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Cougars get twin ‘R’s’ in victory

Redemption, respect earned in NAIA win

– Redemption and respect can be powerful motivators on their own for a basketball team. Put them together and it can be an effective combination.

After starting 14-0, the Saint Francis women’s basketball team suffered the first of just three losses, bowing to Saint Xavier (Ill.) on Dec. 29. On Friday, Saint Francis was able to right what Cougars coach Gary Andrews called his team’s “worst game of the year.”

Saint Francis rolled to an easy 82-69 victory at the NAIA Division II basketball tournament at the Tyson Events Center in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated.

“It was a huge motivator; … they kicked our butt,” Andrews said of the 78-61 setback in December. “Bethel beat us earlier in the year and we came back and beat Bethel, and (Indiana) Wesleyan beat us and we came back and beat Wesleyan. That was our motivator because Saint X had beat us, and we were lucky we got the chance to get them back.

“We were a decent team then even though we were 14-0. Then I thought we were a decent team, not great. Since then our point guard Kayla Drake has gotten healthier – she broke her leg last year and her knees were killing her for the first half of the year – and our defense is a lot better.”

The search for respect has been a season-long endeavor for Saint Francis.

“We were picked fourth in our conference and preseason we tied for 25th, and we want to show teams we aren’t too bad of a team,” Andrews said.

Saint Francis dominated on the boards, pulling down 55 to Saint Xavier’s 27, and outscored Saint Xavier by 28 points in the paint.

Saint Francis was balanced offensively getting 14 points from Brooke Ridley and Drake, 11 from Skylarr Shurn and 10 from Jenelle Wilson and Jessica Harrison. Ridley had a double-double with 10 rebounds.

For a squad that is not all that big, Saint Francis pushes the tempo, wearing down its foes.

Saint Francis (32-3) had seven players score in the opening half led by Ridley, who netted the first six points of the game to go along with three early blocks. That balanced attack allowed Saint Francis to get easy scoring opportunities in the paint to build a 19-point lead at halftime, 44-25.

“People have been guarding us with zone all year so we have so many zone offenses we think we are hard to guard,” Andrews said. “We have a lot of shooters who can drive.”

Saint Xavier’s scoring duo of Morgan Stuut and Suzie Broski were held to 13 and nine points, respectively. That was a defensive emphasis for Saint Francis.

“They are great players, and I thought Meghan (Slusher) and Jenelle did a great job guarding them,” Andrews said.

Saint Francis takes on three-time defending champion Northwestern in the quarterfinals today at 3 p.m.