COLLEGE SPOTLIGHT / WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Minnesota Duluth point guard Sammy Kozlowski paused after being asked what she enjoyed most on the basketball court, scoring a basket, assisting on one or making a steal.
For Kozlowski, there was a little internal debate, not about scoring - that was never even considered - but about the other two.
For Kozlowski, ideally, it would be a steal leading to an assist.
"But if I had to pick one, I'd probably say an assist," she said.
Oh, if every team had a Sammy Kozlowski.
Kozlowski will lead fourth-seeded UMD (23-6) against fifth-seeded Minnesota State-Moorhead (26-6) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the NCAA Division II Central Region opener in Hays, Kan. This will be the fourth meeting between the teams after squaring off just last week in the NSIC tournament championship in Sioux Falls, S.D., won 52-48 by the Bulldogs.
This marks UMD's 11th NCAA tournament appearance and first in seven years. The Bulldogs took two of three from the Dragons this season and go into the regional on a six-game winning streak.
"It would have been nice to see an opponent that we hadn't played, but it's also nice to know who they are and that we can beat them," Kozlowski said. "It's a give and take."
Kozlowski, a senior from the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, Wis., has been good all four seasons at UMD. The three-time All-NSIC selection is averaging a team-high 12 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. The conference's defensive player of the year also has a career-high 75 steals for the Bulldogs, who were the top defensive team in the NSIC, only allowing 54.7 points per game.
"It's more about what we're being given and what's there," Kozlowski said. "If the defense is focusing more on not letting me drive, I'm going to try to get it to a teammate for an open shot, and I've got teammates who can hit shots."
The NSIC tournament was a great example. In the opener against Southwest Minnesota State, she had just five points to go along with 12 assists, just off her career-high. The next game against Augustana, she scored a career-high 27 points as the Vikings couldn't stop her off the dribble, and with the lead, UMD kept the ball in the hands of its senior leader.
"They have multiple threats," Southwest Minnesota State coach Tom Webb said. "It's not just Sammy. Sammy is a really good player, but it's not just Sammy. That's why they're having a great year.
"You have to be disciplined against them, that's the key. They're only going to take the shots they like like taking individually. (Forward) Sarah Grow, doesn't take bad shots. She just takes her shot, and if she doesn't get her shot, she swings it. That's why they're good."
Kozlowski is humble by nature, a player coach Mandy Pearson calls "super unselfish." Kozlowski's unselfishness is almost to a fault. She seems perfectly happy just distributing the ball.
"That's what maturity shows," Webb said, "and that's what a mature senior point guard does: just wins."
And nobody could be happier about that than Kozlowski, who, along with her senior teammates, are leaving UMD a lot better than they found it. She was a freshman in Pearson's first year in 2015-16, when the Bulldogs went 7-19.
"If somebody would have said after my freshman year that we'd be here right now, I probably would have said, 'Ahhh, I don't know if that's going to happen,'" Kozlowski said. "But we were able to flip it around and bring in some really good people. Overall, our team chemistry is there. I feel like it's the best team we've had, where everyone just clicked.
"It hasn't disappointed, not at all, especially from seeing where we were and how far we've come. Now, hopefully, we can go all the way."
SAMMY KOZLOWSKI, AT A GLANCE:
Year: Minnesota Duluth senior point guard
Hometown: New Berlin, Wis.
Major: Health care management
Family: Mother, Judith; father, Daniel; sisters Jennifer, 25, and Brittany, 23
Post-graduation plans: Coach basketball, look for a job within her major
Professional athlete: Michael Jordan (she wears No. 23)
TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Musical group: Montgomery Gentry
Restaurant: Panda Express
Vacation: Panama City Beach or Clearwater, Fla.
GETTING TO KNOW HER
Why I chose UMD: I wanted to move far enough away from home, and I just liked the city and all the nice areas to see around here. There’s so many things to do outside, when it’s not freezing out (she laughed).
Most memorable basketball moment: Winning the NSIC tournament
Pet peeve: People who chomp their food really loud or make really repetitive noises
Biggest fear: Being surrounded by spiders
My first job (age): Working with the family concession business at age 8 or 9
What most people don’t know about me: I like to knit
Best athlete I’ve competed against: Arike Ogunbowale (now a senior guard at Notre Dame)
Sport I’d like to try someday: Football, if physically possible
Best thing about college basketball: How competitive it is, and I like how everyone comes together from different backgrounds and bonds into one.
Influences on my basketball career: My parents; my dad played basketball; my mom was in gymnastics, swimming and track and field.
Advice to aspiring young athletes: What you put into it is what you will get out of it and leave it all on the court because you don’t want to look back and have regrets of what could have been. Also, be thankful for the opportunities you have and the great community and support system because there are kids out there who wish they could do the things you are doing and have the great people in their lives like you do.