Staring into the face of Jessica Diamond in a huddle preparing for a do-or-die overtime period, Jody Adams had a flashback.
It took the Wichita State women’s basketball coach back to when Diamond was a sophomore and staring blankly at her in the huddle in the moments before the Shockers were smoked in an extra period against Arizona.
Contrast that to the Diamond, senior All-Missouri Valley version, looking back at her coach on Saturday before Wichita State and Northern Iowa delved into five more minutes in the tournament semifinals. A grin curled up on Adams’ face.
“Two different kids,” Adams said. “Today she’s a stronger kid. She’s a stronger player. She wasn’t going to give in. The faces on our seniors, you could tell they weren’t going to do anything but win this game.”
After surviving 75-71 against UNI and advancing to the program’s second MVC Tournament championship game, Diamond said the resolve shown in overtime was the culmination of the last four years.
The Shockers (23-9) will play Illinois State in the 2 p.m. final Sunday with an automatic NCAA Tournament berth at stake.
“We knew we weren’t going to take a loss,” Diamond said. “We knew in our mind that we weren’t going to give in.”
Overtime seemed unlikely when Wichita State used an 8-2 spurt near the end of regulation to take a 65-62 lead with 12 seconds left.
But UNI’s Jacqui Kalin, the two-time MVC Player of the Year, validated the hardware by making a game-tying three-pointer two feet beyond the arc with seven seconds left. A driving shot by WSU’s Alex Harden rolled around the rim, but fell off at the buzzer to force overtime.
“I wasn’t happy with how we guarded the three,” Adams said. “At seven seconds, we were going to foul and battle it out on the line.”
But Kalin lost her defender around a screen and WSU didn’t help as she fired an uncontested shot.
Adams knew how she responded would influence a team in a vulnerable state.
“The coaching staff isn’t going to let you lose,” Adams said she told the team. “We’re not going to let you back down. This is why you work the way you work. It’s five more minutes and it will be a well-worth five minutes of fight.”
Instead of being swallowed up by the momentum wave Kalin started for UNI, Wichita State’s two best players — Harden and Diamond — rose to the challenge.
A twisting Harden jaunt down the lane ended with a basket. Next was a pull-up 14-footer by Harden. Diamond curled in a three from the wing. Then Michaela Dapprich capped a 9-2 run when Diamond found her for a jumper and 74-67 lead with 1:50 left in overtime.
“We knew if we had five more minutes at them, we had the fuel power,” Harden said.
Northern Iowa did have an attempt at tying the score, but Jess McDowell rushed an off-balanced three-pointer that air-balled and was collected by Harden, who made a free throw to produce the final result.
The victory — which included an 11-point Shocker halftime deficit — was not a result of just five good minutes or the Shockers coming together at the right time.
This game was won during the long hours of work logged in the summer. It was won when Diamond and Chynna Turner were enduring tough love and even tougher losses as freshmen and sophomores. It was won five years ago, when Adams transformed the program in her image.
And now the Shockers are a win away from their first NCAA Tournament.
“It’s taken us a long time to get where we are today,” Adams said. “It hasn’t been all about this season. It’s been about these players growing up in our environment and changing the culture of our program. It’s what you prepare for, sometimes years for, to win big games like that.”
Halftime — Northern Iowa 32-21. Three-point shooting — Northern Iowa 8-19 (Kalin 4-6, Brown 2-2, Schonhardt 1-3, McDowell 1-4, Kirschbaum 0-1, Keitel 0-1, Davison 0-2), Wichita St. 4-17 (Diamond 2-4, Jones 1-2, Dapprich 1-4, Turner 0-2, Fountaine 0-5). Rebounds — Northern Iowa 33 (Kirschbaum 10), Wichita St. 30 (Jones 6). Assists — Northern Iowa 13 (Kalin 6), Wichita St. 11 (Turner 4). Total fouls — Northern Iowa 20, Wichita State 18. A — NA.