By Benny Rogers/TVCC Sports Information
And then there were two.
The two most successful programs in the history of NJCAA women’s basketball square off in the national championship game tonight. The Lady Cardinals (35-1) and Central Arizona (32-1) tangle in the title game for a third time in a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, KS.
The Lady Cardinals, appearing in the title game for a third straight year and 10th overall, have won six national championships. Central Arizona has won four titles and is making its eighth title game appearance.
The two teams met in back-to-back national title games in 1998 (the first year the tournament was in Salina) and 1999. Central Arizona won the first one, denying the Lady Cardinals an unbeaten season. The Lady Cardinals got even the next year to cap a perfect season.
The Lady Cardinals won their titles in ’94, ’96, 97, ’99, ’04 and ’12. Central Arizona claimed championships in ’89, ’98, ’05 and ’09.
The Lady Cardinals suffered title game losses in ’95, ’98 and ’11. Central Arizona lost in the finals in ’99, ’07 and ’08.
Tonight’s game will not only be a rematch of the title games in 1998 and ’99, but also of a meeting earlier this season at the WNIT Tournament in Midland. The Lady Cardinals handed Central Arizona its only loss, 66-63.
The Lady Cardinals enter the title game riding a 24-game winning streak. The lone loss was a forfeit to Weatherford in December. Central Arizona has won 28 in a row.
The Lady Cardinals advanced to the title game with a 75-71 win against Gulf Coast in the semifinals. The win ran their record in national semifinals to 10-0.
Shannon Smith, who led the Lady Cardinals with 23 points, hit two free throws with 4.5 seconds left after Krystle Henderson came up with a game-saving steal under the Gulf Coast goal. Her pass to Smith resulted in Gulf Coast having to foul.
Also scoring in double figures were Shlonte’ Allen with 19 and Adut Bulgak 11. Bulgak also grabbed 11 rebounds.
The score was tied 33-33 at the half.
Central Arizona moved into the title game with a 52-40 win against Hutchinson. Central Arizona raced out to a 23-0 lead and was up 30-10 at the half.
Hutchinson (35-2) and Gulf Coast (29-5) will meet in the third-place game at 5 p.m.
You can watch tonight’s title game online at www.njcaatv.ihigh.com. Also, for audio only, you can hear the games at www.KSAL.com.
If you would like to follow the game on Twitter, follow Athens Review Sports at @AthensReviewSpo. Joe Elerson will be providing updates.
University of Texas head women’s basketball coach Karen Aston was in attendance at both semifinal games Friday.
It’s 34 with light snow in Salina this morning. Snow is expected to increase later in the day. The area is under a Winter Storm Warning with the possibility up to five inches of snow through noon Sunday.
It’s time to go all out all you Lady Cardinal fans back home. Make sure to wear red while you watch the title game online tonight. Also, keep those positive thoughts and vibes coming.