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UCO women earn bid to NCAA Division II tournament

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OKLAHOMA CITY – UCO’s women’s basketball team earned the fourth seed in the NCAA Division II Central Division and will appear in the tournament for the fifth time in the past 11 seasons under coach Guy Hardaker.

The No. 25 nationally-ranked Bronchos will meet fifth-seed and 11th-ranked Pittsburg State (24-5) at 2:30 p.m. Friday in Searcy, Arkansas. UCO defeated the Gorillas, 78-74, on January 26 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

The Bronchos made all 13 buckets to take a 29-17 lead in the first quarter of that contest. They continued to control most of the second period until PSU nailed the 3-pointer to give the Gorillas a 45-44 lead, their first of the game. They held the lead through the rest of the third quarter.

Central went on a 10-0 run at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to take a 67-62 lead. They stretched that lead to seven points before PSU answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game with 4:42 to go. The game would be tied two more times over the next two minutes, but the Gorillas were not able to regain the lead. Neither team was able to make a shot from the floor in the last 2:28, but the Bronchos made four free throws for the win.

UCO hit 58 percent from the field while the Gorillas managed just 35.2 percent. Junior forward Jesheon Cooper led the Bronchos with 20 points and shot 9 of 10 from the field. Three other Bronchos scored in double figures.

Friday’s tournament appearance is UCO’s first trip to the NCAAs since the 2010-11 season. The Bronchos have a 5-4 record over that span with two trips to the Sweet 16.

If the Bronchos win on Friday, they could meet Emporia State for a third time on Saturday. The Lady Hornets are the top seed in the region and meets Northern State University before the UCO-PSU matchup. UCO and ESU split their regular-season meetings, and the Lady Hornets beat the Bronchos in the MIAA Tournament finals.

“I’m really glad to be heading back to the tournament,” Hardaker said. “These girls deserve it. They’ve worked so hard this season to get to this point. We are going to have to work even harder in Searcy, but they’re up for it. I’m pretty happy for them.”

Bronchos Leaders

Scoring: Melinda Murillo, 14.5 ppg

Rebounds: Jesheon Cooper, 8.5 rpg

Assists: Murillo, 3.3 apg

Field Goal Percentage: Cooper, 53.1% (161-303)

3-Point Field Goal Percentage: Marley Anderson, 38.7% (36-93)

Free Throws: Blake Blesington, 86.9% (29-93)

Steals: Olivia Mason, 1.6 spg

Blocked Shots: Cooper, 3.1 bpg

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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