March 28, 2004

California defeats Drury, 75-72, to capture the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship

California University of Pennsylvania Coach Darcie Vincent celebrates with Megan Storck after California defeated Drury, 75-72, to capture the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship Saturday in St. Joseph, Mo.


Cal women win thriller over Drury to earn first national title

Lady Vulcan players triumphantly hold up the women's NCAA Division II national championship trophy after Saturday's game in St. Joseph, Mo.

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. - Give, give, give is sophomore Megan Storck's motto.

It doesn't matter who it is, the California University of Pa. point-guard is happy to feed her teammates an assist every chance she gets.

But on Saturday night, with the Vulcans trailing in the game's waning moments, what Storck gave her teammates was a national championship.

Storck's three-pointer with 28.6 seconds remaining gave California a lead it would not relinquish, as the Vulcans gutted out a 75-72 victory over Drury in the Division II title game before 2,681 crazed fans at St. Joseph Civic Arena.

Trailing 72-71 after Drury's Kara Rutledge hit a pair of free throws with 44.9 seconds remaining, Storck took a pass from Dillon and didn't hesitate to let go of a 21-footer just off center of the arch.

What seemed like an eternity passed before the ball cut through the net and dropped to the delight of not only Storck, her teammates and coaches, but to a section of boisterous California fans.

"It was a scramble," Storck said. "I just looked and saw Erin had the ball and a girl ran out on her so she couldn't shoot it, but nobody was really on me and I just went ahead and shot it."

The game-winning shot will help put to rest any memories of last year's Elite Eight semifinal loss to Northern Kentucky, a game that California dropped 45-43 after several missed shots in the final seconds, including a three-point attempt by Storck.

This time Storck didn't miss. After her three-pointer gave the Vulcans the lead, Drury's Hope Hunt missed a three-point attempt and Becky Siembak grabbed the rebound. Siembak made one of two shots to give California a 75-72 lead, and the Lady Panthers called a timeout with 5.8 seconds remaining.

Rutledge then freed herself momentarily from Storck and let fly a long three-point attempt from beyond the top of the key. The ball fell two feet short of the rim, and went out of bounds to California with 0.6 seconds left.

Sameera Philyaw was fouled with 0.1 seconds to play, but missed both foul shots. Storck ended the game, however, and began the Vulcans' celebration after she grabbed an errant inbounds pass near mid-court.

"Maybe this is the first time I'm speechless," said Vulcans coach Darcie Vincent. "This was a very, very well-played game at times. The determination and character we showed not only as a team but as individuals ... it comes down to heart. This was absolutely a phenomenal game."

Storck was named the Elite Eight Most Valuable Player, after averaging 16 points and 12 assists in victories over South Dakota State University, Merrimack and finally Drury.

Junior Sara McKinney led all scorers Saturday with 26 points, 18 of which came in the first half, and was also named to the Elite Eight All-Tournament Team.

California (35-1) won its 11th straight game to cap its best season ever, but not before watching the Lady Panthers use a 19-2 run to erase a 15-point Vulcans' lead.

Leading 41-33 at halftime, California methodically pushed its advantage to 59-44 after a McKinney free throw with 12:35 to play. Megan Brunson's three-pointer started Drury's comeback and a three-point play by Amy Belew made it 59-50.

Philyaw answered a Hunt lay-in, but two free throws from Belew and Jill Curry, a lay-in by Rutledge and a Brunson three-pointer tied the game at 61 with 7:46 to play. Storck then missed a jumper and fouled Curry, who made both free throws for a two-point Drury lead, the Lady Panthers' first since the game's opening minute.

One of the game's eight mandatory media timeouts than stopped the game with 7:07 to play.

"We told the kids to believe in themselves and that we knew we could do this," Vincent said. "As a coach, I didn't really have to say much. The kids were telling each other that."

McKinney tied the game with a lay-in, and a lay-up and two free throws by Philyaw gave the Vulcans a four-point lead with 5:09 remaining.

Rutledge hit one of two free throws with 4:22 to go, and Hunt tied game with a three-pointer with 3:55 left. Dillon gave California the lead back 30 seconds later with a jumper, but Rutledge nailed a three-pointer to give Drury a 70-69 lead with 2:42 to play. McKinney answered on California's next possession with a basket, then both teams failed to convert a pair of possessions before Storck fouled Rutledge with 44 seconds remaining.

Amanda Newton was a force inside for Drury, leading the Lady Panthers with 17 points and nine rebounds. But Newton spent a five-minute stretch on the bench after picking up her fourth personal foul with 10:19 to play.

Rutledge added 15 points, Curry 14 and Hunt 10.

Drury (36-2), ranked No. 2 in the country in the USA Today/ESPN/WBCA Coaches poll coming into the Elite Eight Tournament, saw its 29-game winning streak snapped. The Lady Panthers are playing only their fourth season of college basketball after the program was started in the summer of 1999.

"All we asked the Good Lord was for an opportunity to step on the floor and a chance at the end to win it," said Drury coach Nyla Milleson. "We came up a few points short, but I could never be more proud. I thought if we out-rebounded them and didn't commit as many turnovers we could win, but we never quite had an answer for McKinney.

"We were hoping she would cool off at some point. She's not a three-point shooter, but she was able to drive and rise up over our kids."

Drury held a slim edge on the boards, 35-34, but committed two more turnovers (17-15) than the Vulcans.


Drury huge support cast doesn't faze Cal players, fans

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. - As it did in its first game against South Dakota State, California University of Pa. ran into a very large, very loud opposing crowd in Saturday night's Division II title game against Drury.

Swarms of red and black-clad Lady Panther fans made the 220-mile trip to watch their team, in only its fourth-year of existence, take on the Vulcans and ultimately fall, 75-72.

Of the 2,681 fans to attend the game - which was nationally televised by ESPN 2 - between 200-300 owed their allegiance to the Vulcans, which left a very imposing number of Drury fans screaming, yelling and chanting the entire pre-game and 40 minutes of action.

The Lady Panthers also brought cheerleaders, a band and a mascot.

All of this should have made it very hard for California to concentrate on the task at hand, right?

Well ...

"We had the experience from the South Dakota State game the other night, and we were joking during the pre-game that we were just going to pretend the fans were cheering for us," said senior Becky Siembak. "When I heard the band play, I just thought about it like they were playing for us.

"We couldn't let the crowd be a factor. If we did, it would have been a different outcome."

At no time were Drury's fans louder than after the Lady Panthers took the lead 63-61 thanks to a 19-2 run.

A media timeout stopped play, California regrouped and ran off the next six points.

"It wasn't a very good atmosphere in the timeout," Siembak said. "We just told each other to stay calm. We picked each other up and pulled together and got the win."

California's fans may have been at a huge deficit, but made a fair amount of noise of their own. The Vulcan faithful also sported several signs, and even included bare-chested students lined up together to spell C-A-L.

"I really thought our fans were loud, maybe just as loud as theirs were, at times," said California's Sara McKinney.


Because of the game being televised by ESPN 2, four media timeouts per half stopped play. The stoppages occurred at the closest deadball to 16-, 12-, 8- and 4-minute marks.

The extra breathers made for some interesting moves between Vincent and Drury coach Nyla Milleson.

The Lady Panthers' Amanda Newton was an inside force during the game's first 20 minutes, scoring 15 points.

But after a change by Vincent to a matchup-zone, Newton was held to just one second-half basket.

"She was putting it to us a little there in the first half," Vincent said. "We had to adjust. I think it took them out of a rhythm. I'm a firm believer that offense is about rhythm. You get into a flow.

"This was a fun game to coach I think on both ends. Every timeout there was something we were doing different. Then you saw her (Milleson) do the same thing. It was like a chess match. Which move are you going to make right now and how can I counter it?

"We would draw up an offense and go out there and get it down for that four minutes, come back, make an adjustment and go again.

"She was doing it as well because we just kept changing so many things up."

Up next

Several California fans showed up at Saturday's game with homemade signs in tow.

Playing off a tradition for ESPN-televised games, one sign read:

"Up Next for California Univeristy: The World Series of Poker Tour"


Drury had little success trying to stop McKinney, especially in the first half in which she was 8 of 12 from the floor and tallied 18 points. Whether it was a baseline turnaround, a medium-range jumper or a strong move to the basket, McKinney had her way with the Lady Panthers' defense.

"I have been thinking about last year when I got hurt in the last couple minutes and I really couldn't do anything for my teammates when we lost," McKinney said. "I refused to let that happen this year, so I just stayed focused. I've been working hard.

"I've been working extra with Coach Heather and she's been helping me shoot, and she's been bumping on me and pushing me which most of the people do because they say I'm kind of skinny. I just kept thinking I don't want my senior (class) to go out with a loss, so I was going to play as hard as I could. I kept telling people that when I make two or three, they can see it in my eyes and I want the ball."

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