National title eludes Cougars

Saturday, March 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:41 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

JACKSON, Tenn.-- It was a season of firsts for the Columbia College women's basketball team. Unfortunately for the Cougars, that didn't include their first national title.

Houston Baptist beat the Cougars 79-66 in the second round of the NAIA Championship Tournament on Friday at Oman Arena. On Thursday, the Cougars beat Wayland Baptist (Texas) 71-57 in the first round.

Lisa Kowalewski, a junior guard, said her team wasn't satisfied with one tournament victory, but the loss didn't erase what it accomplished.

"We didn't want this feeling to stop," she said. "We were having a great time. We're really disappointed, but we made history. We had never won a game at nationals. We had a 20-game winning streak, and not many teams can say that. We're going to win more than one next year."

The Cougars (28-8) were also the first team in the program's three-year history to go undefeated in American Midwest Conference play and win the conference tournament.

The Cougars were uncharacteristically out of rhythm offensively, especially in the first half. The Cougars shot 37 percent and committed 13 turnovers in the first half. Charliss Ridley, the AMC's Most Valuable Player, scored six and picked up three fouls in the first.

Mike Davis, the Cougars' coach, said he didn't want to be overly simplistic, but he thought his team simply needed to make more shots.

"We had, in the first few minutes, some opportunities to make some shots that we didn't make," he said. "I think that took away a little confidence from us, and at the same time, put a little blood in the water for them defensively. I thought if we make a couple of shots early, it changes how everything goes."

Mindy Mitchem, the nation's second-leading shot blocker, sat out the second half after injuring her right shoulder late in the first.

"(Her shoulder) didn't come out of place, but it came very close," Davis said.

Mitchem's defensive presence bothered Elinor Smith, the Red River Athletic Conference's Player of the Year. With Mitchem out, Smith, Sherill Hadrick and Velencia Kuykendall scored at will inside. The trio combined to score 32 after intermission.

"We did try our best out there defensively, but we just couldn't hang with them down low," Ridley said. "(Mitchem) is a force with her shot blocks, but when she was out, that is the time we had to step up. We just didn't do it tonight."

Tiffany Foote, the Cougars' starting point guard, played all 40 minutes against Wayland Baptist, but was forced to the bench twice in the first half because she was struggling to catch her breath. Davis said Foote's breathing problems were a mystery.

"It was really odd," he said. "It was almost like she hyperventilated or something."

Rachel Davis, a freshman forward, played some of her best basketball of the year at the national tournament. Her active hands on defense and great passing gave the Cougars a much needed spark off the bench.

"Rachel had a good tournament," Davis said. "Her practices the last two weeks have really been at a high level, so it's no surprise when your play picks up."

The Huskies (32-4) led 29-22 at halftime. They started the second half on an 8-0 run to extend their lead to 37-22 with 17:10 left. The Cougars cut the lead to 51-45 with 9:05 left, but Griffin Colvert's 3-pointer put the Huskies up 60-47 with 7:21 left. The Huskies kept their lead in double digits for the duration.

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