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Saint Francis opens tourney with victory

Cougars to face Saint Xavier on Friday

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 8:33 pm

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Senior guard Kayla Drake buried four three-pointers and finished with 21 points to lead second-ranked University of Saint Francis to a 62-42 win over Reinhardt University (Ga.) on Wednesday morning in the first round of the State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Freshman Brooke Ridley added 11 points and four blocked shots, junior Skylarr Shurn scored nine points and Meghan Slusher added eight in the balanced USF offense. USF won its seventh consecutive game and 16th game in the last 17 to run its record to 31-3. The win improved USF to 23-13 in 14 NAIA championship appearances and snapped a two-game first-round losing streak. The Cougars are 11-3 now in first-round games.

USF took a 3-0 lead on Drake's three-pointer and after a tie and two lead changes, the Cougars took the lead from the Eagles (19-15) and continued adding to that lead through most of the rest of the game. USF led 32-22 at halftime and outscored RU 30-20 in the final 20 minutes.

USF earned a 1 p.m. Friday rematch against St. Xavier University (25-6). SXU handed USF its first loss of the season in Chicago, 78-61, in the championship game of the SXU Holiday Tournament on Dec. 29, 2012.

“Oh yes, we remember (SXU) and we are looking forward to playing them again,” Drake said in a release. “We did some good things today, but we can play better than we did today. We hadn't played for over a week, so we wanted to give it our all. We didn't want to leave early.”

The Cougars employed their typical stifling defensive effort to hold RU to 23 percent shooting from the floor in the second half (7 for 30). The Cougars forced the Eagles into 21 turnovers, and USF scored 15 points off those turnovers. The Cougars pulled away and lead by as many as 22 late in the second half.

RU shot 45.5 percent in the first half, USF 41, but USF helped offset that by hitting 6-of-15 shots from three-point range. USF limited RU's leading scorer Tara Hay to nine points, on 3-of-18 shooting from the floor. Hay entered the tournament averaging 15.1 points per game.

“Our shooting was a little rusty, but we really got after it on defense and that made the difference,” USF head coach Gary Andrews said. “We settled down and made some defensive stops. They are a very good team defensively, you've got to give them credit. We needed to relax a little bit because we were getting good shots.”