SIOUX CITY — Ashford had a plan, and for most of the first half it looked as if it might just work.
The Saints stayed within striking distance through the first 20 minutes using a very deliberate pace that limited opportunities for the high-powered St. Francis (Ind.) offense to get going. However, the top-seeded and top-ranked Cougars proved to be too athletic and skilled as they opened up the lead in the second half for a 57-37 first-round victory Wednesday at the NAIA women’s basketball tournament.
“They were trying to keep the score in the 30s and 40s, and our kids played good-enough defense and hit enough shots to move on,” St. Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “Happy with our defense and know we can play a lot better, but hopefully we will have more good games.
“Give Ashford a lot of credit. Their coach did a good job and had a good gameplan trying to slow it down and make it a low-scoring game. Our kids did a good job of keeping their composure and found a way to win by 20.”
Ashford, which came into the tournament with a 12-20 record, was in no rush in the first half as the shot clock routinely worked its way under 5 seconds before a shot went up. It worked, as the Saints found themselves down just five points at 20-15 with three minutes to go.
The Cougars (34-0) got out to a 10-2 lead to open the game as the Saints did not record their first field goal until almost nine minutes in when Elizabeth Nardi hit a shot. Ashford started the game 1-of-12 from the floor.
“We told our kids if we can withstand the first punch in the face ... we kind of regrouped and got it within four before they went on that run right before the half,” said Ashford coach Kelly Kruger, who played and coached several sports at nearby Northwestern College of Orange City. “I was proud of how our kids handled that and kept us in it.”