Buzzer beaters, blowouts, upsets, injuries and Cinderella stories — all of it has led to this: The NCAA Division 2 Women’s Basketball Championship. Nothing else that has happened over the past two weeks matters when the two remaining teams take the floor for the title. Only one will walk away with the Chip on Thursday at 8 p.m. Here’s a look at the two teams that are left standing out of the original field of 64 that entered the tournament:
BR-9 California (PA)
BR-9 California (PA) can’t be stopped. The Vulcans knocked off BR-1 Emporia State in the semifinals on Wednesday to advance to the title game, which they last won in 2004.
Over the course of the season, California has played in honor of Shanice Clark, a 21-year-old senior basketball player at the school who was found dead in her apartment in mid-January. She chocked on a piece of gum in her sleep.
Clark’s memory has propelled the team to heights that many thought were unimaginable just a few short months ago.
In the Final Four, Emporia held an early lead, but California rallied to take over 26-25 late in the first half. The Hornets retook the lead and headed into the half up 31-30.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, but it was California that pulled ahead 42-40 with 13 minutes remaining in the game. The Vulcans stretched that lead to 48-43 with 3:47 left and held on to pull out a 51-46 victory in a low-scoring game between two defensive-minded teams.
Miki Glenn continues to impress on the hardwood, picking up 12 points in the winning effort against Emporia. Glenn averaged 16.2 points per game entering the contest and currently has 165 rebounds, 132 assists and 92 steals, making her a dominating force night-in and night-out.
Glenn is one of four players on the roster to average double digit point totals this season as Kaitlynn Fratz is pulling 14.4, Irina Kukolj has 10.2 and Emma Mahady has 14.1.
In the Final Four matchup, Fratz scored 14 points while Kukolj had 13 points and 11 boards.
Emporia’s Kelly Moten scored 17 points and had nine rebounds while Merissa Wuick picked up 11 points and eight rebounds.
The victory snapped the Hornets’ 11-game winning streak and stretched the Vulcans’ streak to nine in a row. To get to the title game, California topped Virginia State 86-75, West Liberty 69-64, Bloomsburg 72-69 and Nova Southeastern 84-79.
They are averaging 73.6 points per game and have held their opponents to 60.5 per game.
At 31-4, California is a team to be reckoned with at this point in the season. They have momentum on their side and are playing with the memory of a fallen teammate close to their heart.
BR-38 Cal Baptist
If you look solely at rankings, BR-38 Cal Baptist doesn’t figure to be an intimidating opponent. Check out what they’ve done to their foes in the tournament so far, though, and you might want to reconsider your assumption about the Lancers.
CBU has posted some of the biggest blowouts of the tourney thus far. In the opening round, they topped Hawaii Pacific by a modest margin of 77-69. In the second round, they turned up the offense, blasting Point Loma 73-46 and followed that performance up by crushing Cal Poly Pomona 81-58.
New Haven was supposed to be a big test, but the Lancers drove through for an 86-77 victory. Then there was BR-8 Limestone — a defensive powerhouse that averages 20 turnovers per game and held a nation-long 32-game win streak heading into the Final Four matchup.
The Lancers exploded out of the gate against Limestone, picking up a 14-7 lead early on. That margin grew to 34-23 and then 42-27 to close out the first half of play.
Cal Baptist is led by Darsha Burnside, who is an absolute monster near the rim, averaging 14.2 points per game and and 12.7 rebounds per game while blocking 109 shots this season.
She isn’t the only one that can put points on the scoreboard, either. There’s Courtney Nelson averaging 15.3 points per game, followed by Cassidy Mihalko (15.1) and Kamille Diaz (13.4). The core four is as dominant a group as there is in the country — at any level.
Over the course of the season, Cal Baptist has averaged 73.6 points per game and has limited opponents to 60 per game. The team heads into the title game on a five-game winning streak and carries a 29-6 record into the fray. It’s the first time the women’s team has ever made it to the championship game.