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Providence's championship dreams dashed in NAIA title-game loss to Dordt

Ashlee Maldonado.jpg
Posted at 8:46 AM, Mar 27, 2024

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — The Providence women's basketball team had its championship dreams dashed Tuesday night.

The Argos, seeking their first NAIA title, saw a 10-point second-half lead evaporate in a 57-53 loss to Dordt (Iowa) in the national championship game at a packed Tyson Events Center.

The win secured Dordt's first championship and atoned for a loss to Thomas More (Ky.) in the 2022 title game.

"Just a tough, tough loss," said Providence coach Bill Himmelberg. "I thought they played great. At the end it came down to who made a couple pf plays, and we made plays at the end of games all year long. We just couldn't get a couple of plays to go our way at the very end."

Dordt, the No. 1 seed from the Liston quadrant, trailed by seven points at halftime and was down by as many as 10 three minutes into the third quarter, but the Defenders fought back and took the lead at 41-40 on a fast-break layup by Karly Gustafson 10 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Providence's Monique Carter hit consecutive shots, the second of which was a step-back 3-pointer, and the Argos, the No. 2 seed from the Naismith quadrant, took a 47-43 advantage with 6:38 left.

But Dordt tied it 47-47 with 4:45 remaining on a Gustafson layup, then took leads of 50-49 and then 52-49 on back-to-back baskets by Janie Schoonhoven, the last of which came with 1:50 to go.

Ashlee Maldonado pulled the Argos within 52-51 with a pair of foul shots with 49.3 seconds remaining. But Bailey Beckman countered with free throws on Dordt's next possession to put the Defenders back in front by three, 54-51, with 33 seconds left.

Providence, with a chance to tie or pull within one, turned the ball over on its next possession when Maddy Dixon stepped on the end line with 10.7 seconds to go. Beckman then made it a two-possession game with two more free throws, giving Dordt a 56-51 lead with 9.4 seconds remaining.

Maldonado again hit two free throws to pull the Argos within 56-53 with 5.8 seconds left, but that was as close as they would get in the final seconds.

"We knew they were going to make a run, and it's just a matter of answering it," Himmelberg said. "I thought we matched their run and were answering it. It just came down to who can make plays at the end."

It was a remarkably successful campaign for the Argos, who made the national title game for the first time following a 58-53 victory over Frontier Conference rival Carroll in the national semifinals on Sunday. UP also won the Frontier tournament title with a win over Carroll earlier in March.

Providence finished its season with a 27-9 record. The Argos were trying trying become the first Frontier women's team to win the NAIA crown since Montana Western in 2019.

"I congratulated them on a tremendous run and making history for our school and wished our seniors well and thanked them for their leadership to get us here," Himmelberg said of what he told his team in the locker room afterward.

"We're young, and hopefully we can make it back here someday. Sometimes it takes one time to get there to see what it's all about, to make sure you have another opportunity to do this."

Maldonado finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Argos. Keanna Salave'a added nine points and 15 rebounds, while Dixon also added nine points.

Dordt closed the season with a 35-2 record. The championship game was played roughly 50 miles from the Defenders' campus in Sioux Center, Iowa.

"We had a hostile environment," Himmelberg said. "We're used to that in the Frontier, but we couldn't make a play when we needed to, and that's just the way that goes sometimes."

Dordt was led by Gustafson's 16 points, while Schoonhoven had a double double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Eliana Kuperus, a Manhattan Christian alum, added six points on 3 for 3 shooting and four rebounds to aid in Dordt's championship victory.

"It feels incredible," Kuperus told MTN Sports. "I can't even describe the feeling. We just worked so hard for this the whole season. At the beginning of the season our coaches (said) 'prepare yourself for that last Tuesday,' and here we are on the last Tuesday. National champs. It's just hard to believe."