Women to face OBU in national tourney

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Women to face OBU in national tourney

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The women’s basketball team has earned its second consecutive bid to the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in Independence, Missouri, from March 18-24 at the Independence Events Center. Baker’s first game will be at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 19.

The Wildcats will take on the No. 6 Oklahoma Baptist Bison. The Bison finished the season 25-5 overall and 15-3 in the Sooner Athletic Conference. They were the conference runners-up in the regular season and postseason tournament.

The Bison play in the same conference as the defending national champion and No. 2 Oklahoma City Stars and were one of two teams to beat them. Like Baker, the Bison are playing in their second consecutive NAIA championship.

Baker finished the season just five votes short of the No. 25 spot in the NAIA coaches’ poll at, unofficially, No. 27. The Wildcats were awarded the tournament’s 13th at-large bid and were selected as a seventh seed in their bracket after finishing the season 21-9 overall and 13-5 in the Heart of America Athletic Conference.

The Wildcats were the last of three Heart of America Athletic Conference teams to qualify for the tournament. MidAmerica Nazarene received an automatic bid for winning the regular season conference title and Benedictine received an automatic bid for winning the conference tournament.

Oklahoma Baptist is led by four all-conference players. Senior Charity Fowler was the team’s only first team All-SAC performer and was also named the conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Fowler averages 15 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

The Bison also rely on freshman McKenzie Cooper, who was a second-team All-SAC performer. Cooper averages 13.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and played a team-high 30.5 minutes a game.

OBU also has four more players who average more than 8 points per game in sophomore Tasha Edge, third-team All-SAC senior Elisabeth Daniels, senior Marida Lewis and junior Raquel Dudzevich.

Oklahoma Baptist averages 78 points per game and holds opponents to 58 points per game compared to Baker’s 70 and 62 points per game. The Bison have five players over 6-feet tall, but Baker has 50 more rejections than OBU, led by two-time HAAC Defensive Player of the Year junior Macy Wallisch, who has 77.

The Bison had two long winning streaks over the season. The first was a nine-game streak from late November to early January and the second was a 10-game streak that lasted the entire month of February, including a 66-62 victory over Oklahoma City.

Both teams have four mutual opponents over the course of the season. Both teams defeated Saint Mary University, Baker 67-63 and Oklahoma Baptist 71-34. Both teams also defeated Ottawa University, Baker 79-57 and OBU 90-60.

Oklahoma Baptist also played fellow Heart of America teams MidAmerica and Benedictine. The Wildcats were a combined 1-4 against these three teams with the win coming against Benedictine 63-57. Baker didn’t lose any game by double digits and its average loss was 5.5 points.

Oklahoma Baptist defeated both teams by an average spread of 21.5 points. Oklahoma Baptist beat MidAmerica 81-63 on Nov. 28 and then routed Benedictine 81-56 on Dec. 20.

The Wildcats will have to continue their defensive success in order to win against Oklahoma Baptist. Baker has allowed 55 points per game in its last seven games and the Wildcats will need that type of defensive effort. Baker will also need to shoot the ball well from three-point territory and from the free-throw line. The Bison have the No. 1 three-point field goal defense in the NAIA.

Baker will have the home-court advantage in only traveling 58 miles as well as having the Baker fans in attendance. The Bison will play 363 miles from their home in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

The winner of this game will take on the winner of the No. 11 third-seeded Our Lady of the Lake Saints and No. 24 sixth-seeded Martin Methodist Red Hawks on Friday at 4:30 p.m.