Boeck’s free throws send Northern Iowa to NCAAs

After losing nine of its first 13 games, the Northern Iowa

women’s basketball team didn’t panic.

“We stuck with our body of work,” coach Tanya Warren said.

“We never lost sight of our vision.”

That vision became a realization Sunday, when the Panthers used

a pair of free throws from Lizzie Boeck with 7 seconds left to

knock off Creighton 54-53 in the championship game of the Missouri

Valley Conference Tournament.

Northern Iowa (17-15) advances to the NCAA Tournament for the

first time.

Boeck, who was chosen the tournament MVP, had a game-high 19

points. She scored the last seven points of the contest to lead her

team on a 9-0 run over the final 7:46. Nicole Clausen added 10

points for the fifth-seeded Panthers, who have won four in a

row.

Megan Neuvirth and Chevelle Herring scored 13 points each for

second-seeded Creighton (20-10).

Boeck had 53 points, 24 rebounds and 11 assists over the three

games of the tournament. She hit on 20 of 35 shots from the field.

She also sank 12 of 15 free throws and swished both foul shots in

the closing seconds of the title tilt.

“Lizzie is as calm an individual as I’ve ever been around,”

Warren said. “She likes that pressure.”

Boeck took charge down the stretch. Her short jumper with 2:07

left brought the Panthers to within 53-52 and set the stage for the

finish.

Creighton took its biggest lead of the game on a driving layup

by Neuvirth with 7:46 left, but the Bluejays missed their final

eight shots and committed six turnovers the rest of the way.

“We always say defense wins championship,” Clausen said.

“Well, there it is.”

The Panthers struggled the first six weeks of the season and

dropped to 4-9 after a 90-80 loss at Missouri State on Jan. 2. As

one of the team leaders, Boeck felt the responsibility of turning

the season around.

“We knew we had the potential,” she said. “We believed in

ourselves and coaches.”

The Panthers, who joined the conference in 1991, put together a

six-game winning streak beginning Jan. 30. They lost three of their

last four regular-season games before coming alive in the

tournament. Northern Iowa beat Bradley 70-50 in the quarterfinals

and stunned top-seeded Illinois State 61-59 in the semifinals.

Northern Iowa is the first Missouri Valley school to advance

both its women’s and men’s team to the NCAA tournament since

Creighton in 2002.

The Bluejays were upset in the championship game for the second

year in a row. Last season, they dropped a 47-45 decision to

ninth-seeded Evansville in the title game.

“It hurts, it really hurts, we fell short twice,” said

Herring, who was chosen to the five-player all-tournament team. “I

don’t know what to say. It doesn’t feel good.”