Northern Colorado battled Friday but fell to Michigan in the first round NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. It was the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.

“This cannot get old when it’s a first-time experience,” head coach Kamie Ethridge told on Monday. “It is just a great opportunity for our program and we have gone through so much this season as a group.”

UNC beat Idaho, 91-69, last week in the Big Sky Championship to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears earned the second-highest seed ever in the tournament for a Big Sky team, behind Montana in 1997. This season, the Bears won 26 games, and entered the tournament on a 13-game win streak that is the best in program history.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines proved too much for the Bears, though. Michigan shot 57.1 percent from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range to down the Bears, 75-61.

“Obviously just congratulations to Michigan. I thought they played a great game,” Ethridge said postgame. “Clearly, their size and their length really bothered our team, especially in the first half. I just thought we played really a badly executed game plan maybe or just game based on the fact that we really just couldn’t take advantage of mismatches or I think the way they were guarding our on balls, we just didn’t handle that we well.”

The Bears this season were led by Savannah Smith and Kianna Williams.

Smith, a junior, was an All-Big Sky guard. She became the first player in the program’s history to be named College Sports Madness Mid-Major Player of the week. Smith played in and started all 33 games this year.

Williams, a Big Sky All-Academic Team member, has also played and started in all 33 games this year. The senior played a large role on the team, and she averaged 28.3 minutes per game, 5.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game during the regular season.

In the game that earned them a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Smith led the Bears with 34 points while Williams had 11.

Savannah Scott scored a game-high 25 points against Michigan in the loss.

The Bears are led by Head Coach Kamie Ethridge. Ethridge was hired to be the coach of the Bears in 2014, and she has been guiding the team ever since. During her first season, she led the team with a program high of 22 wins.

Ethridge is hoping to establish tradition for the Bears. UNC earning a spot as one of the top 64 teams in the country is a huge accomplishment already. The Bears shouldn’t hang their heads after the loss to the Wolverines. Michigan has advanced past the NCAA Tournament first round three times, although they do not have any returning players with tournament experience.

“I thought we got some good looks, had some slips to the basket the way they guarded our on balls and we couldn’t make the plays because of their length and size,” Ethridge said after the loss Friday. “It’s something we don’t see much in our league. We tend to be able to play small and succeed. You clearly can’t do that against a team like Michigan.”

“It is just a great opportunity for our program,” Ethridge told the Greeley Tribune earlier in the week.

Currently, NCU has is holding titles for the Big Sky MVP, Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, and Big Sky Coach of the Year.

Michigan entered the tournament with the highest seed in the program’s history. The Wolverines are led by senior Katelynn Flaherty, one of the best scorers in the nation. She shot 44.8 percent from the field and 41.8 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season. She also leads the team with assists with 4.2 per game.

Flaherty was a perfect 6-for-6 from the field for 20 points in the first-round win, including 2-for-2 from deep. She needed just one 3-point shot to break the Michigan single-season record.

Hallie Thome scored a team-high 24 points on Friday, bettering her season average of 17 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

The Wolverines will face the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Baylor and Grambling, the No. 15 seed, on Saturday.

Featured Image Credit: UNC Bears Facebook