Where: Tyson Events Center, Sioux City, IA
On the air: video stream link and live stats at saintfranciscougars.com
Records: Saint Francis (33-0), Ashford (12-20)
Expected starters for the Cougars: Paige Frisch – 5-7, freshman guard (5.8 ppg); Skylarr Shurn – 5-7 senior guard (20.5 ppg); Brooke Ridley – 5-10 sophomore forward (14.4 ppg); Jenelle Wilson – 5-7 senior guard (13.9 ppg); Kalah Baer – 6-0 senior forward (8.8 ppg).
Update: The Cougars enter the NAIA Division II National Championship as the No. 1 overall seed, and for good reason. At 33-0 Saint Francis begins its 15th National Tournament with an unblemished record and one of the favorites to win a national title. The first obstacle in the 32-team tournament for the Cougars is Ashford University, a team that earned an automatic bid by winning the Association of Independent Institutions Tournament. The Saints are appearing in their first-ever National Tournament, giving Saint Francis a decided edge in experience. Ashford entered the AII Tournament with just five wins over their last 20 games, but put together back-to-back victories in the postseason, including a victory over IU-Northwest, to get into the tournament. Ashford has just one player that averages in double figures on the season, Madison Wagner at 10.9 points a contest. Eight of Ashford's 12 wins have come at home, with the team just 4-9 away from home. 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 winner of today's game will play Friday at 11:15 a.m. against either Tennessee Wesleyan or Siena Heights. Saint Francis beat Siena Heights 76-56 in December.
Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews: "We've got to play as hard as we can and play together. There really is no difference in how we've prepared for long runs (in the tournament) or short runs. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw. Sometimes we've had a bad matchup or sometimes we've shot bad. One time we came out here and the whole team was sicker than a dog. This team just needs to really play the way that they've played all year. We play loose and relaxed. This team has embraced being (ranked) number one. I can't remember if it was after we were 11-0 or 12-0 when we became ranked number one, but this team kind of enjoys it. They really don't feel like it's pressure, we just know that everybody is going to give us their best shot. We're ready for that and we respect everybody that we play. We know that anybody can beat us on any given night."