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GRAND ISLAND WEATHER

University of Nebraska Kearney Lopers logo.

UNK women run past Pitt State in MIAA Tournament


University of Nebraska Kearney Lopers logo.

Kearney, Neb. – Junior Brooke Carlson had a double double and No. 14/31 Nebraska-Kearney shot 51 percent from the field to run past Pittsburg State, 66-50, Wednesday night in an MIAA Tournament first round game at the Health & Sports Center.

UNK (20-3), seeded third in the eight-team event, advances to the semifinals in Hays, Kan., on Saturday to take on upset-minded and seventh-seeded Washburn. The game will tip at 4 p.m. The Ichabods (11-11) stunned No. 13/15 Central Missouri, 63-55, tonight in Warrensburg, Mo. The other side of the bracket held serve with top-seed Fort Hays State and fourth-seeded Emporia State advancing. UNK beat Washburn, 62-52, back on November 21 in the H & S Center in the only meeting between the two this year.  ‚Äč

With its third all-time MIAA Tournament win the Lopers also locked up an NCAA Tournament berth. UNK was fourth in the region rankings released Tuesday (March 2nd). Kearney hasn't gone to the "Big Dance" in 12 years; the selection show airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. Central at www.ncaa.com. This year's field consists of 48 teams (six in each of Division II's eight regions).

"There were huge segments of this game where we played as well as we've have all year," UNK head coach Carrie Eighmey said. "Especially defensively. Pitt is a good offensive team with a lot of weapons. To hold (Tristan) Gegg to five points is a really good effort. Our team did a great job on her and forced them into a lot of difficult shots."

The Lopers never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 20-11 first quarter lead thanks to a buzzer beating half-court three from point guard Haley Simental (Pueblo West, Colo.). UNK led by as many as 13 in the first half but the Gorillas (14-9) hung around, shooting 55 percent in the third quarter (6 of 11) to get within three. Four of those buckets were triples.

Up 37-34, UNK responded with a game-clinching 12-2 run. The spurt featured back-to-back buckets by junior reserve forward Elisa Backes (Salina, Kan.) and then three consecutive post buckets from Carlson (Elkhorn). The Lopers then went back to Backes who took a pass from Carlson to make it 49-36 at the 1:31 mark. UNK had 18 assists tonight, coming from eight different players, with Simental (seven) leading the way.

"Offensively tonight we were really efficient. We went exactly where we wanted to go with the ball and knew where we had advantages. We were able to establish that early … all of our posts were really good for us tonight," Eighmey said. "We wanted to establish a presence in the paint first. That opened up a lot of things for others."

Pitt didn't get closer than 12 the rest of the way as UNK made 7 of 15 fourth quarter shots while holding the Gorillas to just a 3 of 16 effort. Besides going 30 of 59 from the field overall, the Lopers were plus 15 on the boards and outscored Pitt 48-16 inside.

Having one of her best games as a Loper, Carlson went for 20 points and 13 rebounds on 10 of 16 shooting. This was her third double double of the year, her second 20-point game and moves her career point total to 918 which ranks 32nd on the all-time list.

"Brooke was really, really good tonight. She had good pace in the paint and didn't get sped up. She got to the spots she wanted to get to, took her time, read and took what they were giving her," Eighmey said. "She was in a great flow and we did a solid job of feeding her the ball."

Next, South Dakota junior wing Klaire Kirsch grabbed 14 rebounds, scored eight points, had three dimes and two steals. This is her 10th game with a double digit board total and pushes her career number to 655. That is well on pace to break the school record of 906 (Heather Steffen, 2001-04).

Simental continued her recent hot streak by going 3 of 4 from behind the arc and hitting a series of inside-the-arc jumpers to tally 17, one of her season-high. Finally, Backes had 11 points, seven rebounds and three thefts.

Pitt starters Maya Williams (13) and Kaylee DaMitz (11) were in double figures as well as reserve Sydnee Crain (10). She hit two of the Gorillas six threes. Pitt finished the night shooting just 33 percent (17 of 52) from the field.

"We've had a struggle (in this tourney) getting past the first round or two. And here we are now in the semifinals. We're playing great teams in great environments and you can't ask for anything better," Eighmey said.