Broncos win MAC women's basketball championship
March 15, 2003
KALAMAZOO -- And the best news is... the Broncos have only one senior on the 2003 Mid-American Conference championship women's basketball team.
Western Michigan University's women's basketball team defeated Ball State University, 81-76, today to win its first MAC title since 1985. The Broncos' overall season record improved to 20-11, only the third 20-win season in program history and first since 1977-78.
With a 60-57 win over top-seeded Toledo on Friday in the semifinal round, the fourth-seeded Broncos advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1988. The road to the MAC title also included a quarterfinal Bronco win, 87-72, over defending MAC champion Kent State. Toledo and Kent State had combined for the previous eight conference titles, dating back to 1995.
WMU earns an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament and will face a first-round opponent to be announced tomorrow, March 16. The Broncos, who made consecutive WNIT post-season appearances in 1999 and 2000, are going to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years.
Sophomore guard Casey Rost of St. Johns, Mich., was named the tournament's most-valuable player. She scored a team-high 20 points in the Broncos' championship win and a tournament-record 80 points in the four-game conference playoffs. Also named to the all-tournament team was sophomore guard Maria Jilian of Dearborn, Mich., who had 17 steals in the four-game tournament and was earlier was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Playing before 3,057 fans at Cleveland's Gund Arena for the championship, the Broncos fell behind early. Ball State led by as many as nine points, 11-2, and led by eight, 22-14, midway through the first half before WMU began to battle back. With one minute remaining in the first half, Curleta Harris hit a three-point basket that pulled the Broncos even for the first time at 34-34. With eight seconds remaining in the half, Harris hit a two-point shot that gave WMU its first lead, 39-37. Although Ball State would tie the score five times in the second half, the Cardinals were never able to regain the lead.
Midway through the second half, with the score tied, Harris and Rost combined for 13 unanswered points to give the Broncos the largest lead of the afternoon by either team, 60-47. Harris scored eight straight points, including consecutive three-point baskets, and Rost added five, including a three-point shot of her own.
Ball State chipped away at the Bronco lead, and with 1:59 remaining to play, the Cardinals' Kate Endress (who led all players with 26 points) hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 74. Rost returned the Broncos to a two-point lead, and Ball State tied the contest again at 76. Lori Crisman made a layup for another two-point Bronco lead and Jilian got the first of two foul shots to put WMU up by three points with 21 seconds remaining. Ball State missed on a three-point attempt and fouled Crisman on the rebound. Crisman sank both foul shots with six seconds on the clock for the 81-76 final score.
Rost led the Broncos with 20 points. She also had four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Harris, the team's lone senior, from St. Louis, had 17 points. Junior Kristin Koetsier from Grandville, Mich., a three-time All-MAC First Team selection, had a double-double with 10 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kelly Koerber of Flint, Mich., came off the bench to add 13 points and six rebounds in only 16 minutes of play. Crisman, a junior from Rushville, Ill., who sparked the quarterfinal win over Kent State, had nine points and seven rebounds. Jilian followed up her star-of-the-game performance in the semifinal round versus Toledo with another impressive overall effort. Against Ball State, she had eight points, seven assists, two steals and four rebounds.
Going into the MAC tournament, the Broncos ranked No. 1 in the conference and No. 8 in the nation in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting 78.4 percent from the free-throw line. In the championship game, WMU made 18 of 20 free throws (90 percent), and for the four-game tournament made 99 of 114 free-throw attempts for an 86.8 percent team free-throw shooting performance.
The No. 1 offense in the conference during the 2002-03 regular season, WMU set a MAC tournament record, scoring 329 points, for an average of more than 82 points per game.
2003 MAC Tournament
First Round at WMU's University Arena
Quarterfinal Round at Cleveland's Gund Arena
Semifinal Round at Cleveland's Gund Arena
Championship Game at Cleveland's Gund Arena
Media contact: Travis McCurdy, 269 387-4138, email@example.com