BR-9 California (PA) vs. BR-1 Emporia State
Wednesday’s first Final Four matchup is exactly the one we thought we would see. These are the two teams we predicted would get to this point when the tourney began.
Emporia State came into the tournament as our top-ranked squad, but not the top seed in their region — that honor belonged to their rivals at BR-2 Fort Hays State.
The Hornets and Tigers played four times this year. Fort Hays State took both of their meetings in the regular season, finished with a 18-1 MIAA record, and went into the conference tournament as the number one seed. Emporia State finished 15-4 in-conference and earned the 2-seed. The two teams met for the third time in the MIAA title game, where the Hornets finally got the better of the Tigers and won the lowest-scoring game either team had played all season, 49-46.
Even after the Hornets won the MIAA title, the Tigers were awarded the number one seed in the Central Region of the NCAA D2 Tournament. You can see where this is going.
Just a week after the two squads met to settle the MIAA championship, they met again to decide which school would represent the Central Region in the Elite Eight, and once again, the Lady Hornets came out on top.
It was the back-and-forth battle one might expect from these two powerhouses — our two top-ranked squads. Fort Hays State took an early nine-point lead before an 11-0 Emporia State run from 12:29 to 8:32 in the first half put the Hornets up two. The lead went back and forth until halftime, after which point Emporia State took over. They opened up a 10-point lead in the first six minutes of the second half and never looked back.
Kelly Moten was outstanding for the Hornets in that one, amassing 20 points on 9-16 from the floor to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds. It wasn’t Moten’s first time taming the Tigers — she put up a double double in the MIAA championship with 16 points and 12 rebounds, hit the go-ahead layup with 31 seconds left, and nailed two free throws with seven seconds left to ice it.
Kathryn Flott also registered a double double in Emporia State’s regional finals win with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
No other team in the tournament so far has proven a challenge for the Hornets. Their other three games were all decided by at least twelve points each.
This Emporia State team is a defensive juggernaut that ranks third in the country in scoring defense (54.7 ppg) and first in opponent field goal percentage (33.0). They rank 65th in scoring offense, but when you stop your opponents like the Hornets, you don’t need to score all that much to win.
The team they’ll face Wednesday is a little more balanced.
BR-9 California (PA) ranks 42nd and 40th in scoring offense and scoring defense at 73.3 points scored and 60 points allowed per game. They finished the regular season 23-4, in second place in the PSAC West, and then tore through the PSAC Tournament to take the conference title and its automatic bid. The Vulcans are currently riding an eight-game winning streak that started before their conference tournament, and have won each of their last two games in overtime.
It’s been a little tighter for the Vulcans than it has for the Hornets in the tourney so far — they needed an extra frame to decide both their Sweet 16 matchup with Bloomsburg and their Elite Eight tilt against Nova Southeastern.
Sophomore guard Miki Glenn was the hero in the Vulcans’ Sweet 16 win after she played every minute, led the team with 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists, and scored the final bucket with 13 seconds left in overtime to seal the win. Also impressive were senior guard Kaitlynn Fratz (20 points, three rebounds) and senior guard/forward Irina Kukolj (17 points, six rebounds).
Fratz, Glenn, and Kukolj were at it again against Nova Southeastern in the Elite Eight, each scoring 14 or more points, but it was senior guard/forward Emma Mahady who really stole the show. She put up 24 points (two shy of her season-best) and stole the ball from Nova Southeastern’s Monaye Merritt with six seconds left in overtime to guarantee the win.
Glenn and Mahady will be two Vulcans to really keep an eye on in this one. The pair was recently named honorable mention Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-Americans, and Glenn was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Atlantic Regional Tournament after she averaged 20.7 points, 4.7 boards, and 4.0 assists to help carry her team to Sioux Falls. She’s elevated her game in a new level in the postseason.
This Final Four showdown hinges on whether or not the Vulcans can overcome the impressive defense of the BR-1 Hornets. If things play out like we expect them to (and they pretty much have so far) look for Emporia State to find a way to limit Cal’s stars and come out with a win.
The game will take place at the Samford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota tomorrow (Wednesday, March 25) at 7:00 PM ET. You can watch it on NCAA Live.