FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Sweet to repeat, an appropos phrase describing the time of the year the day after Valentine’s Day as well at the second consecutive Crossroads League regular-season championship for NAIA No. 1-ranked University of Saint Francis after an 83-71 win over Marian University on Saturday afternoon.
USF improved to 28-0 overall, 16-0 in CL play, a USF record for consecutive conference wins to start a season. The Lady Cougars lead the CL by three games over second-place Huntington University with just two games to play. It’s the first time USF has won back-to-back conference titles since 1999-00, when USF won its fourth Mid-Central College Conference title consecutively.
“We’re happy about winning the conference, but we still have goals ahead of us,” USF senior Skylarr Shurn observed when asked about a post-game celebration.
The Lady Cougars have two games left in the regular season including a 7 p.m. tip-off at NAIA No. 21 HU on Wednesday.
“We can’t afford to play anything but our best,” Shurn said. “We needed overtime to win here (against HU), so I’m sure they will be geared up for the game.”
Fellow senior Jenelle Wilson led the USF offensive scoring a career-high 26 points, one of three Lady Cougars
scoring 20 or more points in the re-match with the Knights (13-14, 6-9 CL). Shurn scored 22 points and Brooke Ridley scored 20, half of her 10th double-double this season that included a career-high 19 rebounds. Ridley’s rebound total tied for the CL single-game high this season. Her 10 double-doubles leads the CL.
After MU closed to within 31-29 with 4:27 to play in the first half, USF outscored the Knights 10-4 in the time remaining to lead 41-33 at halftime. Ridley had her double-double locked up with 13 points and 13 rebounds in the first half. Wilson scored 14 of her 26 in the first half.
USF vaulted to a 17-point lead with 16:01 to play in the game by outscoring MU 8-0 to start the final 20 minutes capped by a Wilson 3-pointer. The Lady Cougars stretched the advantage to 22 (62-40) on a Bri Rinehart 3-pointer with 10:08 to play. The Knights employed a full-court zone press and slashed the deficit to 69-60 with 4:42 to play on two Sarah Brewer free throws, but MU got no closer. Shurn dashed to a layup in the paint restoring the USF double digit lead, 71-60, with 4:22 to play and the Lady Cougars led by as many as 16 points twice in the time remaining.
“Winning this conference in back-to-back years is quite an accomplishment,” USF Head Coach Gary Andrews stated. “Brooke was awesome rebounding today, she played really well. Not a bad day. Brooke, Skyler and Jenelle have played really well this year and today was no exception. We made some mistakes against MU’s press, but we kept our composure and got some scores to finish business.”
There’s not much chance to celebrate in the CL.
“We’ve got another tough one on Wednesday,” Andrews said. “Huntington is playing well.”
Notes: The win secured USF’s 8th Regular-season conference title for USF . . . it is the 4th conference title under head coach Gary Andrews . . .16-0 is a USF record for most conf. wins without a loss . . . the 16 wins ties the USF record for most conf. wins in a season set in 2012-13 (16-2) . . .USF has won 16 consec. games since obtaining the #1 ranking . . . Lady Cougars are 54-6 as #1 (19 #1 rankings) . . . USF has won 29 consec. games at Hutzell Athletic Center . . . USF has won 7 consec. games as #1 at HAC. . . as #1, USF is 28-3 at HAC, 23-2 away, 4-1 in neutral court games. . . Ridley posted tm-leading AND CL-leading 10th dbl-dbl — career high 19 rebounds and ties for single-gm rebounds high in CL this season. . . Ridley’s 13th career dbl-dbl. . . Jenelle Wilson career high 26 pts. . . #1 USF at #21 Huntington Wed. 2/19/14, 7 p.m