SIOUX CITY, Iowa — In the last three years alone at the NAIA Division II National Championship, the Southern Oregon University women's basketball team has been eliminated on the first day of the tournament, survived to see the last day, and bowed out somewhere in between.
Given their recent history, the 10th-ranked Raiders (27-4) should be ready for anything when they open play in the 32-team bracket against No. 24 Antelope Valley (Calif.) (22-6). SOU is the No. 3 seed in the Naismith quadrant, the Pioneers are the No. 6 seed, and the teams will meet for the last of today's eight first-round games at 7:15 p.m. Pacific Time inside the Tyson Events Center.
While the Raiders are in the tournament for the fourth consecutive season, Antelope Valley's team has only been in existence since last season and is new to the tourney. On the other hand, 11 of 13 players on the Pioneers' active roster are upperclassmen who transferred into the program, while seven of SOU's 13 are underclassmen and eight will be appearing on the national stage for the first time.
"They're athletic, they compete really hard and they'll crash the boards all game," third-year SOU head coach Alex Carlson said. "It should be a fun to watch, because it's going to be uptempo and both teams try to get a lot of the same things done."
What's Next: The final eight games of the first round will take place Thursday. Whoever gets out of the matchup between SOU and Antelope Valley will play a second-round game Friday at 11:45 a.m. PST against either seventh-ranked Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) (27-2), the No. 2 seed, or Indiana East (22-10), the No. 7 seed. Southeastern (Fla.) (29-0) — the No. 1 seed in the Naismith quadrant and the top overall seed in the tournament — will potentially await in Saturday's quarterfinals, which are set for an 11 a.m. PST tipoff. Following a day off, the semifinals and title game will play out Monday and Tuesday.
SOU Tournament History: The Raiders are making their 11th overall appearance at the tournament and are a No. 3 seed for the third time in four years. In last year's first round against Northwestern (Iowa), they had a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter when Northwestern went on a 16-0 run en route to an 83-68 victory. The loss made SOU 5-5 all-time in the first round.
When SOU made a run to the championship game for the first time against Marian (Ind.) as a No. 1 seed in 2016, it did so by defeating Clarke (Iowa), 15th-ranked Briar Cliff (Iowa), 11th-ranked Tabor (Kan.) and 18th-ranked Goshen (Ind.). In 2015, the Raiders started with a win against Robert Morris (Ill.) to end a first-round futility streak that spanned four losses and 15 years. They advanced to the semifinals in their first appearance in 1997, lost in the second round as the No. 2 overall seed in 1998, and lost in the second round as the No. 1 overall seed in 1999. This marks the first time in team history the Raiders have qualified four years in a row.
How They Got Here: The Cascade Conference is allotted two automatic bids to the tournament and SOU earned the second for finishing second in the regular-season standings and advancing to the CCC Tournament title game. The Pioneers won the California Pacific Conference regular-season title and snagged its lone automatic bid by winning the conference tournament, too. They're attempting to become the first Cal Pac team to win a national tournament game since former member Menlo (Calif.) in 2006.
- Before the Raiders in 2016, no Cascade Conference team had reached the semifinal round since 2001. Last year, Eastern Oregon was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
- Teams from the states of Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska have accounted for the last 17 titles.
- Senior guards Toria Bradford and Remi Mejia were SOU's representatives on the 12-person All-CCC team. Bradford was the CCC's 12th-leading scorer (12.5 points), ranked fourth in assists (4.1), fourth in steals (2.3), second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and 12th in field-goal percentage (45.5). Mejia led the conference in scoring average (17.5), was second in steals (2.9) and 14th in assists (2.7), and her 92 made 3-pointers (on a 39-percent clip) are the third-most ever in a season for a Raider.
- In the conference tournament, Daranda Hinkey went 7-of-9 from 3 and Ariel Augustine averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds. Augustine, an honorable mention All-CCC pick, has scored in double digits 13 of her last 14 games.
About Antelope Valley:
- The Pioneers come into the week on a 10-game winning streak, having most recently defeated UC Merced, 65-54, for the Cal Pac tournament title on Feb. 27. Three of their losses were against NCAA teams, including Division I foes Northern Arizona and Weber State. Deon Price was promoted to head coach on Dec. 15, 11 games into the season, after previously coaching at Antelope Valley High.
- They're similar to SOU in that they shoot a slightly worse than opponents at just under 40 percent from the field, but they dominate other facets of the game: Both teams rank top-four nationally in both turnover margin and offensive rebounds per game. SOU gets up an average of 21.1 more field-goal attempts than its opponents and the Pioneers get up an average of 27.3 extra shots.
- Two players average double-figure scoring: 5-foot-8 junior guard/forward Samantha Earl (14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals) and 5-10 sophomore forward Tylen Price (10.5 points, 5.1 rebounds). Ten Pioneers are averaging at least 10 minutes per game.