SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Defending national champion Saint Francis (Ind.) became the fifth team to claim victory in the first round of the 2015 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm, which got underway on Wednesday. The Cougars erased a halftime deficit and held off Southwestern (Kan.), 65-51, in a game that paired teams seeded third and sixth in the bracket.
Fifteenth-year head coach Gary Andrews’ squad bumped its overall record to 24-9. On the other hand, the Mound Builders, champions of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, concluded the 2014-15 season with a record of 22-10.
Saint Francis won its sixth-consecutive national tournament game despite a scoring drought of nearly six minutes that resulted in a six-point first-half deficit. That’s when junior forward Brook Ridley (game highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds) took over and the Cougars buckled down defensively. They seized control with a 27-7 outburst that left Southwestern to play catch up the rest of the way.
The Cougars had raced out to a 16-7 lead before the Moundbuilders stormed back to take the lead, 28-22, on a significant spurt of their own. During the 21-6 Southwestern run, sophomore guard Tiffany Rieger went off for 10 points, including six that came on treys. Jana Reichenberger also helped stake the Moundbuilders to a first-half lead by putting up 13 of her 15 points in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
Southwestern got within six, 55-49, with 4:01 left after Rieger knocked in a pair of free throws. Saint Francis responded by ending the game on a 10-2 run that put the contest out of reach. Ridley scored four of the 10 points and Paige Frisch banked in a long two to help seal it up.
The Moundbuilders had hoped to capture the magic that helped them reach the round of 16 in 2014. Southwestern is 2-5 in first-round games in seven appearances at the national tournament.
For the victors, Frisch and Zhanna Chukhrii added 11 points apiece. Akyah Taylor chipped in six points and nine rebounds. They were also part of a tenacious defensive effort that held the Builders to 27.1 percent (16-for-59) shooting. Southwestern made only 5 of 23 second-half shots.
Saint Francis, now 30-14 all-time in 16 appearances on the national stage, will play either No. 8 Tennessee Wesleyan (28-3) or Southeastern (Fla.) (25-6) in the second round at 3:30 p.m. CDT on Friday.