FRANKFORT, Ky. - They say the third time is a charm, but that certainly wasn't the case for Campbellsville University, which lost 59-46, in the Mid-South Conference Championship game versus Cumberland University (Tenn.) Sunday afternoon in the Frankfort Convention Center. Campbellsville lost to the Bulldogs in the regular season twice only by a combined four points, but fell by 13 in the conference final.
"Cumberland is a very good team, and honestly, probably the best in the conference, " said coach Ginger Colvin. "I'm not disappointed in the girls, we just came up short to a good team tonight. Cumberland is who we wanted to play. We got what we wanted and just couldn't pull it off. They are so long defensively and didn't give us a lot of open looks."
The Bulldogs kept the Lady Tigers, ranked eighth in the nation for scoring offense per game (75), nearly 30 below their average. Cumberland is known for its phenomenal defense, also in the national rankings for scoring defense per game, holding opponents to an average of 51 points per game.
Rebounding, though, was the central factor separating the teams, Cumberland ending with 45, 17 of those being offensive, and Campbellsville with 27.
The opening minutes began like a nightmare for Campbellsville, with the first four of five Lady Tiger possessions ending in a turnover. Cumberland had the initial seven points of the game, but a Courtney Clifton 3-pointer finally put the Campbellsville on the board, 7-3, at the 16:23 mark.
The real momentum came, though, when Lady Tiger Daizah Kimberland entered the game. It took only 32 seconds on the court for the sophomore post to make noise, scoring her first of 10 points in the half. Her second came after taking a charge on the defensive end and then scoring an "and-one" on the next possession (12-10 Cumberland; 13:00).
Campbellsville finally made a run beginning at the 9:20 mark after junior guard Katie Allen drove into traffic and hit a lay-up. She was followed by a quick five points from Clifton and another two from Mary Jehlik, putting CU on top by five, 22-17 (7:14).
Campbellsville managed to control Cumberland the rest of the period, going into the locker room ahead by eight, 28-20.
After the 20-minute break, the roles soon reversed as Cumberland began to overpower Campbellsville. Although Allen managed a couple of 3-point baskets in the first five minutes, the Bulldogs responded with a 9-0 run, putting them ahead by one, 35-34 with 10:36 on the clock.
Cumberland post Jessica Pace had 11 points in the period to add to her five from the first, ending with 16.
More key than their offensive pressure, though, was the Bulldog's defensive pressure. The team held Campbellsville to 18 points in the half, one of the lowest scoring performances of the season, and also grabbed 18 more rebounds than the Lady Tigers.
Cumberland's win gives the Bulldogs their first MSC Tournament championship. Cumberland also finished first in the regular season to earn an automatic bid to the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Tournament. Campbellsville receives the conference's second automatic bid for finishing runner-up in the tournament to the Bulldogs.
Kimberland finished as the Lady Tigers' leading scorer with 13, followed by Clifton and Allen with 11 a piece.
Both Pace and TaCouya Allen finished with double-doubles for Cumberland, Pace with 16 points and 14 rebounds, T. Allen with 12 points and 11 on the boards. Casie Cowan ended with 10 points on the afternoon.
Campbellsville will find out Wednesday, March 7, who it will face in the opening round of the NAIA Tournament in Frankfort, and when.
"When it comes down to it, we finished third in the regular season and second in the tournament, all in an outstanding conference," said Colvin. "We are going to hold our heads high and be proud of that while we learn from our mistakes. We have the NAIA Nationals to look forward to now and we are going to focus on that. I'm happy to play some games away from our conference now. We all know each other too well in the MSC. It will be interesting to see what happens outside of that."
The Lady Tigers will take a couple days off from practice to enjoy a portion of their Spring Break before returning to the gym Wednesday. The NAIA National Tournament bracket will be released Wednesday evening. To follow the team, go to www.campbellsvilletigers.com.