SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Southwestern (Kansas) had to have felt good about its defensive strategy Saturday to limit Saint Francis' top scorer, Skylarr Shurn, opportunities during their quarterfinal game of the NAIA Women's Basketball Division II National Tournament. The Cougar star had just six points at halftime, but what the Moundbuilders probably weren't counting on was Kalah Baer picking up that offensive slack, and then some.
The Saint Francis senior center dominated Southwestern inside from the opening tip and finished with a career-best 25 points in leading the Cougars to a 76-61 romp in front of 800 fans at the Tyson Events Center.
The victory sets a new program record for wins and advances No. 1-ranked Saint Francis (36-0) to its first Final Four in eight years and fourth in program history. The Cougars will face Cardinal Stritch (27-6) at 7 p.m. (EST) Monday.
“They were playing behind Kalah and she was able to turn around and get easy lay-ups,” Shurn said. “That will open up the outside a little bit more. But if they are going to play behind her, she'll shoot lay-ups all day.”
And she did.
The Leo High School graduate scored the Cougars' first points and never relented. With the Southwestern defense on her back, Baer simply got position on the block and the Moundbuilders were at her mercy from that point forward. Saint Francis outscored Southwestern 46-18 in points in the paint.
“When Kalah gets going,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said, “she can really get going. She started dominating, so we just kept trying to get her the ball. She had a tremendous game.”
Baer didn't just excel offensively, at the defensive end, she also grabbed a game-high dozen rebounds. That was indicative of the game. As much as Saint Francis shined offensively (the Cougars put the game away with an 18-1 run over a stretch of 5:16 in the first half), its defensive play was just as impressive.
One day after the Moundbuilders scored 112 points as part of the highest scoring game in tournament history, the Cougar defense shut Southwestern down, particularly in the first half. The Moundbuilders missed 75 percent of their shots in the first half and trailed Saint Francis 40-20 at the intermission.
“Going over their screens, we figured out who their shooters were,” Baer explained. “Our guards did really well going over them, and our post players would sag back to keep their point guard from coming in (the lane).”
The second half was much like the first, as Saint Francis went to Baer less than a minute into the half and the result was the same. The Cougars eventually led by 30 (55-25) at the 15:09 mark, and yes, the margin was reached on a Baer basket, before the Moundbuilders whittled their deficit to as little as 14 with less than two minutes remaining.
Shurn eventually found her rhythm and totaled 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and a couple of steals, while Jenelle Wilson (17 points, five assists, four steals) and Brooke Ridley (11 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and three steals) also contributed.
“Our defense was awesome,” Andrews said. “I couldn't believe how good our defense was in the first half. There are a lot of teams that wish that they were playing Monday and we're glad that we are.”
College of the Ozarks (Mo.) (26-9) will face Davenport (Mich.) (34-1) in the other semifinal Monday.