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Lady Bears Capture MVC Title and Advance to the NCAA

Sunday was a sweet and sour day for sports fans in the city where cashew chicken is king. Mike Smith has the story:

From the Sports Information Office at Missouri State University and KSMU News:

The Missouri State Lady Bears relish a sweet victory in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament giving the team an automatic bid to the Women's NCAA Tournament, but the men's team, its fans, and Missouri State Athletic administrators are lest with a sour taste in their mouths after the NCAA Selection Committee denied the Bears and their RPI rating of 20, admission to the "Big Dance".

Before Sunday's snub, the lowst RPI for a team NOT given a bid to the NCAA tournament was 34.

Missouri State Director of Athletics Bill Rowe says he's very dissapointed and questions the NCAA's use of the RPI as an indicator for entry into the tournament.

At Bears Head Coach Barry Hinson's home Sunday where his team gathered to watch the tournament selection, Hinson said he was sorry for his team, especially the seniors, and for fans of Bears Basketball.

Late Sunday, word was recieved that the Bears will play at home in the 69th National Invitation Tournament. The Bears will face the winner of Tuesday's game between Stanford and the University of Virginia at Hammons Student Center Friday night at 705 PM.

Meanwhile, the Missouri State women's basketball team saw different players play key roles in different games as the Lady Bears took down the No. 10, 2, and 3 seeds before upsetting regular-season champion and top-seeded Indiana State, 64-55, Sunday in the State Farm MVC Tournament Championship game in Hammons Student Center to earn their 13th NCAA Tournament bid.

The Lady Bears were led by tournament MVP Kari Koch, who had 17 points after being held to just four points in the first half. She was joined on the all-tournament team by fellow senior Sarah Klaassen, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore Tahnee Balerio who turned in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including a couple of clutch shots in the closing minutes.

With the win, Missouri State improved to 17-14 on the season, and won the season series with the Sycamores, 2-1, with both wins coming at Hammons Student Center. The Lady Bears are now 29-7 all-time in the MVC tournament and 10-1 in this tournament under fourth-year head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, winning the title in three of her for seasons. In the first year of a 10-team tourney, MSU is obviously the first team to win four games to win the title in either the men's or women's tournament, and the second-lowest seed to win the title game after eighth seeded Illinois State won the meet at ISU last year.

The game looked early to be a classic battle, and it proved itself true. Neither team got ahead by more than four points over the first nine minutes before Missouri State took an eight-point advantage, 17-9, in the first half on a basket by Tiff Terwelp with 8:18 left in the period. But Indiana State trimmed the lead to one, 18-17, on a shot by Laura Rudolphi with four minutes left and eventually took a one-point lead on another bucket in the paint with 2:43 left to put the Sycamores up 21-20. But Balerio hit a big three and Terwelp put in two free throws and a shot at the buzzer to give the Lady Bears a 27-23 lead going into intermission.

Over the first 12 minutes of the second half neither team led by more than four points, but Indiana State went on an eight-point run to go up 47-39 on a shot by regular season MVC Player of the Year Melanie Boeglin with 6:32 left. And just when it looked like the window of opportunity might be closing on the Lady Bears, they found new life for the fourth day in a row, going on a 19-2 run to take a 58-49 lead with 33 seconds left. Balerio hit a fade-away jumper to ignite the run with 6:01 left and the Lady Bears found the energy to make it down the stretch. Missouri State took its largest lead with a 62-51 advantage with 11 seconds left on two free throws by Klaassen. The Sycamores hit a shot with a second remaining to making the final score 64-55.

Terwelp joined the all-tournament team as Missouri State's only other double-figure scorer as she had 10 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes. As a team, the Lady Bears shot 39.6 percent from the field and once again were held to just two three-pointers. MSU had its worst shooting performance of the tournament from the charity stripe, hitting 80 percent on 24-of-30 shooting. The Lady Bears also outrebounded ISU, 40-34.

Indiana State was led by Boeglin's 18 points as she earned All-Tournament Team accolades. Rudolphi was the only other player to finish in double figures for ISU with 14 points and 10 boards in the contest. Rachel Maenpaa finished with seven points and nine rebounds. The Sycamores shot 32.8 percent from the field. Northern Iowa's Cassie Hager was the only player not in the championship game to make the All-Tournament Team.

Missouri State will await word on its NCAA destiny. The NCAA Women's Selection show will air at 6 p.m. Central Monday

on ESPN and the Lady Bears will host a public watch party at Hammons Student Center with the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. and a short pep rally following the announcement.