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SAGU up against red-hot Tennessee Twisters

WINONA LAKE, Indiana -- Thursday afternoon's quarterfinal meeting between Southwestern Assemblies of God University and King College will be a clash of contrasts. The two women's basketball teams, playing against each other for the first time ever, have a 4:00pm (CST) tipoff in the NCCAA National Tournament.

Grace College hosts the eight-team event, which will be played in the 2,000 seat Orthopaedic Capital Center in north-central Indiana.

SAGU, 21-12, drew the #1 seed, even after a shocking 73-63 upset loss to Southwestern Christian University at the Central Region. With the best record among the field, the Lady Lions received an at-large berth to play in their first National Christian College Athletic Association nationals.

They drew #8 seeded King College, from Bristol, Tennessee. KC is located in the far northeast corner of the Volunteer State, between Knoxville and Roanoke, Virginia.

LIVESTREAMING Webcast of all games is available

The game can be viewed by accessing the Grace College website at www.grace.edu. Click on Athletics on the top of the home page. In the left column, click on the following headings; Women's Sports, Basketball, NCAA Women's Division I National Tournament, then Video Streaming. Instructions await, including the availability to purchase individual game DVDs.

About the Twister Sisters

The Tornados may have the worst record, 13-16, at Winona Lake, but it is very deceiving. They began the year with a 2-12 pre-New Year's mark. Since then the Twister Sisters have rolled to 11 wins in 15 games.

Head Coach Michele Williams has established a winner at King, where the Lady Tornados are the Queens of the Court. In five full seasons they have produced 18-13, 21-12, 14-18, 18-13 and 13-16 records as an NCAA Division II program.

This year's squad is tall and balanced. Their defense has improved dramatically down the stretch, and allows only 62.6 points per game. They outrebound the enemy by a 37.8 to 35.9 count. They average 5.7 threes per game, though their accuracy beyond the arc is 32%. However, they knock down free throws to the tune of .747.

A bug-a-boo they struggle with is turnovers, making an average of 19.8, while forcing 19.9. Their offense nets an average of 64.7 ppg. They are very familiar with the NCCAA tournament, and won the national title three years in a row back in the early 1990's.

Players to Watch

The Tornados, who don the United States' patriotic colors, are led by Ashley Deans, a 5'10 senior forward, and 5'6 senior guard Derika Mooney. The pair was named to the All Mid-East Regional team by the NCCAA.

Deans averages 16.3 ppg and 6.2 rebounds per outing. Mooney scores at a 10.3 ppg clip, is second in boards at 6.0 rpg and is tops in assists with 3.7 per game. Brooke Johnson and Jessica Tharpe are guards who contribute 9.0 and 7.4 ppg. Kalen Collins (5'10 F) and Cheyenne Thornsberry (6'1 C) account for 5.7 and 5.3 points and 5.7 and 4.5 boards respectively.

When it comes to shooting beyond the arc, the Tornados have four shooting storms with over 20 treys apiece. Tharpe is the most lethal, hitting 45 triples (30%). Though she seldom drives, she is making 92% of her foul shots. Mooney had 29 trifectas, while Johnson (26) and Jana Gross (22) are frequent to let it fly.

About Southwestern

SAGU came out flat at the Central Regionals, and paid for it. They fell behind early and spent the game battling back. They drew to within 65-63, and then missed an open layup that would've tied the game with 45 seconds to play. The SWCU Lady Eagles salted away the upset win on the foul line.

The Lady Lions lost a heartbreaker in the Red River Athletic Conference tournament to Langston University, 58-53, in similar fashion. Team Lioness missed a tying free throw with a minute to play and blew their fourth layup in the closing four minutes to their nationally ranked rivals from Langston, who also hit foul shots to ice the game.

Back-to-back setbacks at the wire. No wonder they weren't okay in OK.

The Purple Pride has labored with a number of on-going injuries and health issues over the past two months. After a 10-game win streak gave them a 13-3 start (including 8-0 in the RRAC), they have toiled with damaged players to finish with an 8-9 mark.

Their primary rotation line-up has seen only one player remain healthy: Jirah Rodriguez (Georgetown, Tx / Georgetown HS), a freshman forward, led the team in scoring in Oklahoma City with 19 points, an indicator of her physical good fortune. Of late, Stephanie Hawkins (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS) has really come on.

The Lady Lions' "Far Trek"

Southwestern's fate will be largely determined by how well they bounce back after a week off. They also traveled further than any team in the field at 862 miles. They are easily the southern-most representative. Emmanuel College, from Franklin Springs, Georgia, drove 502 miles.

The Lady Lions have one of the nation's best defenses, surrendering points grudgingly at around 55ppg. Their motion offense is geared for half-court efficiency, the perfect complement to their zone defense.

SAGU averages 5.8 triples per game (#45 nationally) and their 35% accuracy ranks #16 in the country. The Lions make 39% of their shots overall while limiting the opposition to 36%, which rates #16. The team grabs fewer rebounds than they yield, 35.4 to 38.8. Their turnover ratio is #22 – committing 17 giveaways per contest while separating the opposition from the ball 20.2 times.

Who to Watch

Individually, Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian), a 5-foot-8 senior forward, leads the way with 16.5 ppg. Hawkins, a senior guard, buckets 11.5 ppg, while Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS), also a senior guard, nets 10 ppg.

Other leading point producers include Rodriguez (8.3), freshman center Sierra Hankins (Welch, Ok / Welch HS) (6.0), while junior forward Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster HS) and senior guard Rachel Harris (Joshua, Tx / Bethesda Christian) each register 5.0 ppg.

Bruner, though hobbled badly for over a month, finished the campaign as the Lions best rebounder, reeling in 7.0 per contest. Hankins (5.9), Jones (5.5) and Rodriguez (5.0) provide Team Purp with balance along the baseline. Jefferson, who snared 12 caroms in their last game, averages just under five boards.

The team is paced from the perimeter by five sharpshooters. Jones, the school's first NAIA All-American in 2010, has 76, where her 43% success rate is among the NAIA's best. Last year, fully healthy, she led the nation in three-point field goal shooting percentage at over 44%.

Harris has triggered 36 (40%), Hawkins 25 (31%), Rodriguez 23 (35%) and Jefferson 17 (26%).

March 17: Opening Round Pairings

The Lady Lions could advance with a solid showing against a much-better than their record King quintet. The winner of this game will face the victor between Grace College (16-15) and Roberts Wesleyan (19-11), who play on Thursday night. The host Lady Lancers are peaking. The RWU Lady Raiders are from Rochester, NY.

The other opening round games on Thursday include the defending champions from Bethel College (Mishawaka, Ind) and Mid-America Christian University (OKC, Ok). The #2 seeded Lady Pilots are 18-14, while the MACU Lady Evangels, the #7 seed, tote a 14-18 mark.

#3 Emmanuel College (17-14) plays #6 Trinity International (18-14) in the other duel. The Lady Lions of EC hail from Georgia, while the Trinity Lady Trojans are located in Deerfield, Illinois.

Each of the teams will play three games, insuring final placing for all eight.

Site for Sore Eyes

The university website is migrating through a molting phase, which should be complete in less than two weeks. The difference should be obvious and the athletic site will have added perks. During this process, news articles will continue. However, no photos or graphics will be allowed until the transformation is complete.

Once final, pictures will be uploaded on stories during the transition, which will remain available.

The DAILY DIARY of the Lady Lions trip, which is loaded with photos, will be viewable later. The Athletics section continues to draw more hits from readers than everywhere except for those accessing Lion e-mail. Thak you for your interest in "Hunting Lions."

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