POMONA, Calif. -- There might have been many explanations for Montana State Billings' poor shooting early in Friday’s opening round game of the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament.
Perhaps the unseasonably warm March weather -- even for Southern California -- was a factor in the Yellowjackets’ 1 for 14 3-point shooting in the first half against Academy of Arts.
Maybe it was the time difference or the traffic on California’s congested freeways.
Whatever problems there were, MSUB overcame them and scratched out a 60-59 victory. The Yellowjackets improved their record to 24-7 and advances to the Saturday semifinal for a rematch against Simon Fraser, which defeated MSUB in last week’s GNAC semifinal game.
Academy of Art, a San Francisco-based college which only started intercollegiate athletics six years ago, finished with a 23-8 mark.
Senior Bobbi Knudsen hit a pull-up jumper with 28.3 seconds remaining in the game, and held on as Academy of Art missed two shots in the final seconds.
“This was a terrific win for us,” said MSUB coach Kevin Woodin, adding that his team wasn’t guilty of poor shot selection. Austin Hanser made 3 of 6 attempts from 3-point range and finished with 14 points.
Things certainly didn’t begin well for the Yellowjackets, and there was more excitement in the final minute than Woodin might have liked.
“We didn’t get off to a great start,” Woodin said. “We just weren’t hitting our shots in the first half.”
The Yellowjackets trailed 21-7 with 12 minutes remaining in the first half. They weren’t making their shots and gave up too many offensive rebounds to Academy of Art.
“We chipped away at their lead and started making some shots,” Woodin said. “We’re a senior-led group and there was no panic.”
MSUB had a difficult time with 6-foot-4 center Krystal Forthan, a sophomore transfer from LSU. She led the Urban Knights with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Forthan hit a 3-pointer 50 seconds into the second half, giving the Urban Knights a 37-23 advantage.
MSUB got tough and got going.
Over the next 10 minutes, the Yellowjackets outscored the Urban Nights by a 26-4 margin, taking a 49-41 advantage with nine minutes remaining.
“I didn’t go to the bench as much in the second half,” Woodin said.
Knudsen hit a 3-pointer with 2:18 remaining to left the Yellowjackets to a 57-53 lead with 2:18 to play. After Zoie Sheng made a jumper from the foul line, Knudsen made a free throw to keep the Yellowjackets in front by a 58-55 score.
The Urban Knights followed with two baskets, the second a 12-foot jump shot which gave Academy of Art a 59-58 lead with 40 seconds remaining.
Kundsen’s shot didn’t end the excitement. Sheng missed a shot, and Jasmin Guinn came up short when she tried to score on an offensive rebound.
The senior leadership Woodlin talked about finished well. Knudsen, a five-foot-8 senior guard from Malta led the team with 17 points and six assists. She was able to get the ball low to 6-foot-4 senior center Chelsea Banis, and the effective two-man game also helped Knudsen. Hansler, who scored 14 points, was concerned about not ending her college basketball career just yet.
“This could have been our last game together,” said Hanser about her, Banis and Knudsen.