DALLAS — On "Dallas," scriptwriters could erase Bobby Ewing's death and an entire season of television by calling it a bad dream.
Minnesota Duluth would have easily settled for wiping out 10 minutes, but this national championship game was in Dallas, not on "Dallas."
The Bulldogs' best women's basketball season in school history suffered an unsatisfying finale on Saturday as the Bulldogs fell to undefeated Ashland 78-67 in the Division II national championship game at American Airlines Center.
"I don't think I'm ever going to be sad about the game or the experience that we've had. I'm just sad that it's over, sad that I'm never going to put on a Bulldogs jersey again. Just this season of my life is done," UMD fifth-year senior Brooke Olson said.
Led by All-American forward Annie Roshak, the top-seeded Eagles took control of the game in a traumatic second quarter for second-seeded UMD.
The Eagles went on a 20-2 run over the middle of the quarter, shooting 9-for-13 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers in the frame. Ashland led 40-22 at halftime after winning the quarter 26-11.
"Not only does her talent make her difficult to guard, but the way that her teammates move the basketball and make reads makes it really, really difficult. They do a good job. They pass better than most teams that we play against," UMD coach Mandy Pearson said of Roshak.
Other than Olson, the Bulldogs struggled badly to effectively defend Ashland's elite frontcourt, and when Olson picked up a third foul on a moving screen soon after coming back in, the door was open for the Eagles to score in the post or find shooters to add to their total of more than 380 made 3-pointers during the season.
Pearson said the third foul, which came in the middle of Ashland's big run with 5:40 left in the first half, was the result of a miscommunication and that Olson wasn't even supposed to be the player setting a screen at that point.
UMD wasn't faring much better on the offensive end. The Bulldogs missed their first eight tries from 3-point land, and of the eight shots they made (on 28 attempts) before the break, only one was a jump shot.
"I thought today like our ball movement wasn't very good in general. So then when (Olson) got into that early foul trouble I think our ball movement maybe even got a little bit worse, which isn't always a thing because we spend so much looking for her. But then we got nervous and we were trying to take quick shots," Pearson said.
Olson led UMD's offense to a much better second half, breaking the NCAA Division II tournament record for points in a single postseason in the process, but UMD didn't get any closer than seven points in the second half.
The Eagles had seen tape of UMD's Central Region championship game miracle vs. Missouri Southern State in which UMD trailed by 17 points with 5 1/2 minutes to play and won in regulation. This time, UMD was only down 11 at that point, but coach Kari Pickens was very wary of what UMD was capable of.
"I'll be honest, I jumped back to that at halftime. That picture was very large and moving in my head, and the thing that we continued to talk about with our team is that we had to be the aggressor," Pickens said.
The Eagles (37-0) earned their third national championship in 11 seasons and made Pickens the first person to win a national championship in Division II as a player (2013), assistant coach (2017) and head coach.
"Again, I'm going to give a ton of credit to Duluth. They play so hard, and they really had us rattled there in the fourth quarter," Pickens said.
Olson banked in a 3 to get UMD to within 68-61 with 1:35 remaining, but Ashland closed the game out from the free-throw line.
Olson was the game's leading scorer with 26 points, 22 in the second half, on 9-for-19 shooting. Her tournament total of 171 points in six games smashed the 2009 record of 149 set by Johannah Leedham of Franklin Pierce. Olson finishes a legendary UMD career with 2,530 points (second all time) and 942 rebounds (fourth all time).
Maesyn Thiesen and Ella Gilbertson added 11 points apiece for UMD, which ended up 25 of 65 (38.5 percent) from the field and 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) from 3.
The Bulldogs forced 21 Ashland turnovers, with Taya Hakamaki recording six steals.
Roshak, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, scored 20 points and added a game-high 13 boards. Three other Eagles scored in double figures, including another double-double from Hayley Smith (10 points, 10 rebounds) as Ashland made just over half its field goals (25 of 49).
"With Ashland, you can't commit to one thing. You have to be really active and you have to make them uncomfortable, and I don't know that we did that enough defensively," Pearson said.
Ashland becomes the sixth school to be undefeated national champions and the second (Lubbock Christian in 2016 and 2021) to do it twice.
UMD finishes the finest season in school history 32-4.
"Wish we would have come out with a W, obviously, but the amount of pride that I have in these people is going to make this just a really fun season to remember," Pearson said, and then turned to Olson and Thiesen and added, "People are going to be talking about what you guys did this year for a long time."
Minnesota Duluth — Brooke Olson 26, Taytum Rhoades 2, Madelyn Granica 3, Kaylee Nelson 4, Maesyn Thiesen 11, Taya Hakamaki 7, Ella Gilbertson 14; FG: 25-65; FT: 13-17; 3-point field goals: Olson 1, Thiesen 1, Gilbertson 2.
Ashland — Hayley Smith 10, Annie Roshak 20, Savaya Brockington 8, Hallie Heidemann 11, Maddie Maloney 3, Morgan Yoder 8, Macy Spielman 2, Zoe Miller 16; FG: 25-49; FT: 21-25; 3-point field goals: Heidemann 3, Maloney 1, Yoder 2, Miller 1.
This story was updated at 7:40 p.m., Saturday, April 1 to add comments from players and coaches and additional photos. It was originally published at 5 p.m. on the same day.