N. Iowa drops Missouri State to make second straight NCAA appearance

ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren was at a loss for words.

The usually talkative Warren struggled to describe her feelings following the Panthers' 69-41 victory over Missouri State on Sunday in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

Katelin Oney scored 16 points to help Northern Iowa (27-5) to its second successive conference tournament championship.

"Back-to-back titles, I'm just speechless," said Warren. "What a journey it's been."

The top-seeded Panthers rolled to a school-record 19th successive win behind Oney, Jacqui Kalin and a strong bench performance.

Kalin, who was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, added 13 points and seven rebounds. Reserve Amber Kirschbaum had 12 points and 11 rebounds. K.K. Anderson scored 14 points off the bench.

Casey Garrison led third-seeded Missouri State (23-10) with 17 points.

The Panthers used a 17-0 run early in the first half to go up for good 22-5. They led by as many as 35 points before coasting home.

"We came out there and we set the tone," said Kalin. "We were locked in and focused especially on the defensive end."

Northern Iowa, which captured its first regular-season title with a 17-1 mark, won all three meetings with Missouri State this season by a combined 47 points.

The Panthers hit six of nine shots during the 17-0 outburst, which took just 5:29. Kalin sank a pair of three-pointers and Oney capped the blitz with a trey. Armstrong chipped in with an old-fashioned three-point play. Kirschbaum and Rachel Madrigal also added baskets.

"Our shots were falling and everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do," Kirschbaum said. "It all just came together."

Missouri State could get no closer than 16 the rest of the way.

"Once they got that lead, we kept trying to chip away," said Garrison. "But they made some big shots. They executed well and had a lot of weapons."

Northern Iowa turned up the defense to keep the high-powered Bears in check. Missouri State missed 27 of its first 34 shots and went 1 for 10 from 3-point range. The Bears scored 170 points in the first two games of the tournament.

"It's all about the defense," Kalin said. "We like to think defense is what wins the games for us."

The Panthers have won their last nine contests by 10 points or more. The 19-game winning streak began with an 80-69 win over Missouri State on Jan. 6.

"Everyone is working hard and it shows," Kirschbaum said. "It's like we don't really have any starters on this team. There's no telling who is going to score because everyone can."

The Northern Iowa bench outscored Missouri State 15-0 in the first half.

Northern Iowa is hoping the year of experience will help in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Panthers lost to Nebraska 83-44 last year in their first appearance.

"We're more prepared this time around," Kirschbaum said. "We've been through it. We know what to expect and we're playing our best basketball right now."