For the third time in the last four years, North Dakota State College of Science is heading to Texas for spring break.
The Wildcats overcame an early deficit with a 24-5 run to end the first half, sinking Malcom X College 79-36 to win the North Central District championship and earn an automatic bid to the NJCAA Division One National Tournament.
The spurt was all about defense and settling into the biggest stage any player on the roster has been on.
“It was nice to see our girls calm down and play the way we expect to play,” said NDSCS head coach Tom Dryburgh. “Switching to zone brought some life with Mo, Jay and Z created issues at the top of it and allowed us to get back to playing our brand of basketball.”
NDSCS finished with 14 steals, forcing 24 turnovers that allowed the offense to stay in transition for much of the afternoon. They entered the afternoon ranked 27th nationally in steals with nearly 13 per game. Saturday’s effort resulted in 23 points off turnovers for the Cats, who also limited Malcolm X College to just 25 percent shooting from the field.
After trailing 14-12 after the end of the first period and 18-12 midway through the second quarter, the Cats scored 24 of the quarter's final 29 points to snag a 36-23 halftime advantage. That lead would balloon to as much as 44 in the second half with NDSCS allowing just 13 second-half points.
All 13 NDSCS players saw action with 12 recording a field goal. As a team, they finished with 16 assists on 29 field goals. The Cats received 34 points from their bench with sophomore Monique Wooten scoring nine in just 10 minutes of action.
All-Mon-Dak Conference selections and sophomores Kate Carlson and Nikki Metcalfe led the way yet again. Carlson finished with 13 points and eight rebounds. Metcalfe added eight points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
“Having two sophomores in the post that have the ability to be relied on at the base of the zone or even man-to-man – being ability to block and alter shots or even take charges – makes things easier for us. They can also score in a variety of ways on the other end. They understand what it takes to win games at this level and their experience is a huge key.”
Sophomore Justyna Butler added 10 points, three assists and two steals. Freshman Zaraya March chipped in seven points, six rebounds and four steals.
NDSCS has now won 11 of its last 12 games entering the national tournament.
The Cats will begin their trek to Lubbock, Texas next week. They will find out their opponent on Monday morning, 10:30am local time as part of the NJCAA Tournament Selection Show. The NJCAA Division I Women's tournament features 24 teams - 16 automatic district qualifiers and eight additional at-large selections which will be announced during the selection show.
The program was seeded 21st in 2018 and 23rd in 2017, losing both games to Walters State (80-43) and Shelton State (61-48).
Dryburgh and the Wildcats are eager for their spring break trip south that is sure to feature warmer weather and some good BBQ. But, TD is hungry for that win that has eluded the program in their last three trips.
“It’s an awesome experience to be able to continually go,” said Dryburgh. “Not being able to go last year and having that freshman group back and getting to take them is icing on the cake. It’s a fun trip, but it’s a business trip. We aren’t just happy to be there; we want to compete and win some games. This group is one that is excited, but also confident in their ability and belief in one another to get it done.”