Schuttenhelm: Woodside, Jimmies inspire at national tourney
"Make it to the weekend."
Whatever descriptive phrase you prefer, the Jimmie women's basketball team did it again last week at nationals in Sioux City, Iowa. And for a fleeting instant, the way things were playing out, I thought I was about to witness another "Willis Reed moment" down in Siouxland.
For those less ancient than me, Willis Reed played center for the New York Knicks back in the day. Enjoying an MVP season in 1970, Reed tore a thigh muscle in game 5 of the NBA finals versus the L.A. Lakers. With the Knicks up 3-2 in the series, Reed sat out game 6. Without his imposing presence in the low post, Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain scored 45 points and grabbed 27 rebounds as the Lakers tied the series three apiece.
It was said that Reed, and the Knicks, were finished. Thought to be out for game 7, Reed limped onto the court during warmups as the Madison Square Garden fans went wild. And the Lakers? They actually stopped their warm-up and stared at the Knicks center.
Reed, in obvious pain, struggled through the first half but managed to hold Chamberlain to just 2 of 9 shooting from the floor. Knicks guard Walt Frazier took over the game in the second half, and the rest, as they say, is history.
And while Jimmie senior point guard Bryn Woodside's appearance at the national tournament wasn't quite as dramatic as the Reed moment, bracing up a serious knee injury to try and help your team win a national championship, as she did, borders on the heroic. And with a No. 1 seed, College of the Ozarks, and a 2 seed (really a 1A in my opinion), reigning national champ Marian, going down on Friday, this tournament was there for the taking for any team left standing after Saturday's play.
But the Jimmies old nemesis, Concordia University of Seward, Neb., shot down Jamestown's run with an incredible third period, one which will cause nightmares for many of us.
To understand the true essence of coach Greg Ulland's program and this current Jimmie team, one need only look at the last month of the season, after the Woodside injury. Faced with replacing, not just a run-of-the-mill point guard, but one of the best PG's in the country at this level, the Jimmies somehow came together and made a serious run at the national tournament.
Freshmen Mya Buffetta and Mercedes Baumgartner did an admirable job filling in for Woodside, no question. But the fact is great point guards are made over a period of years, not at the snap of a finger. Hardcore Jimmie fans witnessed the progression of Woodside over a four-year period, just as we witnessed the progression of another great No. 3: Hannah Steele. It doesn't happen overnight.
The offense looked lost at times, and players were clearly out of their comfort zones trying to replace the 15 points a game Woodside was providing—not to mention the efficient operation of the offense. Yet somehow, Ulland and his outfit managed to keep it together and stay competitive with the best teams in the country. Consider that the Jimmies went 7-2 since the injury, and five of those games were against national tournament-level teams.
McKayla Orr ramped up her production, averaging 15.7 points a game over that stretch. Buffetta played 180 minutes after Woodside went down and turned the ball over just twice. It's all quite impressive.
Orr and Marina Nowak stood out in Sioux City. Nowak averaged 10.7 points and 9.3 boards, and Orr averaged 16.7 points while adding 23 rebounds, 13 assists and eight steals in the three games. I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Woodside did manage to play 49 minutes on a bad knee in the three games.
The Jimmies proved, once again, that they can play with anybody in the country. In fact, Ulland's team lost five games all season, and four of them came against the two teams that wound up playing for the national championship, Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan.