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Star Struck: Oklahoma City University Wins Hoops National Title

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FRANKFORT, Kentucky -

Oklahoma City University collected its seventh NAIA Division I women's basketball championship with an 80-76 title-game triumph over Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) on Tuesday at the Frankfort Convention Center.

OCU became national champion in women's basketball for the seventh time, tying Southern Nazarene for the most NAIA Division I women's hoops titles. Yvonte Neal poured in a game-high 36 points to power the Stars.

In all sports, OCU captured its 55th national championship. The Stars already have won national titles in NAIA cheerleading, pom/dance and men's cross country in 2013-14.

Kayla MacKenzie of the Stars took home the tournament most valuable player trophy. MacKenzie, a senior from Peoria, Ariz., posted 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five treys in 40 minutes of work Tuesday. For the tournament, MacKenzie averaged 13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.60 steals a game.

MacKenzie and fellow senior Cara Pugh helped Oklahoma City win national championships two out of the past three years.

"It's unreal," MacKenzie said. "I can honestly say hard work pays off. Never in a million years did I think I'd be here my last game of my senior year winning this (championship) and that award (MVP). You couldn't write it any better."

Neal, a junior from Spring Valley, Calif., also put together eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and four 3-pointers. She was the last addition to this year's recruiting class. Neal took all-tournament acclaim.

Neal's jumper in the lane with 15 seconds left made the difference in the championship game, putting OCU ahead for good 78-76. Freed-Hardeman's Hayley Newby missed off the backboard from the baseline with three seconds to go, and Neal rebounded the misfire. Neal added insurance foul shots for the final margin.

"I just did it for my team, and mostly for the seniors," Neal said. "We've been working hard since day one. All of the running, all of the adversity we've been here, we had to lay it on the line today. We had to come out and follow the game plan, and we executed. We won. I'm happy that I'm here with this team, this coach and this program."

OCU coach Latricia Trammell picked up the Phyllis Holmes NAIA Division I coach of the year award. Trammell led the Stars to a 27-4 finish with OCU's 14th Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season championship. OCU ran its streak of 25-win seasons to 16 in a row. Trammell completed her second season returning to OCU as head coach after being the assistant from 2005-07.

"We preach hard work pays off, and we do things for a reason, and I told you so girls," said Trammell. "I have to give it to this team. They're the ones out there on the floor executing and battling. We wouldn't be here without this group. They're just a fantastic group of young ladies, and I'm very proud."

MacKenzie became the fifth OCU player to win the NAIA Division I Tournament MVP. Others were Patty Cantella in 1999, Taiwo Rafiu in 2001, Jhudy Gonzalez in 2002, Mariam Sy in 2006 and Taylor Booze in 2012.

"What a lot of people don't know about Kayla MacKenzie is she's playing a position she's never played before," Trammell said. "She started playing the point guard position in December. For her to come out here that confident from December to this point right here and lead her team to a national championship says a lot about her. She's a nursing major, and she can be my nurse any day, because I trust her with all my heart."

Oklahoma City halted Freed-Hardeman's 12-game win streak. Freed-Hardeman ended its season 36-2 with its first national title game appearance and runner-up finish. OCU made the national championship game for the 10th time. The Stars picked up the Sooner Athletic Conference's 14th national title in women's basketball.

The game was tied five times – three in the final 1:22. After Grace Alonso De Armino had foul shots, Neal answered with free throws to put the Stars in front 74-72 at the 1:09 mark. Freed-Hardeman's Taleeah Cross knotted the game again 74-74 with free throws at 1:01 remaining.

MacKenzie fed Autumn Lau on a cut to the basket to put the Stars up 76-74 with 47 seconds showing. Cross nailed a jumper to make it 76-76 with 34 seconds to go, then Neal closed the deal for OCU.

The lead changed hands eight times in the contest, and Newby provided Freed-Hardeman its last edge with a putback for a 70-69 Lady Lion lead with 1:59 left. Neal responded by driving to the basket and hitting a free throw for a 72-70 OCU lead with 1:40 on the clock. Newby's basket ended a 7-0 Freed-Hardeman run.

Oklahoma City won its five tournament games by margins of eight points, three points, three points, two points and finally, four points.

"In my mind I just kept saying we're going to win this," Trammell said. "I really believed we were going to. If you think about the games we've had in this tournament so far, we've gained a lead, and then that team has gone on a run and came back and got it close, and we end up making those big plays in the end. I've mentioned big players make big plays, but this entire tournament, I've had a team of big players. I can't pick out one – stats-wise I can – but it took all of us to accomplish this."

OCU mustered an 11-2 run to enjoy a 61-47 lead with 10:40 left. Neal supplied the Stars seven of those points, including free throws to cap the splurge. Freed-Hardeman's Brittany Montgomery responded with the game's next eight points to keep the Lady Lions in the game.

Cynthia Woodward gave Freed-Hardeman its biggest lead of the game at 12-8 with a trey at 15:32 left in the first half. OCU climbed back into the lead on Pugh's 3 for a 20-18 edge with 9:18 remaining.

Cross nailed a 3, but MacKenzie added her own trey to give the Stars a 23-21 edge with 8:25 on the first-half clock.

Cross and Montgomery led Freed-Hardeman with 21 points each.

"They fought for 40 minutes and didn't give us anything easy," Trammell said of Freed-Hardeman. "They're a very good team with great players and a great coaching staff. They definitely don't have anything to put their head down about."

 

NAIA Division I Women's Basketball All-Tournament Teams

FIRST TEAM

Tayla Foster, Bethel (Tenn.)

Kyniddia Purdy, Wiley (Texas)

Grace Alonso de Armino, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)

Hayley Newby, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)

Yvonte Neal, Oklahoma City

SECOND TEAM

Sierra Shipley, John Brown (Ark.)

Alannah Sheets, Shawnee State (Ohio)

Danisha Shaw, Wiley (Texas)

Porsha Harris, Bethel (Tenn.)

Ellen Sholtes, Campbellsville (Ky.)

 

NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship Most Valuable Player

Kayla MacKenzie, Oklahoma City

NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship Hustle Award

Tia Pappas, Westminster (Utah)

NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Coach of the Year

Latricia Trammell, Oklahoma City

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