Doug Self, Sports Information Director
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – SWOSU Women’s Basketball had their best season in NCAA Division II history halted on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Central Regional Championships, falling 78-75 to Fort Hays State at the Elmen Center in Sioux Falls.
Both teams were cold in the first quarter, which saw FHSU build a 14-9 lead after each team shot less than 30% from the field. SWOSU got heated up in the second period, knocking down four three-pointers and holding onto the lead until the final seconds of the half as the Tigers knocked down a jump shot to take a 32-31 lead to the break.
FHSU and SWOSU traded runs in the third quarter, with the Tigers taking a 46-39 lead with 5:53 to play in the quarter. SWOSU answered with a 7-0 run and tied the game at 46-all when Hailey Tucker knocked down a deep three less than 90 seconds later. The Lady Bulldogs again tied the game at 56-all with a basket from Tyra Aska in the final minute of the third quarter, but FHSU closed out the quarter with a 5-0 run, knocking down a three with nine seconds left to take a 61-56 lead to the final period.
FHSU’s momentum continued over into the fourth quarter, which saw the Tigers score the first four points to up their lead to 65-56 with 9:16 to play. SWOSU again countered, thanks in large part to the play of Tyra Aska, who knocked down a three-pointer to start a 14-3 run that included two and-one’s that Aska converted and saw the Lady Dawgs regain the lead with 6:55 to play after Hayden Priddy put in a driving layup attempt.
SWOSU led 71-70 at the final media timeout, but Fort Hays State tied the game with a free throw after the break. SWOSU committed turnovers on the next two possessions, allowing FHSU to take the lead with a three-pointer at the 3:39 mark. Savannah Gray was fouled and knocked down a pair at the stripe to get SWOSU back within one with 2:08 to play. FHSU scored their last basket of the game with 2:00 to play, getting past the SWOSU press to go back up by three, 76-73.
A defensive stand by the Bulldogs got the ball back with 1:20 to play and allowed Bethany Franks to knock down a jumper from straight away and again cut the deficit to one, 76-75, with 1:10 to play. SWOSU then had to defend for the full 30 seconds of the shot clock and forced a tough shot, which was rebounded by Aska with 24 seconds to play, allowing the Bulldogs to play for the last shot. Aska drove and found Gray, who pump faked and freed from her defender for a good luck from the right wing that rimmed off and into the arms of a jump ball with less than 2.0 seconds to play.
The jump ball favored FHSU and the Tigers advanced the ball into the front court with a timeout, forcing SWOSU to foul and put the Tigers on the line with less than one second to play. Both free throw attempts were good, but SWOSU was able to call a timeout of their own and bring the ball back to their side of the court with 0.7 seconds to play. Tucker got a rushed look at the buzzer, but it was off the mark and allowed the Tigers to prevail.
“I think we had a few jitters early on, we weren’t great in the first quarter but I thought we settled down and really competed from that point on,” SWOSU Head Coach Kelsi Musick said. “We know that all of these games in the national tournament are going to be close and hard fought so I’m very proud of the way my team played today. We got behind a few times, but we were still able to make some runs. This gives our players a taste of the NCAA Tournament and the future is really bright with this team.”
Tyra Aska led the way for SWOSU, scoring 21 points with six rebounds, four assists and three steals while playing all 40 minutes. Hailey Tucker poured in 19 points with four rebounds while Hayden Priddy added 18 points, three rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the final game of her junior season for the Lady Bulldogs.
SWOSU finishes the 2017-18 season with a record of 26-5 – a new program record for wins in the NCAA Division II era – along with winning their first Great American Conference regular season championship. The Lady Bulldogs are slated to return all five starters from this season and 10-of-11 players overall who competed in the regional quarterfinals on Friday.