The Carthage College women's basketball team (22-3, 13-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin), ranked 10th in the Feb. 18 "D3hoops.com" poll, 10th in the Women's Basketball Coaches Association/USA Today NCAA Division III poll, and second in the Feb. 19 NCAA Division III Central Region poll, closed out its regular-season schedule on Saturday, Feb. 22 with a 77-64 win over CCIW-opponent Millikin University (11-14, 5-9 CCIW) at Tarble Arena in Kenosha, Wis.
With the win, the Lady Reds clinched their third CCIW championship and second in a row and will play host to the CCIW Women's Basketball Tournament on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 28-March 1, also at Tarble Arena. Carthage will play fourth-seeded Elmhurst College (14-11, 6-8) in the second game on Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m., with Illinois Wesleyan University taking on Wheaton College (Ill., 19-6, 9-5) in the first game at 5 p.m.
Carthage jumped out to a 19-point lead, 25-6, at 7:44. Millikin used a 17-4 run to close to within six points, 29-23, at 2:46. The Lady reds led by nine points at halftime, 35-26 The Big Blue opened the second half with a 13-6 run to make it a two-point game, 41-39, at 14:20. Millikin still trailed by just two, 43-41, at 13:25, before Carthage finally began to pull away. The Lady Reds went up by 12 points, 58-46, at 9:01 en route to a 13-point decision, 77-64.
Carthage shot 44 percent (24-55), including five-of-17 from three-point range, while Millikin shot 38 percent (25-66), including just two-of-12 three-pointers. The Lady Reds got to free-throw line 30 times and made 24, while the Bib Blue connected on 12-of-23. Carthage out-rebounded Millikin, 41-35.
Three Carthage starters scored in double figures. Stephanie Kuzmanic (Sr., Mount Prospect, Ill./Wheeling) led the way with a game-high 21 points on five-of-17, along with 10-of-11 free throws and 10 assists. Michelle Wenzel (Sr., Darien, Wis./Delavan-Darien) scored 19 points on seven-of-10 shooting and five-of-six free throws, along with a game-high 13 rebounds. Kristi Schmidt (Sr., Bloomington, Ill./Normal-Community) had 13 points and four boards. Haley Stercic (Sr., Chicago, Ill./Marist), with three three-pointers, tied Dani Ripkey's career mark of 194 set between 2009 and 2012. Holly Haskins led the Big Blue with 13 points and four assists. Yip Ypya and Alyssa Saklak each had 12 points.
"This was exciting," said Carthage coach Tim Bernero. "Post-season play is a big deal, as well, but winning a conference title is always your first goal. This one wasn't easy—Millikin is a hard team to play. They're aggressive and physical, and once they spread things out, you have to attack the basket. Nobody is better at that than Stephanie Kuzmanic. We put her in the lane, she collected 10 assists and she got to free-throw line. It seemed like neither team was doing much to keep the other team off the boards. By and large, we kept Millikin under control. Sometimes, we're our own worst enemy when we try and get things done offensively too fast. We need to be a little more patient."