Valparaiso rallied from a 16-point second half deficit and closed within three in the final six minutes, but fell short on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 71-63 decision to Kansas State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Crusaders attempted to become the first #15 seed in tournament history ever to win a game, and battled to the final horn against the Mideast Region's second seed. Valpo was unable to score from the field in the game's final 6:41.
The Wildcats jumped out to a lead from the opening tip, scoring on their first eight possessions of the game to build a 17-7 advantage just 4:32 into the contest. The lead swelled to 13, 22-9, by the 12:19 mark before the Crusaders made their first run of the game.
Jamie Gutowski (Crown Point, Ind./Andrean H.S.) made a three, and following a Kansas State lay-in, Valpo then scored the game's next nine points. Five free throws, a lay-in by Katie Boone (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove H.S.) and a putback basket by Jenna Stangler (St. Michael, Minn./St. Michael-Albertville H.S.) closed the deficit to three, 24-21, with 6:56 to play. After the team's traded free throws and three-pointers, Gutowski made two free throws to bring the Brown and Gold within a point, 29-28, with 5:17 left in the half.
After the Kansas State lead went back to seven, Valpo closed to within two again prior to half, but entered the locker room down 41-35.
The Wildcats again started fast in the second half, building a 60-44 lead with 12:26 remaining in the game. A Meredith Baugher (Berea, Ohio/Berea H.S.) three-point play the conventional way started a 12-0 run, which brought the near capacity crowd into the game trying to spur on the underdog Crusaders. Baugher made two more free throws and Suzie Hammel (Lafayette, Ind./Lebanon H.S.) drained a three midway through the run, and a steal by Hammel led to a Gutowski lay-in to cap the spurt and close to 60-56 with 8:52 to play.
After a Kansas State basket, Hammel drained another three to cut the deficit to three at the 6:41 mark, but that would be Valpo's last field goal. The Crusaders were still within three until Nicole Ohlde scored with 4:11 remaining, and another K-State basket pushed the lead to seven with 3:21 to play. Valpo had several chances to cut into the lead, but were unable to cut the lead any further.
Gutowski led the Crusaders with 20 points, including four three-pointers, while Stangler added ten points and ten rebounds. Boone dished out seven assists while committing just one turnover.
Ohlde led the Wildcats with 25 points, 15 from the line, while Kendra Wecker added 15 points and grabbed 13 boards. Laurie Koehn made four threes and scored 14.
Valpo made 20-of-24 free throws (83.3%) but shot just 35.3% from the floor while Kansas State made 48.9% of their shots from the field. The Crusaders also committed just 11 turnovers and forced 13 from Kansas State (25-5).
Valparaiso (20-12) concluded its season with its fourth 20-win season in school history, and its third straight postseason appearance, including its second straight NCAA berth.