JACKSON, Tenn. — Most coaches say regular season wins and accomplishments are nice, but a team is ultimately measured by its postseason success.
The Columbia College women’s basketball team beat Wayland Baptist 71-57 Thursday in the first round of the NAIA Championship Tournament at Oman Arena. The Cougars were beaten in the first round the past two seasons despite winning the American Midwest Conference both years.
Lisa Kowalewski, who has played in every game of the Cougars’ three-year history, said winning in the national tournament was a great feeling.
“We’ve been working since my freshman year here to get to this point,” she said. “We finally won a game. Every year we’ve improved a little bit.”
Back in action
Third seed Columbia College (28-7) will play No. 5 Houston Baptist at 9:45 p.m. today in the second round.
The No. 17 Cougars were out of sync offensively in the beginning. They trailed 12-6 with 11:10 left in the first half because of careless passing and a lack of aggressiveness. Coach Mike Davis said he anticipated his team’s early nervousness.
“The whole first half was so out of character for how we’ve played the last two months, but we had to fight through it,” he said. “That is part of the national tournament though. It’s working your way into that groove that is important.”
Charliss Ridley, the AMC’s Most Valuable Player, was 1-of-3 in the first half before scoring 19 of her game-high 22 in the second.
“She was trying to lead us in assists tonight for some reason,” Davis said. “She hasn’t thought that all year long, but tonight she did.”
Ridley, who also had a game-high nine rebounds, said she wasn’t aggressive enough on either end of the court in the first half.
“My intensity just wasn’t there,” she said. “The second half, I decided to forget about the first half. I didn’t come down here to lose, so I tried to refocus.”
A torrid pace
The Cougars shot 70.8 percent in the second half. Tiffany Foote, the Cougars’ starting point guard, jumpstarted the Cougars’ fastbreak game after a relatively slow-paced first half. She had a game-high 10 assists.
The Flying Queens (18-11) led 41-37 before the Cougars went on a 20-2 run that put them up 57-43 with 7:26 left.
Mindy Mitchem had seven blocks.
Freshman forwards LeAnn Fossum and Rachel Davis made several key plays for the Cougars. Davis stole the ball and assisted Ridley on a fastbreak that gave the Cougars a 46-41 lead and the momentum with 11:26 left. Davis had a game-high four steals.
“LeAnn and Rachel did an absolutely fantastic job,” Kowalewski said. “They were ready to play and didn’t play like freshmen. Knowing you can come in to your first national game and play well, that is going to help a lot in the next game.”
The Flying Queens’ forwards used outstanding interior passing and positioning to score inside. Jennifer Doherty led the Flying Queens with 21 points. She and Rachel Smith combined to score 18 in the first half.
The Flying Queens’ 17 offensive rebounds kept them ahead for much of the night despite shooting 34.8 percent.