Golden Grizzlies Reach New Heights

Oakland’s women’s basketball team enjoyed tremendous success in the 2006-07 campaign, maintaining its position atop the Mid-Continent Conference while receiving its first-ever bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament and hosting its first-ever post-season game at the O’Rena.  Not bad for a squad that had graduated 45 percent of its scoring from the previous season and was predicted to finish sixth in the league’s preseason poll.

The Golden Grizzlies kicked off the season with a resounding 107-40 victory over Marygrove College at the O’Rena.  Several players set or tied career highs against the Mustangs, including an 11-rebound performance by senior Nicole Piggott (Pewamo, Mich.), who also scored 17 points for a double-double.  In the next game at UW-Green Bay, Piggott recorded her 1,000th career point on a jumper late in the second half.

Senior Bonnie Baker led Oakland with 101 assists, 70 steals and 19 blocks in 2006-07.

The game against the Phoenix was also Hanna Reising’s (Peoria, Ill.) coming out party, as the freshman scored 25 points on the power of five three pointers (5-7) while shooting 9-12 from the floor.  Reising followed that with seven from beyond the arc while shooting 8-10 from the floor to lead OU with 23 points in a narrow 74-69 loss at Florida State the next weekend.

Oakland evened its record to 2-2 when it stunned Eastern Michigan with a come from behind 68-62 win in Ypsilanti.  Sophomore Jessica Pike (Clawson, Mich.) led the way with a then-career high 23 points to help the Golden Grizzlies overtake the Eagles with less than three minutes remaining.

The Golden Grizzlies headed to Ohio to tangle with its first of three ranked opponents on the year, falling to the #24 Bowling Green State University Falcons.  Junior Charlese Greer (Pontiac, Mich.) provided a spark off the bench for OU, leading the team with 16 points in just 14 minutes of play. 

Oakland returned home for a three-game set, posting victories over Rochester College and Toledo to remain undefeated at the O’Rena before hosting #24 Marquette.  The game against the Golden Eagles was the commencement of Oakland’s toughest four-game stretch of the season as it took to the road to battle West Virginia, Auburn and #6 Connecticut in succession following the bout with Marquette, a 64-51 loss.

The Golden Grizzlies hung with West Virginia throughout the first half, coming within one point several times and tying the score 29-29 with one minute left in the half.  The Mountaineers led by as much as 16 in the second half, but the Golden Grizzlies pulled within seven late before finally succumbing 70-61.

OU struggled in the first half against Auburn, falling behind by 15 early in the game before recovering to draw within seven at halftime.  The Golden Grizzlies pulled to within five, but were unable to stop a late run by the Tigers, falling 74-55.

Oakland played in front of a crowd of more than 12,000 people at Connecticut and battled hard against the sixth-ranked Huskies in the last game before Christmas break.  UConn proved to be a tough foe and OU lost its fourth straight game.

At the start of the New Year the Golden Grizzlies struggled, dropping a weekend series against Chicago State and IUPUI at the O’Rena.  OU had had the prior week off and it showed as the Golden Grizzlies came out flat and never recovered against Cougars.  They played better in their Mid-Con opener against the Jaguars, but let a lead slip away in the final minutes to start the conference season 0-1.  But from this rather inauspicious start to conference play rose a juggernaut that rolled to 12 consecutive wins and went on to claim its third Mid-Con title in program history.

Senior co-captain Joya Puryear dished a career high seven assists against Marygrove.

The streak started quietly with a weekend road trip to Western Illinois and Valparaiso.  OU went to Western Illinois, always a tough place to play, and came out with a 60-51 victory.  Two days later the Golden Grizzlies beat the Crusaders 63-57.  Senior Bonnie Baker (Allen Park, Mich.) set career highs in both games with 12 rebounds against WIU and six steals at Valparaiso.  With wins came confidence and OU was ready to take back the O’Rena, to prove that the weekend sweep by the visitors at the beginning of the month was a fluke, that nobody coming to Rochester should come in thinking they would have an easy road to victory.

UMKC was the first visitor to the O’Rena after the debacle against IUPUI and the Kangaroos suffered a 20 point loss 67-47 at the hands of Oakland while Baker set a new career high for the third straight game with 10 assists.  But the Kangaroos had it easy compared to Southern Utah who came out on the short end of an 83-36 game.  OU’s defeat of the Thunderbirds was the largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent in program history.

Oakland hit the road once again, this time heading south to play Centenary and Oral Roberts.  The Golden Grizzlies handled Centenary with little trouble, defeating the Ladies 73-61 and extending their win streak to five games.  But the streak would be threatened in Tulsa.

The first half of the game at Oral Roberts started exceptionally slow as both teams generated scoring opportunities, but neither was able to knock them down.  The Golden Grizzlies went to halftime down to ORU by a score of 28-18.  OU chipped away at the Golden Eagles in the second half, drawing within two at the halfway mark and tying the game 47-47 with 3:43 left on the clock, but then Oral Roberts put together a 10-0 run to go ahead 57-47 with 1:09 remaining.  Oakland’s modest win streak was perilously close to ending.

Pike’s thoughts on the matter were different, however and she took control of the game, scoring 11 points in the final 39 seconds and hitting a three at the buzzer to knot things up at 60-60 and send the game to overtime.  The Golden Grizzlies went on to win 68-64 in the extra session with Pike tying her then career high with 23 points.

Next on the slate was a weekend game at IUPUI and a non-conference match against Youngstown State on a weekday.  OU and the Jaguars played an even game until the 12:30 mark of the second half when the Golden Grizzlies posted a 10-0 run and went on for a 58-45 victory to avenge the loss earlier in the season.  Oakland then cruised to an 81-57 win over the Penguins at the O’Rena in the final non-conference game of the regular season to open its longest home stretch of the year on a high note.

The Golden Grizzlies hosted Valparaiso and Western Illinois in the finale of the three-game home stand, dispatching the Crusaders 65-44 with little trouble before battling the Westerwinds.  WIU proved a more tenacious foe than other recent visitors to the O’Rena and gave Oakland the most trouble it had had since playing at Oral Roberts.  The Westerwinds led for much of the first half and held a one-point edge with four minutes remaining in the game, but the Golden Grizzlies clawed their way back and defeated Western Illinois 55-52, the smallest margin of victory in the now 10-game winning streak.

Oakland took to the road again, heading west to play Southern Utah and UMKC.  The Thunderbirds played much better at home than they had in Rochester but still fell by 13 points as OU cruised to a 65-52 win.  The game at SUU also marked the 150th career win of Head Coach Beckie Francis’ career.  The Golden Grizzlies made quick work of dispatching UMKC 82-55 to claim at least a share of the regular season title and extend their win streak to 12 games, the program’s longest undefeated clip since joining Division I.  OU also became just the second women’s basketball team in league history and the first since 1993-94 to go undefeated on the road in conference play with a 7-0 record away from the O’Rena.

Freshman Hanna Reising was among the league leaders in three point shooting in 2006-07.

Oakland played at home the final weekend of the regular season, hosting Oral Roberts and Centenary.  The Golden Grizzlies held a 42-33 lead at the half and led by as much as 13 early in the second, but ORU put together a 15-0 run to go up by two and get back into the game.  Oakland regained the lead but its shooting went cold with five minutes left and the streak finally came to and abrupt end with a 60-57 loss.  OU went on to defeat Centenary 73-53, winning the regular season title outright and earning the top seed in the Mid-Con Tournament.

OU’s first test of the Mid-Con Tournament was a rematch against the very same Ladies that they had beaten a week prior to win the regular season title.  Freshman Melissa Jeltema (Grand Rapids, Mich.) scored a career high 16 points off the bench for OU while Piggott posed her second straight 24-point game to propel No. 1 Oakland past No. 8 Centenary 82-51.

The Golden Grizzlies continued their quest for the second consecutive tournament crown against No. 4 IUPUI, one of just two Mid-Con teams that had beaten OU in the regular season.  Reising pulled down a career high nine rebounds while Piggott drained a career best nine free throws and Pike scored 23 points to lead Oakland to a 75-60 win.

The final obstacle to Oakland’s quest for a repeat was the same Oral Roberts team that had brought the streak to an end the previous week.  The Golden Grizzlies led by as much as eight during the first half, but ORU came back to tie the game 35-35 at the half.  The Golden Eagles then opened the second half with an 11-2 run.  Oakland never quite recovered and although it did draw within six with five minutes left to play, Oral Roberts was able to hold off the Golden Grizzlies and deny OU its second straight title.  Piggott scored 11 points against ORU to move into the top 10 on Oakland’s all-time scoring list.  She and Pike were named to the All-Tournament team for their efforts.

Piggott and Pike garnered league recognition as well, as both were named first team All-Conference players.  Reising and Jeltema became the first OU players in three years to earn spots on the All-Newcomer team while Coach Francis was named the Coach of the Year for the second time in her seven-year career with Oakland.

On the heels of another successful season the Golden Grizzlies got the opportunity to do something that no other team in program history had done before: host a postseason tournament game at the O’Rena.  Oakland received a bid to the WNIT, playing host to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Although the Wildcats were vastly more experienced in the WNIT, Oakland was not intimidated.  Kentucky jumped out to a seven-point lead after five minutes but was unable to pull away.  Oakland drew within one twice, then posted a 9-0 run to overtake UK 22-21 with 4:11 remaining in the first half.  OU entered halftime down by two 28-26.

Kentucky pulled ahead by as much as nine early in the second half, but Oakland kept attacking, drawing within four with 11 minutes left.  Over the next seven and a half minutes the Wildcats’ postseason experience showed, as they remained calm and put together a 17-6 run to go up by 15 points 60-45.  But Oakland refused to back down, posting a 9-0 run to draw within six 60-54 with less than a minute remaining.  OU was unable to pull any closer, however, and fell to Kentucky by a 65-56 margin.

Oakland University 2007. All rights reserved.

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