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Prochaska's 29 lead Falcons into NCAA tournament

CLEVELAND -- During a late timeout, Bowling Green coach Curt Miller finished addressing his team and then turned to his star player.

Placing his hands on Lauren Prochaska's head, Miller reminded her that it was time, her time.

"I told her, 'Get us to the finish line,'" Miller said.

She got the Falcons there -- first.

Prochaska scored a season-high 29 points and Bowling Green, determined not to lose in the championship for a second straight year, outscrapped Toledo 62-53 for the Mid-American Conference title on Saturday, giving the Falcons the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

After receiving their 10th MAC title trophy, Bowling Green's players formed a circle at the top of the key. As the arena filled with Queen's anthemic "We Are the Champions," the Falcons swayed shoulder to shoulder and strained their voices trying to match Freddie Mercury's.

This was the moment they waited for.

They had lost to Ball State in last year's final, and finally that bitter feeling was gone.

"You want to forget," Falcons center Tara Breske said. "You don't want that sick feeling of not coming out on top."

Prochaska wouldn't allow it.

The MAC's player of the year added seven rebounds and made four 3-pointers for the Falcons (27-6), who had coasted into the final with blowouts of Miami (Ohio) and Akron. Whenever Bowling Green needed a big play, she made it.

"There's a reason why she's MVP of our league," Toledo coach Tricia Cullop said. "She made big shot after big shot. She did a tremendous job."

It was some vindication for Prochaska, who didn't play up to her standards in the tournament in the previous two years. Bowling Green had not won the title since 2007, and Miller knew the Falcons would only go as far as Prochaska would carry them.

She knew it too.

"He said it was time for me to step up and make plays," Prochaska said.

Tanika Mays scored 18, Melissa Goodall 15 and Naama Shafir 12 for Toledo (24-8), which beat Bowling Green by three points during the regular season.

With top-seeded Bowling Green clinging to a 52-51 lead, Prochaska, a silky smooth 5-foot-11 junior, calmly drove the right side and banked in a tough layup over Shafir. Goodall countered with a layup for the Rockets before Bowling Green's Jen Uhl dropped a nice hook to make it 56-53.

On Toledo's next trip, BGSU forward Breske blocked a short jumper by Shafir and Prochaska's two free throws put the Falcons ahead 58-53.

Jessica Williams then missed a long 3 for Toledo, and Falcons guard Tamika Nurse made two more free throws with 26 seconds to go, giving Bowling Green all the cushion it would need to knock off their next-door neighbors from northwest Ohio.

Toledo, making its first title game appearance since 2001, continued to misfire from outside in the last minute and the final long rebound fittingly went to Prochaska, who flung the ball skyward and danced into the arms of her teammates. She was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

"She's a once-in-a-lifetime player," Miller said.

Arch rivals and the MAC's most storied women's programs, Toledo and Bowling Green, schools separated by a short stretch of Interstate 75, have a strong dislike for each other. While players on both teams have known each other for years, there were no handshakes when the starters lined up for the opening tip.

For 40 minutes, they battled for every loose ball, contested every shot and fought for a title each group felt was theirs.

Down 10 and out of sync, the Falcons closed the first half with a 17-2 run to open a 29-24 lead at the break.

Prochaska, driving to the basket at every opportunity, scored seven in the spurt before picking up her second personal foul on a charge and going to the bench with 2:27 left. Breske picked up the slack, and her short jumper gave BGSU its first lead at 26-24.

It was obvious from the start that this wouldn't be another easy one for Bowling Green. Flustered by Toledo's aggressive defense, the Falcons started just 1 of 11 from the field.

Prochaska had a tough time getting a clean look at the rim, but she knocked down a 3 to bring Bowling Green within 15-12, and for the first time the Falcons' orange-clad fans, who outnumbered Toledo's by more than 2-to-1, had a reason to scream.

Mays hit a 3 as Toledo responded with a 7-0 run, but that's when Prochaska showed why there was no one better than her -- or the Falcons -- in the MAC.

"They hit some key shots at the end and we didn't," Cullop said. "It came down to that."