SIOUX CITY, Iowa – While celebrating their 20th anniversary in Sioux City, Iowa, the 2017 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships tipped off Wednesday morning with a first-round matchup featuring second-seeded Davenport (Mich.) and seventh-seeded Saint Francis (Ind.). Ranked No. 6 in the national poll, the Panthers absorbed a strong push from freshman Kara Gerka and the Cougars while pulling out an 80-73 victory.
Champion of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, Davenport (31-3) has advanced to the second round, where it will play either third-seeded Jamestown (N.D.) (25-5) or sixth-seeded Oregon Tech (24-8) at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Saint Francis has ended its season with an overall record of 18-16.
Behind Gerka (game high 21 points, eight rebounds), the Cougars whittled an 11-point fourth quarter deficit all the way down to four (61-57). Just over a minute later, Emily Severn drilled a trey and knocked down a free throw for a four-point play that pushed the Panther lead to nine (69-60) with under seven minutes remaining. Saint Francis never did go away. Davenport really couldn’t breathe easy until Lauren Brower canned a pair of free throws and made it a 79-73 lead with :19.4 left.
Severn came to the rescue for a Panther team that had a minus-11 turnover margin. Severn totaled 19 points (eight more than her average) on 6-for-10 shooting from the floor. Davenport had three other players find their way into double figures: Brower (15), Mallory Sewell (15) and Hannah Wilkerson (12). The Panthers shot 45.3 percent (24-for-53) from the floor.
On the other hand, the Cougars managed only a 36.5 field goal percentage (23-for-63). Gerka and Lauren McBryar (17 points, nine rebounds, four assists) were the team’s headlining performers. The Cougars earned an automatic berth to nationals thanks to a late season run that saw them finish as the Crossroads League tournament runner up.
Davenport has claimed its 19th all-time national tournament win. The Panthers have finished as the national runner up twice in their program’s history.