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Wildcats women eliminated from national tournament

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

Southeastern University has designated its sports teams with the nickname Fire. But in Friday’s round of 16 game against Indiana Wesleyan at the NAIA Division II women’s national tournament, the nation’s top-ranked and unbeaten team might well have been called Inferno.

The Wildcats fell into a deep early hole and could never recover as the Fire advanced into the Elite Eight with a dominating 83-63 win in the Tyson Events Center, Sioux City, Iowa.

Only twice all season - at No. 11 Northwestern (Iowa) on Nov. 11 and in Wednesday’s opening round against Cornerstone (Mich.) - has Southeastern from Lakeland, Fla., even been challenged to a single-digit final score. Cornerstone nearly pulled the upset of the tourney, missing a last-second shot to win in regulation before falling to the Fire 69-64 in overtime.

Southeastern eliminated any thoughts of an upset by the Wildcats starting midway through the first quarter.

“They were really good. They came out like the No. 1 team in the country,” said Indiana Wesleyan coach Ethan Whaley in a press release issued by IWU. “They came out and made shots and imposed their will. They really gave us problems in the paint and from the outside. They’re a talented and versatile team”

The Fire scored the first seven points of the game but IWU answered back to draw within 11-8 with just under four minutes to play in the opening quarter. The final four minutes of the opening quarter and the entire second quarter belonged to the Fire. Southeastern blitzed Indiana Wesleyan 37-13 over the final 12 minutes of the half for a commanding 48-21 lead at intermission.

Southwestern blistered the nets hitting 19 of 28 (67.9 percent) from the field and 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) from three-point range over the first 20 minutes of the contest. The Wildcats hit just 9 of 32 (28.1 percent) and 2 of 16 from long range. 

All five starters for Southeastern were transfers, three from NCAA Division I programs and two from DII. Senior Ana Richter, a 6-1 guard from Miami of Ohio, who is also leading candidate for NAIA DII Player of the Year, scored 15 of her game-high 22 points to lead the Fire’s first half assault. Richter had a perfect day shooting the basketball, making all eight field goal attempts, two from long range and all four free throws.

Kentucky refugee junior Jaycee Coe finished with 17, while Emma Karamovic chipped in with 17. 

The second half was much better for the Wildcats as they outscored Southeastern in each of the final two quarters by making 13-of-30 from the field and 6-of-14 from 3-point range.

“I felt like we made some adjustments at the half and we tightened up our approach defensively,” Whaley said. “On the offensive end we started attacking the paint and working inside-out. It worked to our advantage, but when you dig a 27-point hole at half it’s hard to dig out of. I’m proud of the way our girls fought in the second half.”

Nicole Ignasiak led IWU with 15 ponts and senior Anna Imhoff finished with 12. Elaina Ededuwa scored nine points while Brittany Washington and Katie Key each chipped in seven.

Whaley’s two seniors, Imhoff and Washington, each combined to etch out some space in the IWU record books. Imhoff’s fourth three-pointer of the game, the last of her college career, gave her 100 for the season which is second only to Jennie Martin’s 104 set in 2004-05. The last field goal of Washington’s career, also a ‘3’, gave the Wildcats 248 for the season and set a new program record for most makes.