And now it’s down to Fab Four

Three teams chasing first national title

By Linda Younkin Published:

One No. 1 seed. One program with multiple national championships. Two newbies.

That’s the lineup for the semifinals of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship tonight at the Frankfort Convention Center.

The first semifinal game, at 6 p.m., pits John Brown University (Ark.) against Oklahoma City, which won six national championships between 1988 and 2012.

A No. 5 seed, John Brown is making its first appearance in the Fab Four.

The 8 p.m. game features the only No. 1 seed remaining, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.), taking on Wiley College (Texas).

Freed-Hardeman was in the Fab Four last year, losing to eventual national champion Westmont in the semifinals. This is the first time Wiley, a No. 3 seed, has advanced to the Fab Four.

The winners of tonight’s games will meet for the national championship Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

John Brown vs. Oklahoma City
There won’t be many surprises for either team in this game.
Both teams are members of the Sooner Athletic Conference, and this will be their fourth meeting this season.

Oklahoma City swept the Golden Eagles in the regular season, but John Brown came back to beat the Stars 66-62 in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

John Brown (28-7) has played two tough games in the last two rounds. The Golden Eagles upset top-seeded Vanguard 62-61 in the quarterfinals Friday, and Saturday they rallied from an 18-point deficit with just under eight minutes left in the game to beat Loyola 65-63.

“I could barely sleep last night, I was so excited,” John Brown senior forward Kortni Barenberg said during a news conference Sunday.

“That was one of those things where we had to come back and keep fighting until the end of the game,” JBU senior guard Sierra Shipley said. “I don’t think it hit me until after the game we had accomplished. It was cool.”

The Golden Eagles’ last appearance at the NAIA was 2011, when this year’s seniors were freshmen.

“We all decided nationals was our goal,” Shipley said. “From our freshman year we knew we could get it. We put in a lot of hard work, but that was our goal. It’s a lot of fun this time doing a lot better.”

For Oklahoma City, this is its 12th national championship semifinal. The Stars last won the national title in 2012, the first year the tournament was in Frankfort.

The Stars (25-4) have had close games in the tournament, beating Langston by six, Montana State-Northern by three and No. 1 seed Campbellsville by three, 79-76, in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

As for OCU’s style of play, coach Latricia Tramell said it’s one people like to see.

“It’s disciplined, hard working,” she said. “We take pride on both ends of the floor. We get up and get after it. It’s a fun style of play to watch.”

Wiley vs.
Freed-Hardeman

Freed-Hardeman is no stranger to the Fab Four, but if the Lady Lions win tonight they’ll be making their first appearance in the national championship game.

FHU (35-1) started the year with some question marks and a tough schedule.

“At the beginning of the year I was distraught,” coach Dale Neal said. “We had graduated three seniors who were all-Americans, we had an injury to a post player, and we lost who we thought would be our starting point guard and back-up point guard.”

In addition the team had eight non-conference games scheduled against ranked opponents.

“The girls really stepped up,” Neal said. “We had some playing out of position, and some in different positions, not totally out of position, and they really bought into helping the others get better on the floor.”

Last year’s trip to the Fab Four helped fuel this season’s success.

“At the beginning of the year we talked about how we were so successful last year,” senior guard Cynthia Woodward said. “This year we wanted to not only match last year but do better.

“That’s been our mindset all year. Last year helped because we know what it takes to get here.”

The Lady Lions have run into little trouble in this year’s national tournament, winning by 34, 35 and 18 points in their first three games.

Third-seeded Wiley (30-4) defeated No. 1 seeded Westminster 75-58 in the quarterfinals Saturday, using its defense as the catalyst for the win.

“Our style is very similar to coach Nolan Richardson’s,” Wiley head coach Courtney Garrett-Pruitt said. “It was on ESPN’s 30 for 30, and I recorded it and watched it over and over. We want to turn defense into offense.”

This is the Lady Wildcats’ third trip to the national tournament. They advanced to nationals in 2008, losing to Freed-Hardeman in the second round, and last year they lost to Campbellsville in the opening round.

“Last year we came to visit,” senior guard Danisha Shaw said. “We toured the city.

“This year we came to play.”

A win tonight would put Wiley in the title game for the first time, and if the team won Tuesday it would be the second time a historically black college or university  won the tournament. The first HBCU school to win the national title was Kentucky State in 1981.

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