The quarterfinals of the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship has been full of physical, high scores and close match-ups. The Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats skated their way through the tournament to this round and had to outlast the Briar Cliff Chargers to advance to the semifinal round with a win of 69-57.
Briar Cliff got the tip-off at the beginning of the first half, but made only one statement through the rest of the half. The Chargers only scored four of their baskets. Through the remainder of the first half, Indiana Wesleyan took advantage of the Chargers ball-handling miscues and scored efficiently in the paint. The Wildcats scored 18 points in the paint, led by #41 Paige Smith, who had 12 points of her own. Briar Cliff shot just 21 percent on the court and had eight points in the paint, with the rest of their points coming from free throws. The Chargers scored just fifteen points in the first half thanks to a last-second field goal by #3 Clair Ray.
“Indiana Wesleyan is a good team, solid and didn’t make many mistakes,” said Mike Power, Briar Cliff head coach. “We talked before the game started; it was going to be a game like the opposite bowl. What they did was completely opposite of what we did, they wanted to slow things down and we wanted to speed things up and whoever won the tempo would win the game and I thought they did a great job.”
In the second half the home court Briar Cliff fan base became alive when the Chargers came out and scored nine unanswered points, which put them just a field goal behind Indiana Wesleyan. The rest of the half became a slug match with Briar Cliff taking their first lead of the game just after ten minutes into the half, their first lead since their attempt 35 seconds into the game.
With both defenses nearly identical in steals, turnovers and team fouls, the two teams relied on scoring with free throws. Briar Cliff took full advantage of their high percentage scoring team when it came to free throws, scoring on 22 out of 29 attempts. The more the Wildcats fouled #24 Slone Masters the more she added to her total point count by scoring 12 of her 17 attempted free throws.
The Chargers bench that only scored one point and two assists in the first half began to click as a team offensively in the second half to score a total of 26 with 7 assists. The effort from the Chargers as well as the electrifying energy from the arena seemed to die down as the Wildcat lead increased. The Wildcats took as much advantage as Briar Cliff with free throws by scoring 72.4 percent. The Chargers could not handle #41 Paige Smith, who out-did anyone on the court with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
“Her [Smith] and Claire [Ray] both are the spiritual leaders of this team,” said Steve Brooks, Indiana Wesleyan head coach. “There is a major difference for us and people won’t understand it, they think this is the Christian version of athletics but our purpose behind this is to take the gifts and abilities God has given us and give them back to him. Nobody exemplifies that better than our two seniors.”
Indiana Wesleyan will advance to their third final four in school history. The top-seeded Wildcats will play the winner of the Morningside and Bethel game on Monday at 8 p.m.