SSU hoops opens NAIA Tournament today
SSU Sports Information
Making the NAIA Tournament has become second nature to women’s basketball and head coach Robin Hagen-Smith, who enters her 30th season on the Bears’ sidelines. Since the Bears’ first NAIA appearance in 1994, they have made 18 of the last 20 NAIA Championships. The only exceptions were the 2005 and 2007 seasons. This year marks the third straight time the Bears have qualified for the NAIA Division I Championship after competing as a Division II school up until the 2009-10 season when they made a run to the NAIA Division II Championship game.
However, Wednesday morning’s meeting with Columbia will mark some unfamiliar territory for the Bears. Not only will the meeting with the Cougars be the first ever between the two schools, it will mark just the second time in program history that the Bears are underdogs in the opening round according to the bracket seeding. However, the only other time the Bears were underdogs in the opening round was 2011 when they were seeded sixth in their quadrant and not only won the opening round game 70-60 over No. 3 St. Xavier, they advanced all the way to the Fab Four in their first NAIA Division I season.
SSU finished fourth in the Mid-South Conference and won the quarterfinal round before being beat in the final moments by a running jumper against Cumberland with five seconds on the clock. However, the Bears were quickly selected as an at-large team for the NAIA Tournament as they grabbed the sixth of 14 at-large bids. Shawnee State was one of six Mid-South teams to qualify for the NAIA Tournament. The Bears are joined by No. 2 Cumberland, No. 4 Georgetown, No. 4 Campbellsville, No. 7 St. Catharine and No. 8 Cumberlands as teams representing the Mid-South.
Columbia entered the season ranked No. 21 in the NAIA Preseason Poll and was a bubble team receiving votes in the middle of January. However, the Cougars have climbed the polls ever since then and were No. 13 in the NAIA Poll last week while the Bears were No. 18. After starting the season 4-5, they have gone 23-1 since. The only loss in the past 24 games came to Lyon, who they shared the American Midwest Conference Regular Season Championship with.
In the conference tournament, the Cougars claimed an automatic berth to the NAIA Tournament with three straight victories, including a 91-83 victory over William Woods in the Championship Game. These three aforementioned AMC teams all made the NAIA Tournament. Lyon will also matchup with an MSC team in Georgetown, creating two MSC vs. AMC matchups in the opening round. It will also be the second straight year that the Bears have opened up with a team from this conference. Last season, they defeated William Woods, 68-47, as the No. 2 seed vs. the No. 7 seed in the quadrant.
Heather English, the AMC Player of the Year, leads a quartet of players that average 10 points a game for the Cougars. She is averaging 15.3 points per game. Lily Abreu is not far behind her with 15.2 points per game. Julie Teeple averages 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while Tierney Seifert also averages 10.1 points per game to go along with a team-high 99 assists.
With a win on Wednesday, the Bears would move into the second round where they would await the winner of No. 1 Oklahoma City and No. 8. Those two teams will hit the court right after the Bears on Wednesday. If they advance, the second round game for the Bears would be Friday, March 15 at 10:45 a.m.
Tipoff today is at 10:15 a.m.
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