Shawnee State's women's basketball team takes the floor for the NAIA Division II National Championship game at 9 p.m. (10 p.m. EST) tonight.
In the national championship game for the first time since 1999, the Bears will play under the bright lights of CBS College Sports' television broadcast and face a team with two national titles in the last nine years.
Northwestern (Iowa) came into the final four as the only No. 1-seed to survive its quadrant of the bracket, and defeated Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Briar Cliff 91-83 in Monday's late national semifinal. The Red Raiders (30-5) were stellar from beyond the arc, shooting 10-for-17, and out-rebounded Briar Cliff 43-30 in the victory.
The Bears will need to come out of the gate strong against Northwestern. Indiana Wesleyan was able to put the Bears down 10 points in the second half, but they don't have the same caliber of scorers that Red Raiders present.
One of just three offenses that averages more points than the Bears, Northwestern boasts four double-digit scorers. Becca Hurley is peaking at the right time. The junior guard, who averaged 16.2 points per game this season scored 28 poitns in Northwestern's national semifinal victory, including 5 of 8 3-pointers finding the bottom of the net.
While Northwestern's victory went as expected, SSU needed to grind out its victory to earn a spot in the season finale. The Bears look to prevent the GPAC from winning its ninth national title since the conference came into existence a decade ago. Northwestern has two of those titles (2001 and 2008) and will tie fellow GPAC schools Hastings and Morningside for the all-time lead with a win tonight.
Shawnee State has yet to put together a full 40 minutes of its best basketball in this tournament, but has done what is necessary to survive and advance. Abby Ballman, Jill Cropper, Mallory Albers, Whitney Williams and Alison Meyer have each played a ton of minutes this week and will likely each see many more tonight in the biggest game of their careers.
The Bears, just 25 hours after Catrice Mitchell's late bucket sent them to the national final mus tpull together and play their best game of the season on its biggest stage in front of a hostile crowd, likely to be full of GPAC fans.
Stay with the Portsmouth Daily Times in the coming days for full coverage and recaps of the national championship and for videos from gameday and the team's return home.