SIOUX CITY, Iowa—With heavy legs after 48 minutes of basketball, the Fire needed a big play to come away with a win in the national semifinal.
They got three on defense from a fifth-year senior.
In the final 90 seconds of double overtime, Makenzie Cann came up with two steals and a block to help Southeastern (31-2) advance to Tuesday’s national championship game with a 78-75 win over defending national champion Dakota Wesleyan.
It marks the first appearance in program history in the title game, and just the second championship game in University history.
With 1:29 left, Cann had a steal with her team down 73-72 and the Fire turned it into an Emma Karamovic layup to take a one-point lead with 1:05 to play. The Tigers regained the lead, but Halee Printz answered with a runner in the lane to put the Fire on top 76-75.
Printz had her highest-scoring game of the tournament with 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a block, and a steal.
On the next possession, Cann recorded a steal and split a pair of free throws. She finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
“Makenzie down the stretch- so much heart,” said coach Tim Hays. “She didn’t have the type of night she wanted to offensively, but to come up with those two big defensive plays in double overtime after hardly being off the court made a difference.”
With a three-point lead, the Tigers (31-6) attacked the basket, but Cann came from the left side of the floor and erased Kaylee Kirk’s jumper.
“That block was for all my teammates and everything we’ve been through in the past,” said Cann. “All year long, we’ve had stretches where we haven’t shot well and relied on our defense. Even in double overtime where we are all tired, we all just came together; it just happened to be me that got the block.”
Reagan Linster then split a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game. A half-court heave by Kynedi Cheeseman, who led all scorers with 32, was wide right.
“Going through what we went through this year and battled through, I felt the guts and heart it took to get over the hump in two overtimes showed,” said Hays. “The moments where we could have put the game away, and missed a layup or a free throw, typically teams lose their momentum and heart and our team kept battling back.”
Elsa Paulsson-Glantz led the team in scoring with 16 points, and had three rebounds, two blocks, and two steals.
The Fire got off to a strong start, leading 9-0 just 2:55 into the game, marking the team’s largest lead of the night. Cann was responsible for six of those points, connecting on two 3-pointers. After a quarter of play, the Fire led 17-11.
Dakota Wesleyan won the second quarter, outscoring the Fire 18-16, but SEU held a 33-29 lead at the break. A slight edge in the third quarter gave the Fire a five-point lead to start the final 10 minutes.
Printz gave the Fire a 61-59 lead with a layup with 1:25 left, and the Fire forced a turnover, but were unable to take advantage. A basket in the lane by Cheeseman tied the game with eight seconds left to force the extra session.
Marlena Schmidt, who had her third double-double of the tournament with 13 points and 12 rebounds, put the Fire up 69-67 with 2:06 to go in OT, but the Fire were unable to take advantage of a DWU foul, and a miss. A pair of Sarah Carr free throws knotted the game at 69 with 48 seconds left. Both teams had shots in the final 20 seconds, but were unable to score a basket or get to the free throw line.
Jaycee Coe was also in double figures with 12 points, and added five rebounds and two steals.
The Fire will take on Concordia (Neb.) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern for the title. The teams met December 29 in Phoenix with the Bulldogs winning 59-51.