CORVALLIS, ORE. – The one team from the Big 4 that was least expected to reach the NCAA Tournament less than a week ago is the only one to advance to the second round. Here come the St. Bonaventure women.
The 10th-seeded Bonnies, who were surprised they received an at-large bid after an early exit from the Atlantic 10 tourney, grabbed a lead in the first quarter and held on for a 65-54 victory over seventh-seeded Oklahoma State.
Katie Healy scored 23 points and gave the Bonnies a 10-point lead with about 5½ minutes remaining in the biggest game of her career. She dominated in the first half and was there when Bona needed her in the second. The Bonnies had a 9-1 run late in the game to pull away.
The Bonnies will play No. 2 seed Oregon State in the second round Sunday. St. Bonaventure is looking to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012.
St. Bonaventure came out slow before settling down and taking off on a 14-1 run to end the first quarter. The same team that succumbed to the pressure in the Atlantic 10 Tournament looked like the more experienced team in the first half. And they forced Big 12 Player of the Year Brittney Martin into missing six of her first eight shots.
Martin showed she’s worthy of the praise showered upon her, but she doesn’t get much help from her teammates. Second-leading scorer Kaylee Jensen, the 6-foot-5 center, was held scoreless in the first half.
With both University at Buffalo teams losing in the first round of the NCAAs and the Bona men getting snubbed from the tournament and getting dumped in the NIT, it was up to the women’s team to pick up a victory for the Big 4. They didn’t back down to the Cowgirls, a bigger and stronger team from a superior conference.
It became a race against the clock. The Bonnies ran into foul trouble in the third quarter and needed to figure out how to hang on to a seven-point lead. At various points, they had little-used freshman McKenna Maycock guarding Martin. It seemed every time they needed a bucket, they found a way to get one.
Oklahoma State closed to within 37-34, and Nyla Rueter banged back-to-back threes for a nine-point lead with 3½ minutes left in the third quarter. Healy came up big in the fourth quarter. Emily Michael made a three-pointer with 3:11 remaining after Oklahoma State drew within six points.
Player of the game: Healy. The Bonnies’ best player bounced back after scoring seven points and fouling out in the loss to VCU in the A-10 quarterfinals. She also helped contain Kaylee Jensen, the Cowgirls’ second-leading scorer. She was scoreless before making two free throws with 4:09 left in the game and finished with three points.
Turning point: Oklahoma State jumped to a 12-5 lead to start the game before Bona coach Jim Crowley settled down his troops. The Bonnies came out relaxed and gained confidence after they started making shots. It was all they needed.
Style points: Bona and Oklahoma State’s playing styles were in direct contrast to one another. The smaller Bonnies had success this season while placing more emphasis on ball movement and using their speed. It helped them negate the size advantage of other teams.
The Cowgirls were more methodical while playing a half-court system in which they would get the ball to their bigger people and win the rebounding battle. It helped them negate the speed advantage of other teams. Oklahoma State needed to play that way in order to compete in a power conference with bigger athletes.
Halftime stats: St. Bonaventure had a 33-28 lead at intermission. Healy had 14 points in the first two quarters after scoring seven and fouling out in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals. ... Oregon State had a 40-14 lead over Troy en route to a 73-31 victory in the first game. In other words, the Beavers could have been held scoreless in the second half and still won by nine.
Counting the house: Gill Coliseum (cap. 9,604) was about three-quarters full for the Oregon State game, but only a few hundred remained for Bona-Oklahoma State. Oregon State students were on spring break. Local fans were more concerned with the OSU men losing to VCU than the women’s team drilling Troy at home.
Bracket breakdown: The Dallas Region that included Bona did not have a team fourth or higher in the national rankings. Regional top seed Baylor was fifth in the nation in AP rankings. It did have five teams in the Top 25.
Tournament teams: Bona had a 4-2 record this season against teams reaching the NCAAs. The Bonnies beat UB, George Washington, James Madison and Duquesne. They fell to Duquesne and DePaul. They had not played a Big 12 team since Dec. 8, 2012, when they lost to West Virginia.
FYI: Many aren’t sure where Bona is located. Same goes for Troy University, which has about 20,000 students. It’s about 45 miles southwest of Montgomery, Ala.