SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Seawolves may have been crowned the Women’s Division II West Regional Champions, but they were far from satisfied. UAA carried their momentum to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to square off against the Francis Marion University Patriots in the Elite 8 Tournament for the first ever meeting between the two schools.
The Lady Seawolves wore down the Pats and cruised to a 79-55 victory at the Sanford Pentagon to advance to their third Final Four appearance in program’s history and their first under head coach Ryan McCarthy.
“Survive and advance.” said McCarthy, “That is what we are trying to do every time and compete like its our last game.”
Senior Megan Mullings’ 11 points, nine rebounds, and three rejections anchored the well-balanced performance by the Green and Gold. Mullings broke Eva Robinson’s 35 year-old school record of most field goals made in a season with 232 and counting. Jessica Madison supplied a team-high 15 points, while Alysha Devine, who was tabbed the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional tournament, added 12 of her own.
Neither team could find their stroke early, but UAA’s 11 bench points in the opening quarter put the Seawolves on top 22-14 after the first ten minutes.
“We call ourselves (the bench) ‘the reinforcements’. We do whatever we need to do to have our sisters’ back and that is the way we look at it.” said guard Christina Davis.
Madison dropped nine straight points that ignited a 12-0 scoring spree by the Seawolves at the start of the second quarter, extending their lead to 18. However, Francis Marion had plenty of life left in them and were not going to surrender. A three-pointer by the team’s regular season scoring leader Alaysia Watts triggered a 10-0 run by the Patriots that cut the lead back down to single digits.
FMU head coach Jeri Porter was proud of her team’s resilience against the No. 4 Seawolves.
“We are disappointed with the result of tonight’s game, but it would be really, really difficult for me to be disappointed in my basketball team.” said Porter.
Keeping Francis Marion afloat for much of the contest was sophomore Briana Burgins, who scored 25 of the teams first 40 points. At that stage in the game, the next highest scorer for the Pats had just six.
“Coached talked to us earlier when we first got here, she was like ‘There is magic in March.” said Burgins, the Southeast Region Most Outstanding Player, “I don’t know if I got a little extra magic (laughs) but I am glad I could be a part of this team.”
UAA continued to pressure Francis Marion in their half court offense during the third quarter, making it difficult for the Patriots to get any rhythm. Burgins went 5-9 from the floor and scored 13 of her career high 29 points in the period, while her teammates on the other hand, shot 1-12 and scored a measly 2 points.
“We did our best to stop her but she gave us the business for 29” said McCarthy about Burgin’s phenomenal performance.
The Seawolves uptempo pace was no match for Francis Marion, as the Pats appeared drained and flustered as the game progressed. Multiple air balls in the latter half of the game proved FMU did not quite have the legs to withstand the Seawolves’ charge.
Patriots’ senior Camille Dash did a little bit of everything for her club, tallying eight points, five assists, six rebounds, and swiped four steals. As for the team representing the Last Frontier, Keiahnna Engel was a spark off the pine, chipping in nine points while bringing energy and active hands on the defensive side.
Francis Marion was a seven seed (out of eight) heading into the NCAA Tournament. Winning three contests and competing in the Elite 8 game was far more than what most projected the Patriots would accomplish. Unfortunately, like with most “Cinderella” teams, their impressive run expired.
“I told these girls when we were outside, at some point, you are going to wake up one morning and realize what an amazing season you had.” said the first year head coach of the Patriots.
As a very young team, losing just two seniors and bearing seven freshmen on the roster, Francis Marion intends to learn from the Seawolves and return to the tournament next season.
“Hats off to Anchorage…what I told my team in the locker room is that we got an opportunity to see what the next level looks like.” said Porter.
Alaska Anchorage will face the Grand Valley State Lakers in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, or more widely recognized as the Final Four. McCarthy and his squad are ready to take on the challenge, but understand that it is going to be an entirely new matchup.
“It is kind of that Midwest style…We are going to have to be really disciplined and it is going to be a different ball game than playing someone like Francis Marion.” said McCarthy, who was recently named the West Region Coach of the Year for the second straight season.
The Seawolves have already set a school record for most wins in a season, but are hungry for more. Despite being just one victory away from the chance to hoist the National Title trophy, the Seawolves will take it one game at a time and not look ahead to potential championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 4.
“We are really really proud of the work that we did today, but we know that we have a huge one tomorrow, so we don’t let ourselves get too hyped, just enjoy this great win.” said senior leader Megan Mullings.
All good things must come to an end, and a bundle of seniors on UAA’s roster will have their collegiate days come to a close soon as they can play just two more games at the most.
“For me personally, just the opportunity to coach these seven players as they head out in their careers is an honor.” said McCarthy. “Four years ago I was standing in the intramural gym asking three players that have never played college basketball to be on the team so we could practice five on five. We have come a long way and I am really proud of them.”
Regardless of what may happen on Wednesday March 23 against Grand Valley State, the Seawolves Women’s basketball will certainly have nothing to hang their heads about.