This is the whole point for Southwestern women’s basketball coach Dave Denly. To get here, to get to today.
To be on the biggest stage the KCAC has to offer.
And, in this case, to have a chance to do something he’s never done before.
“We want to consistenly contend, we want to consistently have a shot at this,” said Denly, in his 14th season. “And our players, they expect to be in these games.”
Denly and the Moundbuilders face Sterling tonight in the KCAC women’s title game with an automatic berth to the NAIA Division II Tournament on the line — Friends took the league’s other automatic berth thanks to its regular-season title. Southwestern has been to the national tournament three other times under Denly — in 2004, 2008 and 2011. But never in back-to-back seasons.
“It’s something we’ve never done before, so that in itself gives us a chance to do sometthing special,” Denly said. “Our kids have been competitive all year ... offensively we’ve done some really good things. On defense, we’ve gotten better all year.”
Southwestern, which has won both of its meetings with Sterling this season, is led by senior guard Brett Bates, the KCAC player of the year.
Bates, who played for her mother, Tammy, at Hobart (Okla.) High School, spent her first two years of college at Oklahoma City University, the No. 1 team in NAIA Division I. She hasn’t looked back since transferring to Southwestern.
Bates, a 5-foot-6 guard, is second in the KCAC in scoring at 17.7 points per game and is second in the nation in free-throw shooting at 86.3 percent. Six-foot sophomore Zefiryn Bryan has held down the post for the Moundbuilders with 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game on her way to All-KCAC honors.
“These two years at Southwestern have been the best of my life,” Bates said. “I grew up around basketball, so it means a lot to me to have made it to this point but we don’t want to to stop here. We want to push it as hard as we can and leave it all on the court.
“We don’t want to hold anything back.”
Denly was effusive in his praise of Bates.
“She is a tremendous basketball player and a tremendous person,” Denly said. “She has great character and great work ethic … just a joy to coach.”
Sterling is led by All-KCAC forward Megan Patrick (14.9 points, 5.9 rebounds), who posted double-doubles in both losses to Southwestern.
KCAC men’s title game — McPherson takes on Ottawa in the men’s title game, with the Bulldogs having locked up an automatic bid to the NAIA Division II Tournament thanks to a regular-season title. McPherson, ranked No. 5 in the latests NAIA Division II poll, made it to the Elite Eight at last year’s national tournament and is a legititmate national-title contender.
The Bulldogs are led by KCAC player of the year Aaron Frazier, a 6-foot guard who leads the KCAC in scoring (17.3 points) and steals (1.9 per game).