Two realities will collide Friday night when Southwestern Oklahoma State and Lubbock Christian play for a Division II women’s basketball national title.
To hear SWOSU coach Kelsi Musick tell it, this is her Bulldogs finally reaching the goal she set for the them when she began her rebuild a decade ago. They can win the program’s first national championship against a team she’s studied for years. To hear Lubbock Christian coach Steve Gomez tell it, this is a Lady Chaparrals team that’s far different from the team that went undefeated and won the 2016 title. They’re a group Gomez didn’t think would make it here earlier in the season that’s playing against a team he knew early on could.
See, Southwestern Oklahoma State and Lubbock Christian played back in December. The Bulldogs beat the Lady Chaps, 77-75. But while Gomez looked at his team and couldn’t project its play taking it to Alumni Hall in Columbus, Ohio, he couldn’t help but gush about SWOSU’s length, versatility and discipline.
“(Musick)’s just done great building a system there that has flourished,” Gomez said. “I remember telling her that. I even sent them a note after we played them, to their players. ‘You guys have a chance to be special.’ So, it’s been neat to see. And now it’s like, well, now we’ve got to play them. So, I hope they’re not too special.”
Both teams needed a little luck to reach this point. All teams who advance to a national championship game do. But they wouldn’t be here without the skill they possess.
Lubbock Christian (31-5), a 5-seed, beat No. 4 North Georgia 99-54 in its first Elite Eight game. It handed No. 1 Drury the Panthers’ first loss in the semifinals, 69-60, an upset few outside Lubbock, Texas, would have predicted the way the Panthers were playing. And according to Musick the Chaps were “absolutely” overlooked the whole time.
“I know what kind of a team they are, more so I know what kind of a coach, coach Gomez is,” said Musick, who’s 2-1 against Gomez the past three years. “I mean, he’s obviously been here. They won a national title. I was in a position where I was trying to rebuild a program. He’s already built a dynasty. After they won the national title I wanted to play them because I wanted to know what it was like to play the best.”
Southwestern Oklahoma State (35-1), a 2-seed, defeated No. 7 Saint Anselm 71-61 in the quarterfinals. It handled No. 3 Indiana (Pa.), 66-57, in the semifinals. And now in the Bulldogs’ first Elite Eight under Musick they are 2-0, a win away from the title and facing a Chaps program that’s in its third Elite Eight in four years.
“Getting recruited out of high school that was my main thing, I wanted to win a national championship,” SWOSU guard Hailey Tucker said. “I wanted to be a contender. Last year we came up short and so this year, this is our year.”
The Bulldogs have four seniors on their roster in Tucker, Katie Percival, Savannah Gray and Hayden Priddy. The Chaps have two in Olivia Robertson and Bobbi Chitsey. Each one has their role, but for Lubbock Christian’s duo this game is about more than just a title, it’s about delivering one as the Chaps’ leaders.
Robertson and Chitsey both played, sparingly, on the 2016 team that went 35-0 and won it all. They were freshmen then, feeling the excitement a player like SWOSU’s Priddy is now that a national championship game is tangible, grateful to learn from the veterans above them.
“Those girls were awesome and definitely players to look up to, and I think over the years Bobbi and I have just kind of wanted to make that for ourselves and for the people that follow us now,” said Robertson, who like Chitsey and junior Caitlyn Cunyus has a younger sister on the team. “Being in a leadership role now is truly a blessing.”
Lubbock Christian enters this matchup scoring an average of 73.4 points per game and allowing just 52.8. It has three players averaging double figures, led by Robertson’s 14.4 points per contest, and shooting marks of 49 percent from the field and 39.6 percent on 3s. Chitsey’s sister, Maddi, scored 28 points in the quarterfinal and is averaging 22.5 per game in the Elite Eight.
Southwestern Oklahoma State averages 84.3 points per game and has held opponents to 67.5. But they aren’t here because they shoot the ball like the Chaps. No, because while the Bulldogs don’t shoot poorly they win because of a defense that forces an average of 21.5 turnovers per game. So far during the Elite Eight they have scored 48 points off 42 turnovers.
Gomez and Musick know their teams weren’t playing at their peak back in December. Lubbock Christian’s players needed a challenge from Gomez over Christmas break that, “toughened us up a little bit,” according to Robertson. The Bulldogs have continued their upward trajectory.
And now, one game remains.
“This will be a war,” Robertson said.
And just like that, Southwestern Oklahoma State is HEADED TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME! They took the W over Indiana (PA) 66-57 and will play the winner of the next semifinal game this Friday! 🏀🏆#EliteEight / #D2Hoops pic.twitter.com/IecNwxeK1U— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) March 28, 2019
How to watch
Catch the Division II women’s basketball national championship game on CBS Sports Network at 7 p.m. (EST) on Friday. You can also follow along in our live blog to stay up to date with all the action.