Oral Roberts holds the key to Grizzlies' postseason berth
"It's really weird. I've coached this tournament I think eight years, and I've never lost a quarterfinal," Oakland coach Beckie Francis said. "I don't know how to handle it, I'm just pretending that we're still playing and hope Oral Roberts wins the whole thing, so we can keep practicing and play in the WNIT."
The Grizzlies went to the WNIT last season and in 2007. Francis is in her second run as Oakland coach, which began in 2005-06, the last time the Grizzlies won the tournament. Her first stint ended after 2001-02, the only other season they've won the tourney.
The top-seeded Golden Eagles are the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament behind freshman Kevi "Super" Luper, the conference player of the year and another frosh, Jaci Bigham. The freshman backcourt leads the nation in scoring (42.4 ppg) and led the Golden Eagles to their first No. 1 seed in history. They last won the tournament two seasons ago, before South Dakota State took the league by storm. Oral Roberts was an eight seed to last season's tournament.
The Grizzlies' loss to No. 7 seed Western Illinois Saturday was just the third time the two seed fell in the quarterfinals. The last time before this season was in 2007-2008 when the Leathernecks fell to UMKC.
The loss seems even more shocking when considering the Grizzlies defeated the Leathernecks by 36 combined points in the home-and-home, regular-season series.
"When we played them there, it was a one-point game at the half. We were frustrated in the locker room," Francis said. "We hit more shots in the second half there and ended up pulling out a double-digit win. It was a tough game there, too. You can never take a seven seed lightly. They don't have any pressure."
Francis, senior Melissa Jeltema and freshman Bethany Watterworth sat stunned in the postgame press confernce following the loss.
"Everyone is still in shock, everyone is still sad, but we're keeping our heads up because we've had a great year and we even feel like we've overachieved after Brittany Carnago went down."
Carnago, one of the league's most intimidating defenders, went down with an ACL injury in a November exhibition and will not return this season. The loss forced the Grizzlies to adjust their defensive schemes and left them with a lack of size. They finished the regular season with a 14-4 record and their ninth top-three seed in 11 seasons.
Francis and company aren't retiring for the season with the loss. The coach said she expects the Golden Eagles to prevail and the Grizzlies to return to the WNIT and she's using the tournament's remaining games as a scouting opportunity.
"It's a good opportunity for us to watch the other teams and we're following who is clutch on each team. We're learning a lot of plays. We're following performances and I'm just watching the personnel to see who can deliver and who can't," she said.
Paul Kampe covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at the Summit League Tournament on Twitter @PaulKampe.