SAN ANTONIO -- After winning its first two Elite Eight games comfortably, the Dowling women's basketball team had legitimate hopes of capturing the NCAA Division II championship.
Then the Golden Lions ran into Ashland (Ohio) Friday night -- and the Eagles had too much firepower, cruising to a 71-56 victory at Greehey Arena.
Ashland (37-1) got the upper hand on Dowling (30-4) in all areas, led by tournament most valuable player Kari Daugherty (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Taylor Woods (20 points).
"If you're going to lose, it's better to lose to the best team in the country,'' Dowling coach Joe Pellicane said. "They are a great team. They deserve to be national champs.''
Danielle Wilson had 15 points, Connie Simmons 13 and Julia Koppi 11 for Dowling. The Golden Lions shot 38.5 percent, missed several opportunities under the bucket and were 4-for-16 from three-point range. "We had a chance, but we never got our offense going,'' Pellicane said. "It was constantly uphill for us. They spaced the floor beautifully. They made shots inside and out. They had us on our heels.''
What hurt the Golden Lions the most was their inability to maintain the defensive intensity that carried them to the final, and they never found an answer for the 6-1 Daugherty. She punished the Golden Lions underneath, outfoxing defenders for easy layups, and when the inside appeared clogged, she moved back and connected on jumpers. Daugherty also helped Daiva Gerbec contain Wilson. "They did a great job inside,'' Wilson said. "We couldn't get our game going.''
Ashland lost to Shaw (N.C.) in last year's final after blowing a double-digit lead. This time there was no lapse. The Eagles stayed patient and worked the ball around for open shots.
Ashland started the game with a 7-0 run and increased it to 31-13. Koppi, Seja Gamble and Simmons led Dowling on an 8-0 run to pull within 10, but Woods' three-pointer and Daugherty's jumper helped Ashland take a 38-25 halftime advantage. The Eagles upped their lead to 63-44 on Daugherty's three-pointer, and Dowling never recovered.