The season came to a sudden end here Saturday night for the Buena Vista University women's basketball team, as the Beavers fell one shot short of the Sweet 16.
Point guard Katie Maguire's three-point shot from just to the right of the top of the key hit the front rim and bounced out with 17 seconds left.
The College of St. Benedict's leading scorer, Anna Heikenen, pulled down the defensive rebound, made two free throws and iced the game for the Blazers, who went home with a hard-fought, 77-71 over BVU.
"We got the looks we wanted toward the end of the game but the shots just didn't go down for us," said BVU coach Janet Berry, whose team's season ended with a 25-3 mark in a national tournament second round game before 1,100 at Siebens Field House.
In a contest in which the statistics were remarkably even, St. Ben's had an answer for everything BVU threw at them.
"Every time we'd make a run at them one of their kids would step out and make a three," Berry said. "I felt if we could have strung one more possession together, we could have won it."
The Iowa Conference's leading scorer, BVU's Katie Maguire, led the way with 14 points, six assists and two steals. Guard Tracy Hartwig came off the bench to net 14 points, including two three-pointers.
Senior center Kristina Kapler finished her stellar career at
BVU end with 12 points while Lindsey Meyer added 11.
"It was a hard loss to take, especially for our four seniors," Berry said. "It's sad to see them go; they've meant so much to our program and are all just extremely fine people."
St. Benedict's, meanwhile, moved on to the Sweet 16 and improved to 24-4 on the season.
The Blazers were led by an unheralded guard court, as point guard Darby Noreen scored a game-high 17 points and off-guard Katie Kempe added 14.
Heikenen, second in her conference in scoring, was held to 14 points while 6-4 Kim Johnson knocked down two threes and finished with ten points.
"We beat a great basketball team," said St. Ben's coach Mike Durbin, who admitted the Blazers got a tougher game than he expected.
"I never should have seen (BVU)'s game on tape with Wartburg," he said. "That wasn't the same team we saw on film up there Saturday night. We were fortunate to come away with a win."
Considering the fast start the Beavers got off to, building early leads of 8-0 and 16-7, Durbin was right on that one.
He said his team was within a couple of baskets of getting buried early.
"Just getting to halftime was the toughest part of the game for us," Durbin said. "We were able to knock down a couple threes in that first half to stay with them."
"We played great defense the whole game," said Berry. "Their kids just made some big shots at key times."
The Beavers led 21-13 with nine minutes, 36 seconds left in the first half, but St. Ben's went on a 13-4 run over the next four minutes to take their first lead at 26-25.
The Blazers went up 28-25, but BVU's Meyer hit two threes in a row to start an 11-6 run to finish the half. The Beavers led 36-32 at the break.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," Durbin said. "We needed to be an extra-step better on defense and we knew we would be better offensively if our guards played more aggressive and started to penetrate their defense."
St. Ben's wasted no time in taking the lead early in the second half. Noreen started the frame's scoring with two free throws, and that was followed by a layup from Heikenen for a tie at 36.
BVU's junior forward Kelli Staley connected on a three, but that was followed by six straight points from St. Ben's, which led 42-39 with 14:34 left.
Two free throws from Jess Griggs knotted the game at 45 with 12:17 left, but Noreen's three-pointer 19 seconds later put St. Ben's up 48-45. The Blazers kept building four to six point leads the rest of the way, with the Beavers fighting back several times.
After a three-point shot put the Blazers up 51-45 with 11:16 left, Kapler made two consecutive field goals for a 51-49 CSB lead. Noreen connected on another three to get the Blazers up by five again.
Maguire finally got BVU even at 59 with a three-pointer with 7:36 left. That was followed by a layup by Heikenen, two free throws from Kempe and a long three from the 6-4 Johnson with 5:27 left to make it 66-59.
"When a 6-4 player knocks down a three, that's pretty tough to stop," said Berry.
"The threes were key for us," added Durbin. "We've been playing our best basketball of the season because our guards are starting to come of age."
BVU got to within 68-66 with 3:21 left after two clutch free throws by Staley, but Johnson answered with a jumper from the baseline. That was followed by a runner from Meyer as BVU trailed by just 70-68.
Maguire made two free throws for a 72-71 BVU deficit with 1:06 left, and on the other end, Noreen made one of two free throws for a two-point Blazer lead with 32 seconds left.
Maguire missed a three with 17 seconds left, and Heikenen made four straight free throws for the final margin.
"I'm going through a grieving process at this point,and I feel bad for our players," Berry said. "But we had such a great season. We went undefeated in a tough Iowa Conference and that hadn't been done in 13 years.
"We finished with 25 wins and got to the national tournament," she added.
BVU held a 34-31 edge in rebounding over St. Ben's, and both teams committed 15 turnovers. Both teams made nine three-points and both were 20 of 24 from the line. St. Ben's made three more two-point field goals, and that was the difference.
The four BVU senios this year were guard Megan Holtorf, Kapler, Griggs and guard Crystal Richardson.