Rockets dancing after 73-58 win over Falcons

CLEVELAND — The Bowling Green State University women’s basketball team’s dream of reaching the NCAA tournament was squashed by Toledo, 73-58, in the Mid-American Conference championship game Saturday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

“Obviously really disappointing for us, not in our effort, but just the opportunity that was tonight,” BGSU coach Robyn Fralick said.

“Congratulations to Toledo. They are a really good team. I thought they played a really good game today and I think they will represent our conference well in the NCAA tournament,” Fralick continued.

“But I couldn’t be prouder to coach my team. That game was about 1,000 miles-per-hour, it was high intensity, and I wish a few more things could have gone our way.

“But I’m really proud of our effort and our fight, and our season — what we’ve asked these kids to do night-in and night-out and the way we ask them to work hard, and their effort and toughness, and we saw that again today.”

The 27-5 Falcons can hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division I tournament. If not, they will likely settle for a WNIT bid while 28-4 Toledo gets the automatic bid to the NCAA.

Toledo’s Jessica Cook (34) competes with Bowling Green’ Allison Day (21) for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Saturday, March 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Toledo coach Tricia Cullop said her team didn’t want to leave the decision to a tournament committee which is using a rating system that many coaches feel is unfair.

“It was scary,” Cullop said. “Going through the last four conference games up to now, it’s almost like you’re holding your breath, like please happen.

“I am so thrilled, I have so much joy in my heart that they get to experience this, and they deserved it. They worked so hard all season long and it’s just fun to see the excitement in their face.”

This is the second time during Fralick’s stint at BGSU that the Falcons reached the MAC championship, only to fall short.

Fralick believes her team is well-deserving of an NCAA tournament bid anyways.

“It’s really hard to win 27 games,” Fralick said. “We feel like we know what our team is made of and we feel like we’d be a competitive team in the tournament.

“We talk about the MAC, and the league is so good,” Fralick continued. “We just duke it out every night. I believe in us.”

Bowling Green head coach Robyn Fralick reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Toledo in the championship of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Saturday, March 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

The Rockets opened Saturday’s championship on a 12-0 run, and senior guard Jayda Jansen scored driving to the basket, expanding the lead to 19-4 with four minutes remaining in the opening stanza.

From there, the Falcons were playing catch-up, closing the gap to five points, 44-39, when BGSU senior guard Elissa Brett hit two free throws with 3:14 remaining in the third, but the Falcons got no closer.

Toledo got four players into double figures — senior guard Quinesha Lockett had 17 points, five rebounds and six assists and 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Jessica Cook had 16 points, seven rebounds, and she blocked four shots.

Jansen scored 11 points and junior forward Nan Garcia had 11 points and seven rebounds, both coming off the bench as Toledo’s bench outscored the Falcons, 23-6.

The Rockets shot 49% from the floor (25-for-51), including 37% (7-for-19) from the arc, and were 16-for-22 (73%) from the free throw line.

However, the Rockets committed just 13 turnovers against a BGSU team that typically forces 20 or more in every game, and Toledo had a 43-29 advantage off the glass.

A big reason for that is 5-10 junior guard Sammi Mikonowicz, a Rossford graduate who played more minutes than any player on either team. She was on the court for all but 59 seconds out of 40 minutes.

Mikonowicz did not have the greatest shooting night (2-for-9), scoring eight points, but she had 16 rebounds, three assists and two steals.

Toledo’s Sammi Mikonowicz (33) is guarded by Bowling Green’s Lexi Fleming (25) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Mid-American Conference Tournament in Cleveland, Saturday, March 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Fifteen rebounds were on the defensive end, but those are offensive rebounds the Falcons do not get. Cullop said Mikonowicz may have been playing with a chip on her shoulder.

“First of all, I was shocked see didn’t make the all-conference team,” Cullop said. “Sammi Mikonowicz is a heck of a player, and I thought last year she deserved to at least make honorable mention.

“This year, I thought she got snubbed again. But it’s funny, I told her, I’d rather be on this team if I’m you than the all-conference team because this one means you’re doing something,” Cullop continued.

“She’s very humble, she works her tail off, and she’s kind of that unsung hero on our whole team, but without her we are not where we should be.

“(Former Central Michigan coach) Sue Guevaro texted me the other day and said she reminds me of Reyna Frost.

“Well, that is good company because Reyna Frost was a great player who won a lot of championships at Central Michigan. Sammi Mikonowicz is very valuable to us, and whether she wins all-conference or not, we wouldn’t be where we are without her.”

BGSU 6-1 senior forward Allison Day had 18 points, eight rebounds, and three assists and sophomore guard Jocelyn Tate scored 13 points, but was in foul trouble most of the game, getting her fifth personal with 4:54 remaining.

Brett had 10 points and eight rebounds, junior guard Lexi Fleming had six points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals, and junior guard Nyla Hampton had five points and two assists.

Junior forward Olivia Hill came off the bench to score four points for BGSU and junior forward Sophie Dziekan added two points for the Falcons.

BGSU had a rough time shooting from the field as its two lowest scoring outputs this season both came against Toledo.

The Falcons shot 35% (23-for-65) from the floor, including 7-for-23 (30%) from downtown and made 5-of-6 free throws. BGSU had seven turnovers.