When the Friends women’s basketball team drew College of the Ozarks in the first round of the NAIA Division II tournament, coach RaeAnne Boothe looked forward to a chance for revenge.
Boothe thinks Friends has evolved since College of the Ozarks, which finished the season ranked fifth in the nation, won 79-71 on its home court over Friends on Nov. 14.
Not only has the team improved, but Friends added a pair of semester transfers in posts Kaylea Britton and Shatavia Smith that didn’t play in the first game. They will play a large role this time around, as the rematch will take place at 8:45 p.m. Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa.
“I think it could be the difference,” Boothe said. “I think if we would have had them the first game, you never know what could have happened, but I think we definitely would have had a better opportunity to beat them.”
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The recipe for success won’t change this week for Friends, as Boothe has hammered it home in the past month that her team has to play outstanding defense and win the rebounding battle to survive in March.
In the first meeting, College of the Ozarks shot 44 percent, scored 79 points, and out-rebounded Friends by 20. The additions of Britton and Smith should help close that gap, but Boothe says there is no doubt Friends must be better this time around.
“I think our athleticism is going to really help us,” Boothe said. “We’ve really made it our point of emphasis to play great defense and kill teams on the boards and that’s what we’re going to stick with this week.”
The game will be a chess match of sorts between a team that is more comfortable operating in the half-court (College of the Ozarks) and one that prefers to play a more free-flowing game (Friends).
Although College of the Ozarks averages more points, Friends believes it will have the advantage if it can keep the tempo of the game at a high pace.
“I think it’s easier to speed a team up than it is to slow somebody down,” Boothe said. “We’re going to push the pace, but we’ve still got to stay under control. They’re (number five) for a reason, though. We have the pieces to beat them, but we’re going to have to play a great game.”
Both teams will have a wealth of experience, as College of the Ozarks is playing in its 15th straight national tournament and Friends is back again for the fourth time in Boothe’s five seasons.
But missing out on qualifying last season has played a large motivational role on this season’s team, Boothe said.
“We want to be here every single year, so we have some hungry individuals who missed out on that last season,” Boothe said. “This is a reward being here and it takes a lot of hard work, but I don’t think anyone is satisfied with just being here. I think we have the experience and the talent to do something big here.”