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Raiders fall to Marian in national title game

SIOUX CITY — As if winning the NAIA Division II National Women's Basketball Championship wasn't enough, Tuesday was even more historic for Lakan Hasser-Smith of Marian, Indiana.

The 5-foot-8 senior from Lafayette, Indiana, scored 16 points to lead No. 9 Marian to a 59-48 victory over No. 3 Southern Oregon in the championship game at the Tyson Events Center.

During the contest, Hasser-Smith eclipsed 2,000 points for her career and shortly after the game was named the tournament's most valuable player.

“I can't find the words with the emotion and everything but I think we're all part of the team and what a way to end my senior year,” Hasser-Smith said. “Those are great achievements but it's all my teammates and coaches because I couldn't have done anything like that without them.”

Hasser-Smith, Marian's all-time leading scorer, hit 2,000 on the button with a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and didn't score the rest of the contest. She scored those points in 133 career games, which is also a school record.

Marian (32-6) used a 9-0 second-quarter run to open things up and shorthanded Southern Oregon was never able to recover, suffering only its second loss in 35 games.

It is the first national championship for Marian, the Crossroads League regular season champion. Until this season, the Knights had one just one previous national tournament game.

Along the way, Marian knocked out defending national champion Morningside, catching fire with its best basketball of the season in its final five games.

“I want to give credit to my basketball team, I'm so proud and I told them I wouldn't want to go to war with any other 12 individuals,” Marian Coach Katie Gearlds said. “They have fought their tails off and left everything on this floor the last five games.

“As the season progressed we kept wondering when we were going to play our best basketball because we knew we had a good team. We won 17 in a row and still didn't think we were playing our best, then lose three of our last five.

“So we just tore up the stats, tore up the records, tore up everything and said alright, let's focus in. If we play our best basketball, we really believed all year we were the best team in the country. All year long we believed we had the best team, it was just a matter of putting it together for 40 minutes and we did just that for five games in a row.”

Kellie Kirkhoff shared team scoring honors for Marian with 16 points and was named to the all-tournament second team. Gearlds, a former Purdue University standout and professional player, was the Division II coach of the year.

Marian limited Southern Oregon to 40 points below its season average. The Knights came into the tournament with a 60-point defensive average.

Southern Oregon battled gamely without its leading scorer, Ashley Claussen, who suffered a knee injury in the quarterfinals and sat on the bench in street clothes.

“It obviously doesn't help at all but hat's off to them," SOU head coach Alex Carlson said. "There's nothing we can take away from Marian, they were the better team tonight and have been the best team all tournament. There are so many things they do well that impress you as a coach but my hats off to my kids. We really competed but I just think we ran out of steam. We were a little short on shots. It's one of those things, it's a make-miss game and I liked the looks we got just ran out of a little bit of steam.”

Claussen averaged 18.1 points and 2.8 steals and was sorely missed on both sides of the court — the Raiders made just 20 of 66 shots (30 percent), including 4-for-27 from 3-point range, and finished with only six steals, less than half their season average.

Carly Meister paced Southern Oregon with 18 points while Autumn Durand had 13 points and nine rebounds.

Southern Oregon was the only one of the four top-seeded teams to make the Fab Four.

Marian led 16-14 after one quarter and the 9-0 spurt helped the Knights take a 35-22 halftime cushion. It was still a nine-point spread, 42-33, heading into the final quarter and Southern Oregon came as close as six points late in the game before Marian iced it from the free throw line.

“I just told them, once you step away, give it a week or two and everything they’ve accomplished this season, they’re going to be so proud of,” Carlson said. “We’ve got some heartbroken girls right now but it’s a special, special group and has been a real honor for me to coach.

“I also think that with the people we have coming back, you’re going to see a very hungry team this spring and going into next fall.”