By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Two storied programs, Oklahoma City and Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), will take the court at the Frankfort Convention Center for the 34th Annual NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at 6:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, with the game being broadcast live on ESPN3.
No. 2-seeded Oklahoma City is appearing in its 10th national championship final in its 20th all-time and 17th-straight national championship appearance, while No. 1-seeded Freed-Hardeman is playing in its first-ever national title game in its 18th-straight national championship appearance.
To get here, Oklahoma City has defeated No. 7 Langston (Okla.), No. 6 Montana State-Northern, No. 1 Campbellsville (Ky.) and No. 5 John Brown (Ark.). Freed-Hardeman has bested No. 8 Huston-Tillotson (Texas), No. 4 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), No. 7 Bethel (Tenn.) and No. 3 Wiley (Texas).
The programs have faced off on three prior occasions, with Oklahoma City leading the all-time series, 2-1, with wins in the 1999 and 2007 national championship tournaments.
The Sooner Athletic Conference regular-season champion Stars have averaged 70.75 points per game in the national championship while shooting 40.9 percent. American Midwest Conference regular-season and tournament champion Freed-Hardeman has averaged 84.50 points per game, scoring a tournament-high 338 points while shooting 45.2 percent.
Sooner Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year Yvonte Neal leads the way for the Stars, averaging 15.25 points per game in the national championship. But, Oklahoma City features a balanced attack with Autumn Huffman (13.75), Cara Pugh (12.25) and Kayla MacKenzie (12.00) also averaging double-digit scoring in the national championship and Ouleymatou Coulibaly just off pace (9.75). Senior point guard MacKenzie, one of two remaining players from Oklahoma City’s 2012 national championship squad along with Pugh, also averages a tournament-high 5.00 assists per game.
American Midwest Conference Player of the Year and WBCA-NAIA All-American Hayley Newby is one of two Freed-Hardeman players to average a double-double this season and in the national championship, along with WBCA-NAIA All-America Honorable Mention Grace Alonso de Armino. Newby has scored 21.25 points and grabbed 15.00 rebounds per game in the national championship, while Alonso de Armino has added 15.25 points and 12.75 rebounds per national championship contest.
Beyond the tandem of Newby and Alonso de Armino, American Midwest Conference Freshman of the Year Taleeah Cross has been a key cog in the Lady Lion offense, scoring 12.25 points and dishing out 3.50 assists per game in the national championship. Senior guard Cynthia Woodward has also made a splash for Freed-Hardeman, averaging a team-high 4.50 assists per game and scoring 9.75 points a contest.
The key to Tuesday night’s title game may be the battle of the boards, as both teams feature two players among the Top 10 rebounders in the national championship: Newby (1st, 60) and Alonso de Armino (2nd, 51) for Freed-Hardeman and Coulibaly (5th, 36) and Huffman (6th, 30) for Oklahoma City. Both teams have also out-rebounded their opponents by a wide margin in the national championship—15.25 rebounds per game for the Lady Lions and 11.00 boards per contest for the Stars.
With a win, the Stars would tie former member Southern Nazarene (Okla.) with an NAIA-best seven national championships. The Lady Lions would become the 15th program to bring home an NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship.