On days she’s not playing basketball, Michelle Price can feel the aching in her knees and the pain that sometimes shoots through her foot.
It was enough to make her question if returning for a fifth season, as a redshirt senior on the Wichita State women’s basketball team, was worth it. After weighing the pros and cons, Price decided to continue playing for a sole reason — to chase another championship.
On Sunday afternoon, after WSU had dismantled Missouri State 93-56 at Koch Arena, Price captured what she came back for, a second consecutive Missouri Valley championship.
The Shockers share the regular-season title with Indiana State, at 14-4, and will be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament in St. Charles, Mo. WSU will play its quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. Friday.
“I came back for a championship and I did what I said I would do,” a euphoric Price said. “It feels amazing. I’m so happy right now.”
Price is the final vestige of a time when hanging banners was the furthest thing from reality in the program. Price, from Kingwood, Texas, was a part of coach Jody Adams’ first recruiting class, the foundation that Adams leaned on to win the program’s first Valley title and first NCAA Tournament berth.
She was there when the Shockers were picked eighth in the preseason poll. She was there when the Shockers felt fortunate to be playing in the WNIT. She was there when no one believed in WSU but themselves.
“And now we’re back-to-back champions,” Price said. “It’s just so surreal. It’s just amazing to see how much this program has changed.”
WSU entered Sunday having lost four of five games, which had put a damper on the 20-game winning streak and national ranking achieved eariler in the season. It also squandered the chance at winning the Valley title outright.
But the Shockers made that stretch of basketball fade with their performance on Sunday. It was a return to their roots of manic defense and unrelenting pressure, squashing Missouri State as they had done to virtually every team in the Valley in the first round of the schedule.
It took 10 minutes, but Wichita State overwhelmed the Bears. The Shockers forced four turnovers during a 5-minute stretch in the first half, scoring 12 unanswered points to build a 37-20 lead.
After forcing 27 turnovers and scored 37 points off of them, for one game at least, Wichita State’s defense was back.
“I knew it was there,” Adams said. “It was my job to get them back to there and they responded. It was their choice to play like they did today and to practice the way they did this week. Obviously I’m happy with their choice.”
Junior Alex Harden was spectacular, perhaps sealing the Player of the Year award with one of her most dominant performances of the season: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, 4 steals.
WSU had outstanding performances from a handful, as five scored in double-digits. Price had 15 points and seven rebounds, Jamillah Bonner scored 16, Alie Decker added 15 points off the bench and Michaela Dapprich scored 12 and had six rebounds. Price and Dapprich set career-highs with five assists.
While it was important for the Shockers to show a glimpse of the team that terrorized the Valley for so long before the conference tournament, Sunday was about an appreciation of the five-year career of Price and her decision to return.
“That meant that she believed in us,” Harden said. “She knew we had the potential to be a great team. (Sunday) was like rewarding her for all that she built. To give her another championship before she left, that was special.”
MISSOURI STATE (13-16): Wilkerson 4-8 3-3 14, B. Snow 5-11 0-0 10, T. Snow 2-13 6-9 10, McGhee 3-7 1-6 7, Swartz 0-0 0-0 0, Hughes 1-4 0-0 3, Phillips 0-0 0-0 0, Chvatal 0-1 0-0 0, Gaines 0-2 4-4 4, Palmer 2-12 2-2 6, Osemenam 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-59 16-24 56.
WICHITA STATE (23-6): Bonner 5-14 6-8 16, Jacobs 2-2 0-0 4, Harden 11-18 5-5 27, Price 5-9 5-5 15, Mi. Dapprich 4-8 3-4 12, Decker 6-14 1-3 15, Jones 1-2 2-2 4, Chapel 0-2 0-0 0, Mo. Dapprich 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-69 22-27 93.
Halftime—Wichita State 49, Missouri State 30. Three-point shooting—MSU 4-9 (Wilkerson 3-6, Hughes 1-2, McGhee 0-1), WSU 3-7 (Decker 2-2, Mi. Dapprich 1-3, Bonner 0-2). Rebounds—MSU 45 (Three tied at 6), WSU 37 (Price 7). Assists—MSU 7 (McGhee 3), WSU 25 (Harden 6). Fouls—MSU 22, WSU 20. A—2,548.