(Argo Athletics Media Release)
BILLINGS, Mont. – A giant has fallen at the 2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship presented by Wells Fargo. The defending and nine-time NAIA National Champion two-seed Oklahoma City was taken down by seven-seed University of Providence 81-76.
With 8.8 seconds on the game clock and 3 seconds on the shot clock, UP led by 2 points and was inbounding from their own baseline. Right as it seemed like a five second violation might be called, senior guard Stephanie McDonagh found freshman point guard Emilee Maldonado open in the short corner on the opposite side and she drained it to make the unlikely upset a reality.
“We felt in control most of the game without looking at the score clock. I know we were down a few times, but we never felt like we were losing,” Head Coach Bill Himmelberg said. “We talk a lot about not looking at the score clock or the time and just focusing on winning possessions. Late in the game, I looked up and we had the lead.”
The upset dream was alive all game but went from a hope to a probability during a 10-0 Argo run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. When the run began with less than a minute to go in the third, OCU led 63-59. By the time it ended, there was 8:36 left in the game and UP was ahead by 6 points.
Maldonado was also key in that run with a spectacular sequence with under nine minutes in the fourth. The freshman started with a made three that put UP ahead 67-63, and while the rest of the Argo defense dropped, she broke on the inbound pass. She tipped the ball loose, gathered it and hit a reverse layup with two Stars defenders right on her to bring the score to 69-63. UP never trailed after that.
“We thought she could be the x-factor for us. She had been shooting it really well in practice and we told her ‘you’re not a freshman anymore. This is a new season and you’re an upperclassman now,” Himmelberg said. “We know she’s a special player. Tonight she showed that she is ready for the big stage.”
While Maldonado made the clutch plays, the fact that Oklahoma City lost puts a shadow over a brilliant performance from OCU’s Daniela Galindo. The senior was simply unstoppable on offense for three quarters, scoring 23 points in the first half alone, and added another 14 points in the third quarter.
Perhaps the biggest development in the fourth quarter was UP’s ability to finally defender her. McDonagh and fellow senior guard Molly Herron both made excellent defensive plays on her in the final 10 minutes and the Argos started to double her off of every screen. That strategy paid off and she didn’t score in the fourth quarter.
“In the fourth quarter we went to a game plan we had all game, which was to trap her and someone else is going to beat us,” Himmelberg said. “It’s OK that she scored all those points in the first three quarters. We thought we could score with her early and then force someone else to beat us late in the game.”
Helping to keep up with Galindo for most of the game was UP’s shooting guard Jenna Randich who had the best shooting night from three of her career. The sophomore made a career high 5 threes and was the biggest contributor to UP’s 12 total threes, the most the team has made in a game all year.
She finished with a team leading 19 points and was one of four Lady Argos to score 15 or more points. Next on the scoring list was freshman post Parker Esary who scored 18 points with 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Her presence down low forced OCU to stay in a zone all game, which allowed the team’s guards to get open for some many threes.
Maldonado and McDonagh each finished with 16 points and filled up other areas of the stat sheet. Maldonado also had a team leading 6 assists, with 6 rebounds and just 1 turnovers. Meanwhile, McDonagh had 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal while guarding Galindo for much of the game.
UP moves beyond the first round of the national tournament for the third time in three NAIA tournament appearances. The team has made the quarterfinals in each of its previous two trips. The Argos will next play MidAmerican Nazarene (Kan.) on Friday, March 26 at 6:15 p.m.