NAIA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Opening Rounds | Santa Barbara, Calif.
5:30 p.m. Tuesday – (2) Westmont vs. (15) Antelope Valley (Round of 64)
7:30 p.m. Tuesday – (7) Southern Oregon vs. (10) Wayland Baptist (Round of 64)
7 p.m. Wednesday – Round of 32
Complete Bracket | Live Streams | Live Stats
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – The Southern Oregon women’s basketball team was well-prepared for the NAIA National Championships by a regular season in which the Raiders got looks at four of the top-12 teams in the country. The Wayland Baptist (Texas) Flying Queens, their Round of 64 opponent, have a recent track record that suggests they may not be far removed from that class.
SOU (23-7 overall), the No. 7 seed in the Naismith quadrant of the bracket, and WBU (21-10), the No. 10 seed, square off at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday inside Westmont University’s Murchison Gymnasium. The Flying Queens are a March staple, appearing in the tournament for the 10th consecutive season, and had won nine games in a row before falling in the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament title game – a streak that included upsets of three nationally-ranked opponents. Their All-American forward, Jenna Cooper-Jackson, will go head-to-head with SOU’s, Kami Walk, both playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
ABOUT WBU: Cooper-Jackson has a usage rate as high as they come for 6-foot forwards, and for good reason. The senior averages 19.9 points, can play inside and out with more than six 3-point attempts per game, and is leading the NAIA in assists for the second year in a row with an average of 6.3. She’s been especially prolific down the stretch, averaging 28.5 points on 52.8-percent shooting over her last four outings. The Raiders will get heavy doses of her and 5-11 sophomore forward Kaitlyn Edgemon, another All-SAC performer who scores from everywhere with an average of 18.4 points and 11 outings of 20 or more. No one else on the team scores more than 6.5 per game, but Cooper-Jackson and Edgemon have pushed the Flying Queens to the 36th-best offensive rating in the country at 100.3 points per 100 possessions. They’re also battle-tested, having gotten out of a conference that produced six national tournament qualifiers, and advanced to last year’s Round of 16.
IF THEY ADVANCE: The site host, No. 2 seed Westmont (Calif.) (23-3), plays Tuesday’s first game against No. 15 seed Antelope Valley (Calif.) (23-7). The winners will meet in the Round of 32 at 7 p.m. Wednesday for a spot at the 16-team final site, the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, where the remainder of the tournament is scheduled to play out March 13-18.
Westmont, the Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season champion, is two years removed from winning the national championship and was unbeaten until January. The Warriors peaked at No. 2 in the NAIA Top 25 and were No. 6 in the final coaches’ poll. They’re fifth in NAIA net rating, outscoring their opponents by 30.8 points per 100 possessions, and have a potent backcourt led by senior Stefanie Berberabe (15.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.2 steals), who totaled 14 points and five assists in Westmont’s 57-40 non-conference win over SOU on Nov. 12. Antelope Valley rolled through the California Pacific Conference with an 18-2 regular-season record and a tournament championship. The Pioneers’ senior guard, Chinna Fair, is the fourth-highest scorer in the NAIA at 22.7 points per game, but she was held to 7-of-17 shooting when SOU defeated them 65-56 on Nov. 10.
- The Raiders were the No. 10 seed when they upset No. 7 seed Georgetown (Ky.), 65-59, in last year’s Round of 64. They lost the next night to No. 2 seed and No. 7-ranked The Master’s (Calif.), which went on make the national quarterfinals. The appearance was SOU’s first in the tournament since the NAIA’s two basketball divisions merged into one in 2020-21. The Raiders are making their 14th all-time national postseason appearance – all since 1997 – and have gone 7-6 in first rounds. They made their deepest run in 2016, when they advanced to the NAIA Division II National Tournament championship game and lost to Marian (Ind.) under first-year coach Alex Carlson. He and the team’s current coach, Carlotta Kloppenburg-Pruitt, are the only ones in program history to lead the Raiders to the national tourney in each of their first two seasons.
- Last week, Brianna Phiakhamngon and Kami Walk were named to the All-Cascade Conference team and Kalei Iwami received honorable mention. Walk, a junior forward, landed the honor for the second straight season after finishing conference play sixth in points (14.2), fourth in rebounds (8.2), and top-15 in percentages from the field (43.1), 3-point range (33.7) and the free-throw line (75.7). She cemented her status down the stretch with seven double-doubles over the final month of the regular season and a season-high 26 points in the CCC Tournament semifinal round. Phiakhamngon carries averages of 12.7 points and 3.0 assists into the tournament, and Iwami – who has made the sixth-most 3-pointers in SOU history (162) – is averaging a career-high 9.4 points.
- The Raiders are 12-1 when they force at least 19 turnovers. They rank second among CCC teams in turnover margin (plus-3.7), forcing 18.6 per game. They’re also 10-1 when they hold opponents to 37 percent or worse from the field, and giving up a 38.9-percent clip on the season. Their defensive rating of 80.4 points allowed per 100 possessions is the 25th-best in the NAIA.
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