Survive and advance.
Basketball tournaments in March take on that saying, and for good reason. The marathon beginning to the Division II women’s basketball Elite Eight on Tuesday at Ohio Dominican’s Alumni Hall in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t deliver any buzzer-beaters. No fans had to turn away in the last 30 seconds and wait for the noise of the crowd to tell them whether they should feel joy or sorrow. In fact, no game finished with a margin of victory that wasn’t double digits.
But each of the four quarterfinal games showed something about the teams that will compete Wednesday in the semifinals.
How No. 1 Drury shellacked No. 8 Nova Southeastern, No. 2 Southwestern Oklahoma State defeated No. 7 Saint Anselm, No. 3 Indiana (Pa.) beat No. 6 Azusa Pacific and No. 5 Lubbock Christian blew by No. 4 North Georgia all gave a glimpse into why they could win the national championship.
The nation’s undefeated top seed had beat Nova Southeastern by 23 back in December and showed in this late-March contest just how much it improved in three months by besting that mark with a 91-60 win to advance to the semifinals. Hailey Diestelkamp finished with 26 points and 26 minutes. Daejah Bernard recorded a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double while also dishing out seven assists and grabbing six steals. And the Panthers (35-0) led from start to finish.
But what Drury did most was show it had the capacity to frustrate a team to the tune of 40 turnovers and score 38 points off those miscues.
Forget the Panthers averaged 30.8 turnovers forced per game during the regular season. They sent a Nova Southeastern team home that was peaking at the right time. The Sharks had knocked out the top three seeds in their region before this loss. And it was never in doubt. Nova Southeastern was 52.3 percent from the field but shot the ball 33 less times.
“We’ve been practicing against seven players to try to prepare for the type of defense that they apply,” Nova Southeastern coach LeAnn Freeland-Curry said. “I think fatigue kind of set in, you could kind of tell that at times we weren’t making good decisions with the ball. I do think we were as prepared as we could be.”
Drury, which faces Lubbock Christian next, just played like the No. 1, undefeated team it is.
Southwestern Oklahoma State
The Bulldogs (34-1) never put St. Anselm away. This wasn’t a blowout. But what Southwestern Oklahoma State did with its 71-61 win was show even on a down offensive night that saw it shoot less than 35 percent from the field it could record a double-digit win because of stalwart defensive play.
Southwestern Oklahoma State forced St. Anselm to commit 31 turnovers. It scored 30 points off those turnovers. And its coach knows it could have done so much more.
“I thought my defense and our full-court pressure was huge for us today,” Coach Kelsi Musick said. “It allowed us to force a lot, a lot of turnovers, which was key. I don’t feel like we converted as many points as I personally would have liked and we didn’t shoot the 3-ball very well today.”
FUN FACTS: Learn something about each Elite Eight team
After a 10-point win in a quarterfinal matchup Musick was pointing out the flaws without hesitation. And she was right. The Bulldogs didn’t commit as many turnovers but stunted offensive momentum when they did. They shot 20.7 percent on 3s when they usually shoot 34.3. And four players still finished in double figures.
Southwestern Oklahoma State plays Indiana (Pa.) next. Try defeating the Bulldogs if their offense is clicking, too.
The Crimson Hawks (30-3) nearly watched this victory slip out of their grasps. A 37-27 halftime lead vanished 4:18 into the third quarter without IUP even scoring a point. But no one panicked.
They built the lead back up and by the end of the quarter were up 13, eventually winning against Azusa Pacific by that same margin, 73-60.
“We don’t let really anything phase us,” senior guard Carolyn Appleby said. “They did have a good start to that third quarter but I think that just makes us work even harder because we know how bad we want it. I think we responded really well.”
IUP Coach Tom McConnell said he saw a look in his players’ eyes during a third-quarter timeout in the midst of Azusa Pacific’s run that told him everything was going to be fine.
PREDICTIONS: How the Elite Eight might go
Adversity can’t be taught. It has to be experienced. More than any team left in this tournament IUP experienced adversity during its quarterfinal game and is better for it. If Southwestern Oklahoma State makes a run at any point watch the body language of the Crimson Hawks players. Then watch them fight their way right back into the game.
“When we came out and we didn’t score in the third quarter you might get tight or say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to shoot. I don’t want to miss the next one,’” McConnell said. “This group doesn’t do that. They have an ability to let it go and move on to the next play.”
Of course, it helps to have a player like senior forward Brittany Robinson scoring 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking six shots, and redshirt senior guard Lauren Wolosik scoring 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists.
The Lady Chaparrals (30-5) executed the best offensive performance of any of the eight teams in the Elite Eight and put Drury on notice with a 99-54 win against North Georgia. They played so well and shot the ball so efficiently — 62.3 percent from the field and 52 percent on 3s — North Georgia coach Buffie Burson could only describe it as a “clinic” in ball movement that far exceeded anything they picked up on studying film.
Lubbock Christian junior forward Maddi Chitsey led all scorers, both in the game and on the day, with 28 points in just 22 minutes. She hit 11-of-12 shots from the field and 3-of-3 of her 3s. Two other teammates finished in double figures and all 13 Lubbock Christian players who played scored at least one point.
The Lady Chaparrals out-scored the Nighthawks by at least seven every quarter and 18 after the first 10 minutes.
“We want to take the right shot, what’s right for us, no matter who it is,” Chitsey said. “So, it just happened to be me that was open. You just have to be ready to take any shot.”
And senior forward Olivia Robertson isn’t shy about how she feels about facing Drury.
“I’m happy to say that all of us are super confident and, you know, you got to go into games confident. They’re a highly respectable team and they’re a very good team but we’re not going to go into it scared or passive. Heck yeah we’re licking our chops.”