How to Watch

Saturday’s AU vs. Minnesota-Duluth Division II national championship game at 3:30 p.m. will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Check your cable or streaming packages to find out if you have that channel. If you type in your zip code at this link, it will tell you the channel to find. That is channel 322 on Spectrum’s cable package in Ashland.

ASHLAND — She is the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II Player of the Year and the heartbeat of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

If Ashland is to hoist the national championship trophy Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Dallas, the Eagles will have to solve the problem that is Brooke Olson.

A 6-foot-2 forward, Olson has the Bulldogs in the national final for the first time in program history. She averages 23.1 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.

“They do a lot of things well at both ends of the court, but Olson sets them apart,” Ashland coach Kari Pickens said. “Just the way she can score in a variety of ways is special. The patterns in their offense get her the ball in positions that allow her to be successful.

“She gets the ball in great areas and she’s so strong that she can go up and finish or she can shoot the 3.”

A fifth-year grad student, Olson has been at her best during UMD’s run through the postseason. She averaged 32 points and 11.7 rebounds as Duluth hosted and won the Central Regional tournament. That included a 43-point outburst in an 86-70 win over Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference rival Minnesota State in the regional semifinals.

Two days later, Olson scored 21 points and swiped 13 rebounds as the Bulldogs pulled off arguably the greatest comeback in program history in a 77-76 win over Missouri Southern in the regional championship game. Duluth trailed 45-27 at the half and 69-52 midway through the fourth quarter. Missouri Southern still held a double-digit lead with less than two minutes remaining before UMD’s Ella Gilbertson capped the improbable rally with a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining.

“No matter where we’re at, I know that they’re going to give their best effort,” UMD coach Mandy Pearson said at the time. “They’re going to keep fighting.”

The win over Missouri Southern sent Duluth to the Elite Eight in St. Joseph Missouri. The Bulldogs beat Assumption 61-41 in the national quarterfinals and knocked off Catawba 70-59 in the semifinals. Olson scored 34 points and swiped 10 boards in the victory.

“Brooke is incredibly talented and the most versatile player I have ever been around,” Pearson said. “I say this often but she has found a way to improve as a leader and a basketball player every single year.

“Brooke is ending her Bulldog career still working every single day to get a little bit better. She is a great teammate, a fantastic leader and one of the most determined individuals I have been around. … I just love the leader and person Brooke has become.”

As good as she is, Olson is hardly a one-person wrecking crew. Gilbertson, a 6-foot junior forward, averages 10.3 points a game. Fifth-year point guard Maesyn Thiesen averages 7.5 points and 3.6 assists a game.

“Maesyn is everything you would want in a point guard,” Pearson said. “She is poised, intelligent, hard working, unselfish, kind, tough and most of all she is a coach on the floor.

“Not only is she all over the place on defense, but she is everywhere on the court communicating, teaching and encouraging her teammates. She gives those around her so much confidence in what we are doing and in themselves, she really is a true court general.”

Pickens agreed.

“I’ve been really impressed with their point guard. She’s just tough,” Pickens said. “She’s a great defender and has 130 assists on the year, which is really good.

“Then they have some other players who are big and can be really disruptive. We will definitely have our hands full.”

Top-ranked Ashland counters with a balanced attack led by Great Midwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year Annie Roshak. The 6-foot-1 senior forward averages 14.4 points and 5.7 rebounds a game and scored 17 points and 10 boards in AU’s 76-67 win over Glenville State in the national semifinals.

Hayley Smith had 15 points and 16 rebounds while guards Savaya Brockington, Hallie Heidemann and Morgan Yoder were sensational against Glenville’s relentless defense, combining for 16 assists and just five turnovers.

“Morgan Yoder and Savaya Brockington did an outstanding job of handling that pressure,” Pickens said. “We had 26 turnovers, but our guard play was outstanding in breaking their press.”

Heidemann averages 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Zoe Miller averages 11.9 points off AU’s bench, while Smith is good for 11.3 points and a team-high 6.6 boards a game.

The Eagles are in search of their third national title. Ashland won it all in 2013 and 2017 and was runner-up in 2012 and 2018.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some jitters early on, but the one thing I’m excited about is we’re so experienced,” Pickens said. “They know how to play on a big stage.

“Honestly I think it’s going to be a great basketball game. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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