The Clarke Pride from Dubuque won the 2023 NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship over Thomas More of Kentucky 63-52 for Clarke’s first title on Saturday night in the Tyson Events Center.
Thomas More opened the season at No. 1 as the defending national champions and proceeded to go on a 22-game win streak. The only losses that TMU incurred throughout the season were to Mid-South Conference Opponents.
Clarke broke through the quarterfinal round of the NAIA tournament for the first time in school history this year and was still not done as the team continued their battle for the red banner all the way to the championship game.
Clarke jumped out to an early 12-0 lead in the title game thanks to fast break opportunities and offensive rebounds.
The Pride defense was stout and didn’t allow the Saints to score until under five minutes to play in the opening frame. Clarke held a seven-point advantage, 18-11, after the first 10 minutes.
The two squads ended the half alternating the lead as it would be the Pride who held the one-point advantage at the halftime break, 26-25.
Clarke started the second half scoring eight of the first 10 points of the third quarter behind a pair of three-pointers from Giana Michels and Mya Merschman as the team opened up a 34-27 advantage.
Thomas More used an 8-0 run to pull within two in the latter half of the third, forcing Clarke to use a timeout. As the game went to the final quarter of play, it was the Clarke Pride holding on to a slim one-point lead, 42-41.
It was Clarke, in the final three minutes, who held the 54-50 advantage. Skylar Culbertson of Clarke hit a pair of free throws and Nicole McDermott recorded a fast break lay-up to make it an eight-point game. Down the stretch in the final minute, the Pride converted on all four of their free throw attempts to win the program’s first-ever red banner, 63-52.
McDermott led the game with her 17 points while collecting 10 rebounds for the lone double-double of the contest. Her teammate, Giana Michels recorded double digits with 14 points as she notched a team-high two steals. Clarke’s national championship run culminates in a 33-4 record under head coach Courtney Boyd.
The Saints were led by Zoie Barth and her 16 points and five rebounds. Thomas More ends their season with a 31-4 overall record, reaching the national championship game for the third-straight season under head coach Jeff Hans.