Turbulent Season Provides Glimpse of Promising Beginning     

The beginning of the 2002-03 season was a time of change for the Oakland women’s basketball program.  Long-time head coach Beckie Francis stepped down due to health concerns, leaving the Golden Grizzlies searching for a new mentor with less than three weeks until the first game.  Four days later Eileen Shea-Hilliard was named the new head coach of the women’s basketball team.  Shea-Hilliard came to Oakland after six seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan.  Even though there were changes taking place before the season, one goal remained constant, to repeat as Mid-Con Tournament Champions and earn a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.  Senior co-captains Katie Wolfe (Cedar Springs, Mich.) and Romica Clint (Toledo, Ohio) would have to provide the necessary leadership to bring this goal to fruition.    

Oakland started the season winning two of its first three games, including a 65-58 win over cross-town rival Detroit in the season-opener at home.  Following their third game, the Golden Grizzlies lost three in a row as they fell to Big Ten foes Michigan State and Michigan at home, along with a road loss to SEC powerhouse Georgia in between.  

Senior co-captain Katie Wolfe was a first team all-conference selection for the fourth straight year.

Things did not get any easier in the near future for Oakland as they prepared for the Sun Splash Shootout in Nassau, Bahamas in mid-December.  A meeting with undefeated Ole Miss awaited the squad in their opening game of the tournament.  Shea-Hilliard’s team hung with the Rebels before pulling off a 54-52 upset.  Oakland would try once again to play the role of spoiler in the tournament as they faced Clemson in the championship game.  The Golden Grizzlies led the Tigers most of the way before falling by a 67-70 count.  Freshman Jayme Wilson (Shawnee, Kan.), along with Wolfe, were named to the all-tournament team as they helped lead Oakland to a second-place tournament finish.  Wolfe also received Mid-Con Player of the Week honors.  

To close out 2002, Oakland traveled to Buffalo, N.Y. in hopes of erasing the close loss to Clemson with a win over Buffalo, but the Bulls had other ideas defeating Oakland 58-52 to give them a 3-6 record.  The friendly confines of the ‘O’rena awaited the Golden Grizzlies as they rung in the new year with a three-game homestand that began with a visit from Bowling Green.  Amanda Batcha (Waterford, Mich.) recorded her first career double-double and four Oakland players scored in double figures, but it was not enough to keep the Golden Grizzlies from losing their third straight.  Oakland rebounded with a 65-57 win over San Diego to avoid its worst start in 27 years but lost to Niagara 63-71 to finish 4-8 in non-conference play. 

            The Black and Gold opened up Mid-Con play at IUPUI for the first of three road games, and suffered their first conference opening loss since joining the Mid-Con.  Oakland’s losing skid hit four games the following week falling to Oral Roberts and UMKC to give the team an 0-3 conference mark, after being picked to finish third in the preseason polls.  Up next for Oakland was a pair of home games against two of the conference’s top teams in Valparaiso and Western Illinois which gave the Golden Grizzlies a chance to pick up two much needed wins or remain at the bottom of the Mid-Con standings.  The freshman contingent of Wilson and Anne Hafeli (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), under the leadership of Wolfe teamed up to ensure that Oakland’s losing streak would not extend past four games.     

          All three players scored in double figures led by a game-high 15 points from Hafeli as Oakland defeated Valparaiso 53-46.  The trio carried that performance over against Western Illinois as all three once again reached double digits in scoring to cruise to a 63-45 win.  Batcha provided a presence on the boards with her third straight game with 10 or more rebounds.             

Freshman Jayme Wilson was named to the Mid-Con all-newcomer team in 2002-03

           Oakland extended its win streak to four games the following week as the team continued to roll with a pair of wins on the road.  It was the first time since the Bahamas that the Golden Grizzlies were able to pick up a road win which started at Southern Utah. 

            Oakland returned home for its next three games looking to keep the win streak alive.  IUPUI spoiled those plans though as they stole a second win from the Golden Grizzlies, relying on three-point basket at the buzzer.  

            After defeating UMKC at home, Oakland dropped its next three games with losses at home to Oral Roberts, and a pair of road losses to Valparaiso and Western Illinois.  With two conference home games remaining in the regular season a pair of must win situations faced the Golden Grizzlies as they battled for higher seeding in the upcoming conference tournament.  Oakland did its part, defeating Southern Utah and Chicago State to finish the regular season with an 11-15 mark and an even 7-7 conference record.  Wolfe led Oakland as she averaged 24 points in the two games.  She added four rebounds and five assists per game and made 18-of-30 shots from the field to help her earn Mid-Con Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.  In the win over Southern Utah Wolfe moved into fourth place on Oakland’s career scoring list and second place on the Mid-Con all-time scoring list. 

            Wolfe and Wilson received Mid-Con accolades for their outstanding regular season performances.  Wolfe was named as a first team all-conference selection for the fourth straight year, becoming just the second player in conference history to be named to the first team four straight years. Wilson was recognized for her outstanding first year performance as she received honorable mention honors and was named to the all-newcomer team. 

It was now time for the Golden Grizzlies to focus their attention on the post season as they prepared to defend their tournament title.  Oakland drew the #6 seed as the Mid-Con Tournament got underway at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo. on March 8-11.  In the quarterfinal game the Golden Grizzlies faced #3 UMKC and had everything going for them having never lost a quarterfinal game and having never lost to UMKC in the tournament.  Wolfe took center stage, pouring in a career-high and tournament high 41 points for Oakland in the win en route to an 81-62 Golden Grizzlies’ victory. Wolfe also hit the 2,000-point mark to become just the fourth player in Oakland women’s basketball history to accomplish the feat.  Sophomore transfer Nicole Randolph (Lathrup Village, Mich.), created problems for the Kangaroos all night as she ended with three steals, and also contributed in the scoring column with six points.  Standing in Oakland’s way of a second straight trip to the finals was Chicago State, a team the Golden Grizzlies defeated both times during the regular season. 

Sophomore Amanda Batcha led the Mid-Con in overall and defensive rebounds in 2002-03

Oakland used a balance scoring attack in the semifinal game against the Cougars, with seven difference players putting up points, to register a 60-52 win and become the lowest seeded team in women’s conference tournament history to advance to the championship game.  Wolfe and Wilson led the team with 20 and 19 points respectively.  Wilson helped the Golden Grizzlies put the game away from the free throw line, going 10-of-10, while Batcha turned in six points to go along with her game-high 12 rebounds.  Oakland would now face Valparaiso in the finals, setting up a rematch of last season’s championship game. 

A back and forth battle ensued between the two teams as neither squad could gain an early advantage, which was due in part to poor shooting performances.  Oakland was held to just 14 points in the first half on 21.7 percent shooting, which set a record low for first half points in the tournament. 

They would find themselves down by 14 points less than four minutes into the second half.    Oakland clawed its way back into the game and eventually tied the game at 46 on a pair of free throws by Sara Yaksich (Dearborn, Mich.).  Timely mistakes by Oakland in the waning moments of the game, including a rushed shot on offense with 13 seconds left in regulation and a defensive foul on the ensuing play allowed the Crusaders to hit a pair of free throws and come away with the win.  Wolfe and Wilson were selected to the all-tournament team as Oakland finished the season at 13-16.    

Despite failing to repeat as Mid-Con Tournament Champions, an upstart Oakland women’s basketball team provided some promise in the 2002-03 season to indicate that this program will be back to the tournament championship game, vying for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament sometime in the near future.  With a strong recruiting class coming in, and the return of Wilson, Hafeli and Batcha set to run an effective system put in place by Shea-Hilliard, that time may be closer than most may realize.

Golden Grizzlies Photo Galleries