2004-05 Women's Basketball Wrap-up; A Season For The Record Books    

     Though the Oakland University women’s basketball team did not have the storybook ending it was hoping for, the Golden Grizzlies had many highs along their journey during the 2004-05 season. Finishing with an overall record of 21-8, it was the most wins the program had seen since the 1996-97 season – before the school’s Division I days – when OU went 25-5. Also, with a 12-4 scorecard in the Mid-Continent Conference, it was the most league victories since the 2000-01 season when the black and gold won the conference regular-season.     

Hilliard picked up her 50th career win in 2004-05 by defeating conference-leading Western Illinois on Feb. 28.

     In her third year at the helm, Eileen Hilliard has returned the Golden Grizzlies to the tradition of winning. The head coach garnered her 50th career victory in style this year by defeating conference-leading Western Illinois in Oakland’s home finale Feb. 28, becoming the fifth coach in OU history and the second since becoming a Division I school to reach the 50-win plateau. Hilliard is now 51-35 overall and with 15 more wins, she will surpass Rose Swidzinski who accumulated a 65-38 record from 1977-80. The 2004-05 season additionally marked the second consecutive year that the Golden Grizzlies posted a winning season and a winning conference schedule. Entering the Mid-Con tournament as the third seed, it was the program’s highest ranking since its 2001-02 championship year. 

     To better appreciate where the Golden Grizzlies ended their season, one must look at where they began. In a tough test of will and determination, OU started its first six games and seven of its first eight on the road. After a rough 106-98 loss at Ohio to kick off the tour, Oakland headed north to take on Central Michigan – a team that OU had been unable to beat in Mount Pleasant since December of 2000. This time, however, the Grizzlies came away with a thrilling four-point win over the Chippewas with sophomore Nicole Piggott (Pewamo, Mich.) posting a game-high 21 points. 

     Next, the team trekked due west to California for a tournament at the University of San Francisco over the Thanksgiving holiday and a match-up with St. Mary’s College. Crossing three time zones seemed to have little or no effect on the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland exploded in the second half against USF in the championship game of the Odwalla Classic (11/27). With the game tied at 52-52 and nine minutes to go, OU went on a 30-13 run, including an 18-0 spurt, to close out the victory. The Golden Grizzlies made it to the title game by defeating UC-Riverside 68-58 the night before. Piggott was the heroine of the weekend, scoring an incredible 37 points to shatter her previous high set at CMU just two games earlier, 23 of which came in the first half. She added 10 points in the win over UC-Riverside to earn MVP honors and was named the Mid-Con’s Player of the Week. Piggott and junior Anne Hafeli (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) earned all-tournament accolades for their efforts as well. 

     Unfortunately for the Golden Grizzlies, they lost their final game of the trip – a 55-52 decision at St. Mary’s. OU rebounded by winning two of its next three contest, including victories at Illinois State and Akron, a game in which Oakland outscored the Zips 43-26 in the final 20 minutes for the 17-point victory. OU hosted Niagara and Buffalo before the Christmas break, defeating the two teams by an average of 34 points. Junior Jayme Wilson (Shawnee, Kansas) had the hot hand in the game against Niagara and at the 13:10 mark in the second stanza, the 5-8 guard recorded her 1,000th career point, making her the 18th player in OU women’s basketball history to accomplish the feat. She is also just the fourth Golden Grizzly to do so since Oakland became a Division I program. She ended the season with 436 points and currently ranks 10th in OU history and 19th on the Mid-Con’s all-time list with 1,314 career points. 

     Getting back from the break, Oakland had a tough test at Michigan to wrap up the non-conference portion of its schedule. Tying up the series history with U-M, 5-5, the Golden Grizzlies claimed a monumental 74-68 victory over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor Dec. 28. It was a moral victory for Hilliard over her former team, having been an assistant coach at Michigan for six years. It was also a huge win for the nine OU Michigan natives who grew up watching the Wolverines, hoping one day to step on the court in Crisler Arena themselves.      

Amanda Batcha finished her career as the Mid-Con's all-time leading rebounder with 1,009.

     After that tremendous win, it seemed fitting that Oakland would open its conference slate with two of the toughest games of the year – at Oral Roberts and home against Valparaiso. For the first time in OU women’s basketball history, the Golden Grizzlies pulled out a victory in Tulsa as Oakland defeated ORU 65-58 with three players in double figures and two with double figure rebounds. Hafeli gave the Grizzlies much to get excited about before halftime, registering 15 points, all coming from beyond the arc. She finished with 20, including six three-pointers. The win marked five in a row for the black and gold, which proved to be their longest unbeaten streak of the season. Unfortunately, Oakland was unable to carry that momentum into its match-up versus the Crusaders two days later as Valpo upset OU, 68-63 in the ‘O’Rena. Piggott, however, did garner Player of the Week honors once again. The 6-0 forward led the field with 19 points at Michigan and followed that up with her first career double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) at ORU.

     Oakland split its next two games with a 12-point win at IUPUI and a heartbreaking one-point loss at Chicago State. Senior Amanda Batcha (Waterford, Mich.) was instrumental in the win over the Jaguars with a season-high 19 points, adding 14 rebounds for the double-double. After playing three of its first four conference games on the road, Oakland took advantage of a three-game home stand, gaining ‘W’s over UMKC (1/17), Southern Utah (1/22) and Oral Roberts (1/24) by an average margin of victory of 18.3 points. During the span, OU averaged 78 points, 40.3 rebounds, 20 assists, 7.3 steals and two blocks. As a team, the Golden Grizzlies shot 46 percent overall, 53 percent from three-point range and 82 percent from the line. Also, the squad never trailed by more than four points, never fell behind to UMKC and took an average halftime lead of 7.7 points.

     Hafeli became the second Golden Grizzly to receive Mid-Con Player of the Week honors after posting back-to-back 25-point performances versus Chicago State and UMKC. The 5-9 guard was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line against the Cougars with five three-pointers, then drained seven from behind the arc versus the Kangaroos. The team continued to out-do itself game after game with Wilson’s then season-high 28 points against Southern Utah, followed by Hafeli’s career-high 31 points over Oral Roberts, including nine three-pointers – just one trifecta shy of tying an OU single-game record. Wilson became the third Oakland player to get the Player of the Week nod averaging 22.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 3.0 steals per game to go along with a 55 percent shooting percentage from the field in wins over SUU and Oral Roberts.

     Just once all season, Oakland players were held to single digit scoring at Valpo (1/31), but that didn’t stop the Golden Grizzlies from finding a way to win. OU’s top three scorers each had nine points in the win, while Batcha and senior Leigh Tully (Sarnia, Ontario) each had eight and the remaining three players had 15 points between them. However, Oakland suffered a four-point loss at Western Illinois five days later despite leading nearly the entire contest and getting a season-best 19 points from the Mid-Con’s 2005 Sixth Woman of the Year Petra Manakova (Prague, Czech Republic). The senior became the first in OU history to receive the honor. 

     Hafeli received plenty of local recognition throughout the season, due in large part to her spectacular three-point shooting. She additionally made it onto the national scene on Feb. 7, earning College Sports Television (CSTV) Player of the Week honors. The starting guard went on to lead the NCAA in three-pointers per game for seven consecutive weeks, averaging as many as 3.8 per contest.

     After starting the month of February off with the disappointing loss to the Westerwinds, OU recorded three straight victories over Centenary at home and Southern Utah and UMKC on the road. Oakland’s bench play, which really picked up in the second half of the season, accounted for 22 points versus the Ladies, 21 at SUU and 19 in Kansas City. Adding a fifth OU player to the league’s weekly awards, Manakova was recognized after leading Oakland to the two road wins as the team’s leading scorer over the two-game span. She poured in 15 points at Southern and added six rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals against the Thunderbirds. With the game tied late in the first half, Manakova scored the final six points of the half that put Oakland up for good in the contest. She then tied for the team high with 17 over the ‘Roos, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking another pair of shots. With her five blocked shots during OU’s road swing out west, Manakova swatted her way into the Oakland record book for the first time, gracing the career blocks list. She finished her career with 88 to wind up eighth on OU’s all-time list.

Jayme Wilson was voted all-conference a third straight year and to the all-tournament team for the second time.

     It was Chicago State that would end Oakland’s win streak this time as the Cougars came from five points down in the final minutes to take a 62-60 victory back to the windy city. The Golden Grizzlies, however, claimed victories in their final three regular-season games, including a 22-point win at Centenary, a 16-point defeat of IUPUI on Senior Day at the ‘O’Rena and the incredible 58-51 upset over conference champion Western Illinois heading into the Mid-Con tournament, a game in which Oakland never trailed. On her first basket of the game versus IUPUI, a lay-up at the 15:55 mark in the second half, Hafeli became the 19th Oakland player in the history of the program to reach the century mark. She finished the season with 427 points and has 1,031 for her career thus far.      

     In a matter of two days in February, the Golden Grizzlies managed to complete two season sweeps with wins over Southern Utah and UMKC. OU additionally swept Oral Roberts, Centenary and IUPUI, making it the most sweeps ever for Oakland since joining the Mid-Con. This would be the edge the team hoped to carry with them heading into Tulsa. Tournament wins, however, would not come easily for the women from Rochester as the team struggled against SUU in the quarterfinals. After finishing the season tied for second in the league, OU entered the weekend as the third seed by way of a tie-breaker with Valparaiso. The sixth-seeded Thunderbirds gave the Grizzlies a fight in round one.

     With Oakland holding a slim 34-33 edge at halftime, the Golden Grizzlies leapt out to a 43-27 lead in the first four minutes of the second half to seemingly take control of the game. The Thunderbirds, however, did not go away quietly as they clawed their way back to within five on two occasions in the final minute and a half. That was as close as SUU would get, though, as Hafeli closed out the game for Oakland by making three of her four foul shot attempts for the final tally of 66-58. Next up for OU was No. 7 UMKC after the Kangaroos completed a 10-point upset of Valpo in the quarterfinals. The Grizzlies quickly found out just how capable UMKC was of riding their wave of momentum.        

     Despite a late second half come-back attempt by Oakland, UMKC surprised the No. 3 Golden Grizzlies as the Kangaroos held on for a 56-53 upset win in the semifinals. In her final career game, Batcha collected 11 boards to make her the Mid-Con’s all-time leading rebounder, finishing the day with her 1,009th career rebound. That game was also significant for the senior in that it was her 117th career start. Batcha was one of only four other known 2004-05 women’s basketball seniors in the NCAA who started every game of their careers – a feat no other Mid-Con player could claim this year.

     Oakland raked in the post-season honors this year with four Golden Grizzlies being recognized by the league’s coaches and media members. In addition to Manakova’s Sixth Woman of the Year award, Wilson and Hafeli were selected to the all-conference first team, while Piggott was named to the second team. Gracing the all-tournament team for the second time in her career was Wilson (she also made the team in 2003).

    
Also significant this year was the number of entries in the OU record books by some of the Golden Grizzlies. As for the season, Hafeli made the list for three-point field goals made (6th – 83), three-point field goal attempts (5th – 199) and free throw percentage (T10th – 82.9). Wilson finished seventh in three-point percentage for a season (43.7) and sixth in free throw percentage (85.7). Manakova made the single-season list for blocks with 49 during her senior campaign to tie for eighth.

Anne Hafeli led the NCAA for six straight weeks in three-pointers per game.

     With her knack for shooting the long ball, Hafeli has drained 164 career three-pointers to date to rank sixth in OU’s all-time list and she ranks sixth in career three-point attempts with 430 thus far. Wilson additionally improved her stock this season and is currently tied for third in career three-pointers (188) and tied for fourth in three-point attempts (447). Along with her rebounding, Batcha put herself on Oakland’s career assists list, finishing eighth with 335 during her four-year tenure.

     As a team, the Grizzlies accomplished many things in addition to their +20-win season. In OU’s eight losses, the team only lost by an average of 3.9 points, which tops all other teams in the NCAA. Oakland also finished in the nation’s top 10 in eight categories, including scoring offense (44th – 69.6), scoring margin (40th – 9.4), field goal percentage (46th – 43.3), three-point field goal percentage (4th – 39.7), win-loss percentage (40th – 72.4), assists per game (8th – 17.4), turnovers per game (26th – 14.8) and personal fouls per game (46th – 14.9). Individually, Batcha finished 33rd in the country in rebounding (9.3 per game), while Wilson finished 10th in three-point field goal percentage (43.7) and Hafeli was 22nd (41.7) and seventh in three-pointers per game (2.9).

     Though this year did not end the way the Golden Grizzlies had hoped, it was certainly a season not to be forgotten. The 2004-05 senior class, including Batcha, Ashley Holenka (Shadyside, Ohio), Manakova and Tully, has left behind a legacy of winning that will not soon be forgotten at Oakland. Plus, Hilliard has proved there are great things to come for her OU squads after the way the Grizzlies have improved each year under her tutelage, which gives all Oakland fans much to look forward to in 2005-06 and beyond.

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