SIOUX CITY, Iowa – () Top-seeded Saint Francis (Ind.) became the first team to earn a spot into the Fab Four of the 2014 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by State Farm, as the Cougars defeated No. 3 Southwestern (Kan.), 76-61, Saturday afternoon in quarterfinal action.
Saint Francis entered the quarterfinal matchup 3-6 all-time in the round of eight with its last victory coming in 2006. With the victory, the Cougars, who are the only remaining unbeaten team in NAIA Division II at 36-0, keep their quest of becoming the first team to go unbeaten en route to the national title since Morningside (Iowa) in 2009 alive.
Cougars’ center Kalah Baer was a force in the paint the entire game, scoring a career-high 25 points, after converting 9-of-12 attempts from the field and 7-of-11 at the free throw line. The senior Leo, Ind., native also led the team in rebounding with 12 boards – three on the offensive glass. Baer entered the national championship averaging only 4.4 points per game in her last five.
Three of Saint Francis’ other five starters also posted double figures in the game. Crossroads League Player of the Year Skylarr Shurn scored 18 points en route to her 30th double-digit game, while Janelle Wilson tallied 17 points and Brooke Ridley added 11 points. Ridley was second the team in rebounding with nine, ending the sophomore guard’s national championship double-double streak at four games.
Consistent offense and disciplined defense propelled the Cougars to a 22-7 lead at the 11:36 mark of the first half. That trend continued throughout the period, as Saint Francis limited Southwestern to only 25 percent (7-for-28) shooting, including a 1-for-7 effort from 3-point range, in the opening 20 minutes.
Saint Francis, which came into Saturday with an average margin of victory of 23 points at the national championship, extended its lead 30, 55-25, on a basket by Baer. Southwestern chipped away at the lead the remainder of the period, however never pulled closer than 14 points.
Saint Francis finished the game shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 71.4 percent at the free throw line. The Cougars were most dominant in the lane, outscoring the Moundbuilders, 46-18, in the paint.
Southwestern was led in scoring by Rickey Montana’s 15 points off the bench. Sheri Zoglmann also tallied double-digits with 13 points.
Despite the loss, Southwestern’s 2013-2014 season goes down as one of the most successful in program history. The Moundbuilders, who with their second round win against Olivet Nazarene (Ill.), became the first team from the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference to reach the quarterfinals since Sterling (Kan.) accomplished the feat in 2005. Southwestern ends the year with a 30-5 overall record, which is the school record for most wins in a season.
Saint Francis will play the winner of No. 2 Morningside (Iowa) and No. 5 Cardinal Stritch (Wis.) Monday at 6 p.m. CDT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.