Women’s college basketball: Minnesota Duluth is next for Indians

Published 3:52 am Tuesday, March 21, 2023

By Mike London

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Catawba’s women’s basketball team achieved the greatest victory in program history on Monday.

Hopefully, the coaches and players enjoyed it on Tuesday.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Civic Center, they’ll have to try to top it when the sixth-seeded Indians (29-5) take on second-seeded Minnesota Duluth (30-3).

Not only is this the first Catawba women’s basketball team to achieve national-level success, it is also the first South Atlantic Conference women’s hoops team to reach the national semifinals.

Minnesota Duluth also represents a conference — the Northern Sun — that is not normally in the women’s roundball spotlight. On Monday, Minnesota Duluth accomplished the first Elite Eight win by a Northern Sun team in a decade.

A couple of encouraging things to think about after Catawba’s draining 77-70 win against third-seeded Cal State University, Dominguez Hills.

It’s not like Catawba played magnificently and maxed out with a perfect performance. The Indians won with only a small contribution from Janiya Downs (2 points, 5 rebounds), one of their best players. You know Downs can’t wait to get back out there.

Catawba didn’t shoot especially well from the field (38.1 percent) or from 3 (6-for-20) and still won. Catawba allowed 16 offensive rebounds and still won. Catawba turned it over 17 times and still won.

The three things Catawba did really well were creating turnovers (23), making free throws (23-for-28) and finding open teammates (16 assists. 5 by Lyrik Thorne, 6 by Mercedes Wampler).

While Catawba had to fight tooth and nail for 40 minutes before Thorne’s heroics got them past the CSUDH Toros, Minnesota Duluth barely broke a sweat in crushing seventh-seeded Assumption 61-41.

Either Assumption was having a brutal day or Minnesota Duluth is one of the best D-II teams of all-time.

Assumption scored a meager 14 points in the first half, shot 28 percent for the game and managed to go 0-for-10 on 3-pointers.

Maybe it was stifling defense — or maybe Assumption just missed a bundle of shots that it normally makes. Hard to say.

Minnesota Duluth’s height and length did cause some very wild shots to be thrown up on Assumption drives.

Minnesota Duluth wears maroon and gold and looks long and tall, but not especially quick.  Sometimes first impressions can be deceiving, but the Bulldogs appear to be a team that will rely more on size and execution rather than speed and daring.

Minnesota Duluth has a certified superstar in 6-foot-2 Brooke Olson, an All-America graduate student and future teacher who is one of the nation’s top scorers.

Olson’s stats from the Assumption game weren’t alarming on the surface — 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting — but then you notice she did that in only 16 minutes of court time. She basically scored a point a minute.

Assumption tried to drive and get her in foul trouble and succeeded admirably in doing that. Olson was whistled for two fouls less than three minutes into the game, but Assumption couldn’t score frequently enough for it to matter. Even when Olson was on the bench, her teammates were clocking Assumption.

It’s possible that Catawba can get Olson in foul trouble and make it hurt.

Minnesota Duluth has about 9,000 undergraduate students.

Located on Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area, Minnesota Duluth brings volumes of history to the St. Joseph Civic Center.

The Bulldogs have won national championships in football, men’s ice hockey and women’s ice hockey.

When the USA won the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game  against the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics, two of the American players were from Minnesota Duluth. A Minnesota Duluth Bulldog made the assist on the decisive goal.

Most of the nation’s iron ore deposits were mined in northern Minnesota, and in the 1940s that iron was turned into the tanks, planes, warships and machine guns used to fight World War II.

So everyone owes that area a salute.

But that’s enough history. Now it’s up to the Catawba Indians to try to create more of their own.

The CBS Sports Network will televise the game. Ken Anderson again will be providing play-by-play on WSAT.

The other semifinal will pit unbeaten and top-seeded Ashland (Ohio) against fifth-seeded defending national champ Glenville State (W. Va.).