Stifling Defense Propels Valpo Past UMKC & Into Mid-Con Tournament Championship Game
Monday, March 10, 2003
Kansas City, Mo. – Valpo limited UMKC to 33 percent shooting and defeated the Kangaroos 71-50 in the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament Semifinals. Raitis Grafs led Valpo with 19 points and Stalin Ortiz added 16. The Crusaders (20-9), who advanced to their ninth straight Mid-Con Tournament title game, will play IUPUI on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

Valpo has won 20-or-more games in nine of the last 10 years. The Crusaders have also won 22 of their last 23 Mid-Con Tournament games from 1995-03.

Against Valpo’s staunch defense, UMKC (9-20) scored just 15 points in the first half, making 6-of-26 field goal attempts (23 percent). The Crusaders made 10 of their 15 steals in the first 20 minutes, scoring 16 points off of 11 Kangaroo turnovers. Ali Berdiel, who tied his career-high with nine assists, made three of his four steals in the first half. Ortiz led a balanced attack with 10 points as Valpo held a 33-15 halftime lead.

Valpo took control of the game with a 13-0 run midway through the first half. With the score tied at 11-11 with 10:05 left, consecutive 3-pointers by Ortiz and Roberto Nieves ignited the stretch which extended the lead to 24-11 with 5:57 remaining. Three straight layups by Dan Oppland, Antti Nikkila and Ortiz highlighted a 7-0 run to end the first half.

Hot 3-point shooting helped UMKC trim Valpo’s lead to 11 on two separate occasions in the second half. Michael Watson scored eight points, which included two treys, and Javon Clark drained two 3-pointers during a 16-7 Kangaroo run that cut UMKC’s deficit to 42-31 with 15:48 left.

Valpo answered the UMKC surge as Grafs and Ortiz swished 3-pointers during a 10-0 run to expand the advantage to 52-31 with 12:37 left. Grafs scored five more points over the next six minutes and the Crusaders increased their lead to 27 points (62-35) – the largest of the game – at the 6:01 mark.

Inside dominance proved to be a major difference as Valpo outscored UMKC 34-8 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 39-25. Nieves led Valpo with eight rebounds and Oppland grabbed seven. Valpo finished shooting 51 percent (27-53) overall. Greg Tonagel made a career-high five steals and Ortiz dished out five of Valpo’s 22 assists (on 27 baskets).

Watson, who scored 34 points in UMKC’s Mid-Con Quarterfinal win over Oral Roberts, led the Kangaroos with 21 points.

The Mid-Con Championship on Tuesday is a rematch of last year’s title game, which Valpo won 88-55. This season, Valpo won both meetings against IUPUI. The Crusaders were on the front end of a 72-62 score on Jan. 23 in Indianapolis and also defeated the Jaguars 77-71 on Feb. 22 to clinch their eighth Mid-Con regular season title.