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Saint Francis learns road to a championship

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Cougar women, men to vie for national titles

Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 3:55 am

The next step in Saint Francis' quest for basketball perfection became known Wednesday. The NAIA released its brackets for both the men's and women's Division II National Tournaments, which get underway next week, and the Cougars' women are entering the event as the prohibitive favorites.

Saint Francis is unbeaten after 33 games and won both the Crossroads League regular season championship, as well as the postseason tourney. It has been the nation's top-ranked team for 10 consecutive weeks and will face Ashford (Iowa) in its national tourney opener March 12 at 1 p.m. (EST).

Ashford is just 12-20 overall, but won the Association of Independent Institutions Tournament.

The Cougars advanced to the Elite 8 of the tournament a year ago before falling to the 2012 national champion Northwestern. The run to the Elite 8 had snapped a two-year streak of losing in the opening game of the tournament for the Cougars.

Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews has led this program to eight national tournaments in his 13 years with the Cougars, and this will mark the 15th appearance by the program overall.

The women's event will be played March 12 to 18 in Sioux City, Iowa.

In the men's tournament, Saint Francis was seeded 14th and will open with a much more challenging opponent than their female counterparts.

The Cougars will face Robert Morris (Ill.), which finished its season 23-9 and ranked 19th in the nation. It's last loss came in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament to number one-ranked Cardinal Stritch.

Saint Francis (21-10) will be competing in the tournament for the fourth time in the past five seasons. It will open play on March 13 at 6:45 p.m. (EST) in Point Lookout, Mo.