COLUMBIA — Forward Amanda Phillips looked as if she had just missed a free throw that could have won the game. By the end of the first half, Phillips had one rebound and hadn't scored.
The rest of the Columbia College women's basketball team wasn't in a much better mood with the Cougars clinging to a 33-31 advantage over William Woods at halftime of Monday's game at the Arena of Southwell Complex. The lead had changed five times.
It all changed in the second half. Phillips scored three baskets within the first four minutes of the period, and the Cougars claimed a 48-40 lead.
“I just had to take a deep breath and not think, just play,” said Phillips, who ended with nine points and seven rebounds. “I had to get back to basics.”
By the end of the game, Columbia College had secured the championship of the American Midwest Conference Tournament with a 70-56 victory over the Owls. The win gave the Cougars a 19-0 record against AMC competition this season. Williams Woods finished 16-3 against AMC opponents.
Guard Heather English led the Cougars with 13 points, including two 3-pointers, one late in the first half coming from well beyond the arc. Several other baskets came on drives to the basket.
Whether scoring from inside or shooting from the perimeter, English said she comes into her own when taking shots heavily favored against her. But those risks paid off in Monday's game.
"I kind of just look at the person that’s guarding me and look at the basket thinking, 'Well I think I can do this,'” English said. “I just shoot and hopefully it goes in.”
The AMC tournament title gives the Cougars an automatic bid to the NAIA Division I tournament that begins March 16 in Jackson, Tenn. The Cougars, ranked 14th in the NAIA at 29-4, find out Wednesday who their opponent will be.
“We’ll just have to focus on the fundamentals and play aggressive with our defense, that’s how we get things rolling,” Cougars coach Mike Davis said about the national championship tournament. "This team is much better when we play that way.”