On the side of Oklahoma City University’s team bus it reads: “Home of Champions.”
That couldn’t be more true.
Senior Kayla MacKenzie and junior Yvonte Neal helped No. 2 Oklahoma City hold off No. 1 Freed-Hardeman University (Tenn.) for an 80-76 win in the championship game of the 34th annual NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at the Frankfort Convention Center.
“I can’t even describe it, I’m still in shock,” said MacKenzie, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “This is what you work for ... this is what you wish for.”
The Stars (27-4) have now won an NAIA-best seven national championships, tying former member Southern Nazarene University (Okla.). They are 7-3 all-time in the championship game.
“Absolutely incredible, it feels accomplished,” said Oklahoma City coach Latricia Trammell, who was named Coach of the Year. “I’m so blessed for these young ladies. ... It’s just an unbelievable feeling.”
The Lady Lions (36-2) were playing in their first championship game in their 18th National Championship appearance.
“We knew it would be a tough one,” Freed-Hardeman coach Dale Neal said. “The girls wouldn’t give up and we got back in it there where we had a chance to win, but it just didn’t happen.”
Neal made four 3-pointers and hit 10-of-11 free throws to finish with 36 points to go along with eight rebounds. MacKenzie scored 21 points — making five 3s to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.
“Yvonte is a great player, I can’t say enough about her,” MacKenzie said. “If she’s driving they help off me and I’m there for the shot. Today my shot was falling.”
Oklahoma City led by 14 midway through the second half before Freed-Hardeman went on a 23-8 run to take a 70-69 lead on a putback by senior Hayley Newby with two minutes to go.
But that lead was short-lived, as Neal answered with an old-fashioned three-point play 20 seconds later.
Freed-Hardeman tied it on three different occasions after that, the last time being 76-all when freshman Taleeah Cross hit a jumper with 35 seconds left.
But, again, Neal answered, this time with a mid-range jumper with 18 seconds left. And then after Newby missed on the other end, Neal got the rebound and made a pair of free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining to seal it.
“We had to get a little tougher,” Trammell said. “We had to dig in and show a little more gut than the other team. ... We did enough to get it done.”
Senior Brittany Montgomery scored 21 points — including three of her five 3-pointers during that late run — and six rebounds, while Cross also had 21 points with five rebounds and eight assists for the Lady Lions. Newby (14 points, eight rebounds) and Cynthia Woodward (12 points, including two 3s during the run) also scored in double figures.
“They hit some big 3s and when teams are hitting 3s you can never count them out,” MacKenzie said. “We just had to tighten up our defense and really fight for what we wanted.”
FREED-HARDEMAN (76) — Brittany Montgomery 21, Taleeah Cross 21, Cynthia Woodward 12, Grace Alonso de Armino 8, Hayley Newby 14.
OKLAHOMA CITY (80) — Kayla MacKenzie 21, Ouleymatou Colibaly 2, Yvonte Neal 36, Markeisha Johnson 2, Autumn Huffman 4, Cara Pugh 9, Autumn Lau 6.
All-Tournament Teams and Awards
First Team: Tayla Foster, Bethel (Tenn.); Grace Alonso de Armino, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.); Hayley Newby, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.); Yvonte Neal, Oklahoma City; Kyniddia Purdy, Wiley (Texas)
Second Team: Porsha Harris, Bethel (Tenn.); Ellen Sholtes, Campbellsville (Ky.); Sierra Shipley, John Brown (Ark.); Alannah Sheets, Shawnee State (Ohio); Danisha Shaw, Wiley (Texas)
Most Valuable Player: Kayla MacKenzie, Oklahoma City
Hustle Award: Tia Pappas, Westminster (Utah)
Coach of the Year: Latricia Trammell, Oklahoma City
To see more photos from the game, click here.