BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The two lower-seeded road teams both had upset intentions in the opening round of the 2017 Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) Women's Basketball Playoffs, but No. 3-seeded Bethel and No. 4-seeded Saint Benedict ultimately prevailed on their home courts to book their trips to the tournament semifinals.
Sixth-seeded Augsburg (15-11) held a one-point lead at halftime on the home court of the third-seeded Royals (22-4), but Bethel got a pair of huge performances from Abby Miller and Hannah Johnson and had a good shooting night to eventually pull ahead and pull away for a 70-56 win in Arden Hills. In St. Joseph, No. 5-seeded St. Catherine (15-11) got one huge three-pointer in the final seconds, but couldn't connect on a game-tying attempt at the buzzer as the fourth-seeded Blazers prevailed in a thriller, 53-50.
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Thanks to their wins, Bethel and Saint Ben's both move on to Friday's semifinals, where the league's top two teams – two of the best in the nation this season – await after enjoying a bye. The fourth-seeded Blazers visiting No. 1-seeded and No. 2-ranked St. Thomas – which completed a perfect 25-0 regular season - in St. Paul, Minn., and the fourth-seeded Blazers are headed to St. Peter, Minn., to take on No. 2-seeded and No. 13-ranked Gustavus, which takes a near-perfect 24-1 record in the Playoffs. Both semifinals will also tip off Friday in 7 p.m.
The Auggies – which entered the postseason on a roll – started strong, building a 10-5 lead and holding strong at 14-11 after one. However, Bethel surged ahead and led by as many as seven midway through the second quarter, but Augsburg answered right back and got a Tamira McLemore three late in the half for a 31-30 lead at the break. Bethel pulled ahead and built a slight lead in the third, and kept the Auggies at arm's length the rest of the way thanks to hot shooting and a strong fourth quarter in the 70-56 win.
Miller had a huge game to lead the Royals with a game-high 28 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Miller was 10-for-15 from the floor and 4-of-7 on threes. Johnson added a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double and also blocked five shots, and Taite Anderson added eight points and 11 boards. Reigning MIAC Athlete-of-the-Week Tamira McLemore had another big game for the Auggies with 15 points and two steals, and Camryn Speese added 11 points and five boards for Augsburg, which shot just 31.3 percent from the floor to Bethel's 51 percent in the loss.
Wednesday's other semifinal went right down to the final buzzer. Saint Benedict opened up a 20-10 lead in the first quarter, but the Wildcats quickly cut it to two in the second and the visitors trailed by just five at the break, and rallied to take the lead in the third and led again by a point with 5:34 to play. CSB's Niki Fokken scored five straight to put the Blazers back in front, and the home team took a seven-point lead into the final minute. St. Catherine made a pair of threes in the final 16 seconds and the Blazers went just 2-of-4 from the line in that stretch to keep the Wildcats in it, but their final game-tying attempt miss and Saint Ben's moved on.
The Blazers enjoyed a balanced offensive effort, led by Fokken's 17-point, 10-rebound double-double. Annie Dittberner added 14 points and Chelsey Guetter scored 11 with seven rebounds, as the home team shot 43.5 percent and held a 45-24 edge on the glass in the win. The Wildcats were also an extremely balanced unit, as Mari Lee and Kennedy Jennings each scored nine and Audra Clark and LaShay Holt each added eight points. Holt added eight boards and three assists in a strong all-around effort in the final game for the Wildcats' all-time leader in points and rebounds.
The two semifinal winners will square off Sunday at 1 p.m. in the 2017 MIAC Women's Basketball Playoff championship game, which will be played on the home court of the highest remaining seed. The tournament champion will receive the MIAC Playoff championship plaque as well as the conference's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. The NCAA will announce the national tournament field on Feb. 27 at 1:30 p.m. with a live online selection show. St. Thomas is aiming to win its sixth-straight MIAC Women's Basketball Playoff title.
The MIAC has a home page dedicated to the 2017 MIAC Women's Basketball Playoffs, containing schedules, links and information on each of the six teams in the field. Throughout the tournament, the page will be updated with scores, stats, updated schedules and more. Fans can also follow the action on the MIAC Scoreboard or on the free MIAC mobile app. Connect throughout the Playoffs on social media through the MIAC's Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts, using the hashtag #MIACWBB.
2017 MIAC WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
Quarterfinals | Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 3 Bethel 70, No. 6 Augsburg 56 | Box Score |
No. 4 Saint Benedict 53, No. 5 St. Catherine 50 | Box Score |
Semifinals | Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 | 7 p.m. |
No. 4 Saint Benedict at No. 1 St. Thomas | St. Paul, Minn. |
No. 3 Bethel at No. 2 Gustavus | St. Peter, Minn. |
Championship | Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 | 1 p.m. |
Semifinal winners at highest remaining seed | Location: TBA |