for-12 from the floor and 9-for-12 from the line. Lucia Renikoff added 13 points and three steals for the Tommies, who shot an even 50 percent from the floor (22-for-44).
Miranda Rice led a remarkably balanced Gustavus effort with 11 points and Hannah Howard, Mikayla Miller and Justine Lee each added nine points for the Gusties, who shot just 34.5 percent (19-for-55) from the floor and just 5-for-20 (.250) on threes. Both of Gustavus' losses this season came at the hands of the Tommies – Sunday's title-game defeat and a 75-69 regular-season loss on Feb. 1. Against all other foes, Head Coach Laurie Kelly's club is a perfect 25-0.
St. Thomas did most of its damage – literally – in a near-perfect first quarter that saw the Tommies pour in 30 points and shoot 11-for-13 (.846) from the floor in the opening 10 minutes. UST was perfect both inside the 3-point arc (7-for-7) and from the line (4-for-4) and 4-of-6 on threes to take a 30-16 lead to the first intermission.
While it looks liked the Tommies were en route to a rout, Gustavus clawed back. The Gusties turned up the defense, forcing turnovers and limited UST's inside game, and out-scored St. Thomas 14-9 in the second to pull within nine at the half, 39-30. Gustavus kept scrapping in the third, cutting the lead to just four at 41-37 after two free throws from Rice and a Taylor Anderson three-pointer, but Langer immediately answered with a bucket and two free throws. Gustavus cut it to four again after back-to-back baskets, but Langer got free for a layup in the final seconds of the third to make it 50-41 Tommies, who never led by less than seven the rest of the way.
St. Thomas received the MIAC Playoff championship plaque as well as the conference's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. Meanwhile, Gustavus, Bethel (22-5) and the rest of the MIAC's top teams will await Monday's NCAA Tournament selection show, which will be webcast live Monday at 1:30 p.m., to find out if they'll join the Tommies in the big dance.
Re-live the 2017 MIAC Women's Basketball Playoffs on the tournament home page, which includes scores, stats, recaps, photos and more. Fans can continue the conversation on social media through the MIAC's Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #MIACWBB.
2017 MIAC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
Quarterfinals | Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 3 Bethel 70, No. 6 Augsburg 56 | Box Score | Recap |
No. 4 Saint Benedict 53, No. 5 St. Catherine 50 | Box Score | Recap |
Semifinals | Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 1 St. Thomas 75, No. 4 Saint Benedict 52 | Box Score | Recap |
No. 2 Gustavus 72, No. 3 Bethel 67 | Box Score | Recap |
Championship | Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 | 1 p.m. |
No. 1 St. Thomas 66, No. 2 Gustavus 49 | Box Score | Photos |