Updated: Friday, 08 Mar 2013, 11:57 PM EST
Published : Friday, 08 Mar 2013, 11:57 PM EST
SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Defending NAIA Champion Northwestern College is the next hurdle for the University of Saint Francis after the second-ranked Lady Cougars got even for one of their three losses with an 82-69 decision over 18th-ranked St. Xavier University on Friday afternoon.
USF freshman Brooke Ridley scored the first six points of the game for a 6-0 Lady Cougars lead and USF were in control the entire State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship second round game. NC (25-7) won its 17th consecutive NAIA Championship game earlier in a 92-60 victory over 10th-ranked Concordia (MI).
The Lady Cougars' 32nd win of the season avenged a 78-61 loss at SXU (25-7) on December 29 in the championship game of the SXU Holiday Tournament.
"We really set the tone with our defense," USF Head Coach Gary Andrews said. That loss to SXU back in December served as additional incentive for USF.
"We talked about it before the game . . . Bethel beat us, we came back and beat BC twice and Indiana Wesleyan beat us and we came back and beat them, so the fact we lost earlier in the season (at SXU) was a huge motivator. Give SXU credit, they won the first meeting. We were a decent team then, but Kayla Drake has gotten healthier, and our defense has gotten so much better since the first time we played them.
"We played decent the first game (Wednesday), we had to bring our 'A' game today against SXU and we did. Our posts played well today -- Brooke, Jessica and and Kalah had eight points. SXU is a very good team, they are very well-coached and we played well today."
USF led 44-25 at halftime and opened up a 25-point lead in the first four minutes of the second half.
Ridley, who recorded her second double-double of the season with 10 rebounds, and Kayla Drake led USF's balanced scoring with 14 points apiece. Skylarr Shurn added 11 points, Jenelle Wilson scored 10 and Jessica Harrison came off the bench to score a career high 10 points. Ridley finished with three blocked shots and Drake dished out four assists, Wilson three.
"I just wanted to figure out how to contribute and help the team," Ridley said. "Comin' into it I was a little nervous, but hittin' that first shot and blockin' some shots calmed me down. We got good contributions from everybody."
Ridley, Harrison and Baer combined for 32 points and 19 rebounds, all critical contributions for the USF cause.
"We knew it was a big game and would need contributions from the bench, from everybody so I just played hard and stepped up," Harrison said. "I got rid of the butterflies when I saw how hard everybody was playin' on defense. Defense is what I do best, so just like that, they were gone."
In the first meeting, Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year -- Morgan Stuut -- scored 20 points for SXU as did Suzie Broski.
On Friday, the tenacious USF defense held Stuut to 13 points and Broski to nine.
"We knew we had to play better on defense than we did the first time," Slusher said.
"Jenelle and Meghan played great defense, Kayla and Skylarr were active on the perimeter," Andrews said. "I thought today we played more like the way we've played in 2013."
Slusher, who also grabbed 10 rebounds along with Ridley, gave USF its first double-digit lead of the game scoring at 15:07 for a 13-2 lead. SXU whittled the deficit to seven twice, but Harrison converted a 3-point play at 10:26 for a 20-10 lead and SXU never got within single digits again.
SXU shot .290 (9 for 31) in the first half, USF .429 (15 for 35). USF outrebounded SXU 30-16 in the first half, 55-27 for the game and 18-8 for the game on the offensive boards. USF shot .552 (16 for 29) in the second half, SXU .429 (15 for 35).
"We gave up 69, but it was important to get some players some rest and get some others playing experience in the championship," Andrews said.
Ten of the 11 Lady Cougars who played scored including senior Nora Gibbons, who had a special reason to savor the victory. Her cousin is an assistant coach for SXU.
"Technically, it was a deep two," Gibbons said chuckling. "I just caught it in rhythm and hit it, plus I heard my teammate-co-captain on the bench yelling to 'shoot it' . . . I thought time was running out or something. I didn't know how far out I was."
Now a win away from tying the women's record for victories at 32-3, the Lady Cougars have won eight consecutive games and 17 of their last 18 games. USF advances to the Elite 8 for ninth time in 14 appearances at NAIA Championship . . . USF is 3-5 in Elite 8 . . . USF is now 9-2 in second round games . . . 24-13 in NAIA Championship competition . . . USF improved to 64-22 in post-season play.