And then there were four.
After starting with 32 teams last Wednesday, the field for the 37th Annual NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Tournament has been whittled through blood, sweat and tears to four of the most tournament-experienced programs in NAIA history.
The first semifinal at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark has eight-time national champion Oklahoma City (32-3) playing Campbellsville (Kentucky, 28-7) at 6 p.m. Monday. It is a rematch of the 2015 national title game where the Stars prevailed 80-63.
The second semifinal has Lewis-Clark State (34-1) playing Vanguard (California) at 8 p.m. Monday. The Lions are 30-3.
The national championship game is Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. It will be on ESPN3.
The Frontier Conference champion Warriors are ranked No. 2 in the nation and are the highest-ranking team remaining in the field. Vanguard won the national title in 2008.
The four teams have combined for 87 NAIA national tournament appearances. Along with winning an NAIA record eight titles, OCU has won a record 69 national tournament games.
“You’ve got to have a lot of things going for you,” said Lewis-Clark State coach Brian Orr of tournament success. “But you’ve really got to have a system. A system to defend a lot of different things. With games back-to-back, you don’t have a lot of court time to prepare. Most people have a really good defensive system where they can guard other team’s offenses because there are so many different styles.”
The Warriors are trying to become the first team from the Frontier Conference to reach the NAIA Division I title game. Montana State-Northern won the Division II championship in 1993.
OCU vs. Campbellsville
The Stars were in a strange place during the majority of the 2016 national tournament.
After winning consecutive titles in 2014 and 2015, OCU was one-and-done, losing to Lewis-Clark State in the first round.
“Oh, it was the end of the world,” said senior guard Mariana Duran of last year. “It was a new group. (This year) we were hungry to win this tournament. Practices were more intense, more passionate.
“We’ve just have to keep playing like we’ve been doing. We need everybody.”
The Stars are led by senior Daniela Wallen, who averaged a nation-best 24.6 points a game. The smooth senior from Venezuela is shooting almost 57 percent from the field. Daniela Galindo is adding 18 points a game. Both had 22 in OCU’s quarterfinal win over Lindsey-Wilson (Kentucky).
Galindo, the top free throw shooter in the country, hit the game-winner at the buzzer against Montana Western in the second round.
OCU is making its 23rd tournament appearance. Along with the eight titles, the Stars have been second three times and third twice.
Campbellsville counters with four players averaging double figures, led by Emily Fox averaging 14.6 points a game.
“We have to play our game. Do what we do best,” said Fox of the matchup. “We have to play as a team, do the little things and take care of the ball. We like to press people so we’re going to have to play strong defense.”
The Tigers have made the Fab Four run without senior point guard LeeAnn Grider, who suffered a season-ending knee injury over Christmas break.
Campbellsville is in the tournament an NAIA-best 25th time. The Tigers were second in 2015. Last year, they advanced to the quarterfinals.
L-C State vs. Vanguard
The Warriors are in the national tournament a 20th time, including four straight, and in the semifinals for the second time in program history. Lewis-Clark State was third in 2001.
Senior point guard Caelyn Orlandi has scored 29 and 25 points in her team’s last two games. She also dished out a career-high 10 assists in the quarterfinal win against Westmont. The Frontier Conference player of the year led the nation during the regular season with total assists (215) and assists per game (6.72).
Brittany Tackett is adding 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a game.
“We’re not going to change anything at this point,” said Orr. “There’s no real time. We’re going to do what we do best. You have to ride the horse that got you here, so to speak.”
Vanguard is led by NAIA player of the year Claire Lamunu. The senior forward from Kampala, Uganda, averaged a double-double of 22.7 points and 12.7 rebounds during the regular season.
The Lions have five players with 26 or more 3-pointers and limited opponents to 51 points a game this season.
Vanguard is making its 16th consecutive appearance at the national tournament and 19th overall. Along with their national championship in 2008, the Lions have placed third three times.