They say defense wins championships. For the Wichita State Shockers (28-4) it also won them a game today. Through a suffocating defense that crushed any Northern Iowa Panthers (17-14) spirits before they really began, the Shockers moved onto the Valley Championship with a 56-42 win on Saturday.
"I thought we played very stingy on defense," said Wichita State head coach Jody Adams. "Our team came with a relentless attitude and an unbelievable fight. We wanted to play and win with our style and I thought our guys did that."
"Wichita State's defense is probably the best defense in the history of the Valley," said UNI head coach Tanya Warren.
In the first four minutes of the game, the Shockers had forced five turnovers, turning them into eight points. The 3-point deficit that Wichita witnessed early on was obliterated by a blistering turnover-transition game that you see you in someone like UConn or the Tennessee Lady Vols.
"I would think yes," said Alex Harden. "Besides a half against Northern Iowa earlier this season, yes."
A 10-0 put the Shockers out in front for good as they built their first half lead to as many as 12 in the opening half.
Shocker head coach Jody Adams picked up a technical foul with 3:41 after being very articulate with the officials on a disagreement with the call. Madison Weekly nailed the technicals shots, bringing the Panthers to within 23-15.
"I got out of my coaches box I thought I could get out and get warned, but I didn't. I gambled a little bit. I didn't cuss. I just stomped my foot. I think I have a fracture heel," from a laughing coach Adams.
Alex Harden, the Valley's MVP, came out and played very well against the Panthers today. Her 10 points in the first half came rather easily. She got to the line and pulled down rebounds. The second half was no different. She finished with 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds.
Northern Iowa pulled within 36-25 with 12:41 but the Wichita State defense continued to be too much for the Panthers. Wichita State held the Northern Iowa to just 2-of-10 over the next four seven minutes.
When Harden checked back in the game with about nine minutes go, the Shockers would extend their lead, putting the game out of reach. The Shockers led by as many as 21 with 6:07 remaining in the game.
Kelsey Jacobs had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Wichita State. Jaleesa Chapel added 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting and pulled down five rebounds.
For the Shockers, it's their third consecutive championship appearance. They'll be doing what no one has done in the Valley since 1994 when Missouri State Bears, then Southwest Missouri State, won four straight Valley tournament championships. They'll play either No. 3 Missouri State (17-13) or seventh-seeded Evansville Purple Aces (13-18). That game will at 2:05 p.m. CST on ESPN3.
"The best part about this team is they know what it's like to lose," said coach Adams. "They also know what it's like to win. It's in their DNA. They're winners."
"It's do or die time. It's a totally different mindset in March." said Harden.
Northern Iowa's season is probably over at 17-14. A season decimated by injuries and a youthful return, the Panthers are looking forward to a bright 2015-16 season. They will return four starters, along with five other role players.