SEWARD, Neb. – The regular season has wrapped up as Concordia University Women’s Basketball and the rest of the GPAC now shifts focus to the conference tournament. As the No. 6 seed, the Bulldogs will be at third-seeded Dakota Wesleyan on Wednesday. Head Coach Drew Olson’s squad will be right back at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D., where it dropped a 71-67 decision this past Saturday. Concordia went 16-12 overall (13-9 GPAC) during the 2021-22 regular season.
Wednesday, Feb. 23 at Dakota Wesleyan (23-7, 15-7 GPAC), 7 p.m.
--Admission: $10 for adults/senior citizens, $3 for K-12; only those with NAIA passes and GPAC student ID’s will be admitted free of charge.
By the numbers
· No matter the results this week, the Bulldogs have put themselves in good position for an at-large berth to the national tournament. The overall record is somewhat misleading in that Concordia has played the NAIA’s fourth most challenging schedule (according to the NAIA’s official calculations). The Bulldogs landed at No. 6 in the most recent North/Central ARC rankings and sport the No. 36 ranking in the official NAIA RPI. Using the RPI as a guide, Concordia owns wins over No. 7 Wayland Baptist (Texas), No. 22 Northwestern, No. 40 Briar Cliff, No. 50 Dakota Wesleyan and No. 52 Dakota State University (S.D.).
· Barring upsets in the conference tournament, the Bulldogs played their final home game of 2021-22 when they hosted Briar Cliff on Feb. 16. Concordia raced out to a 24-6 lead at the close of the first quarter before the final 30 minutes became more of a defensive slog. Incredibly, the Bulldogs limited the Chargers to 13 made baskets for the entire game and won, 62-43. The top scorers for Concordia were Taysha Rushton (21), Taylor Farrell (11) and Sadie Powell (nine). Powell also added 12 rebounds and Rylee Pauli hauled in 10 boards. The victory was an important one in terms of remaining above Briar Cliff in the ARC rankings.
· Three days later, the Bulldogs did not start out nearly as well and found themselves in a 15-point hole early in the second quarter at the Corn Palace. Concordia rallied and eventually took the lead (65-64) on Rushton’s banked 3-pointer with 3:10 left in the game. However, a series of empty offensive possessions and Dakota Wesleyan’s 7-for-8 foul shooting down the stretch made the difference. The Bulldogs were defeated despite shooting a higher percentage (39.1 to 36.8) and being plus-eight in turnovers. Pauli equaled a career high with 20 points (to go with eight rebounds and three steals) and Rushton (19) and Powell (12) reached double figures in scoring. Concordia was done in by its 3-for-20 performance from beyond the arc.
· With the Bulldogs making more liberal use of the press in recent games, the turnover counts have gone up for Concordia opponents. Over the past four outings, the Bulldogs have forced respective turnover totals of 28, 23, 22 and 19 for an average of 23.0 per game. On the season as a whole, Concordia foes have averaged 18.1 turnovers per game. Contrary to previous seasons, the Bulldogs rank towards the middle of the pack in the GPAC in steals per game at 7.5. Individually, Pauli and Mackenzie Toomey pace the team with averages of 1.8 thefts per contest (seventh in the GPAC).
· Rushton should have solidified another First Team All-GPAC selection with the way she closed the regular season. Over the final eight games of the regular season, Rushton averaged 22.4 points per game while shooting 44.9 percent (66-for-147) from the floor and 39.7 percent (29-for-73) from 3-point range. The Midland, Texas, native currently ranks third among GPAC players in scoring average at 18.1. The top two are Doane’s Mak Hatcliff (24.2) and Dordt’s Ashtyn Veerbeek (18.7). With 143 career 3-point field goals, Rushton already ranks No. 12 in program history in that category. She’s pushed her career point total to 934.
· GPAC tournament success has been the norm during Olson’s tenure. Concordia has appeared in each of the past five GPAC tournament title games and has captured conference postseason championships, under Olson, in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. A year ago, the Bulldogs toppled Dakota Wesleyan (quarterfinals) and Northwestern (semifinals) at home before falling in a nail-biter of a championship game, 67-65, at Morningside. Concordia and Dakota Wesleyan have met frequently in the GPAC tournament, including the championship games in 2017, 2018 and 2019 (all won by the Bulldogs). Prior to last season’s loss at Morningside, the program had strung together 14-straight GPAC tournament wins.
Surely both coaches will make adjustments, but there shouldn’t be a whole lot of surprises for either team considering the two rivals just met over the weekend. Head Coach Jason Christensen’s squad should also be a national tournament qualifier. The Tigers closed the regular season strong, winning six of their final seven (only loss coming against Morningside). As mentioned in this space last week, DWU ranks as perhaps the GPAC’s top defensive team. Within conference games, the Tigers led the GPAC in scoring defense (60.4) while ranking second in the conference in field goal percentage defense (.378). DWU’s strong frontcourt is led by the likes of Matti Reiner (13.3 ppg / 5.7 rpg) and Jada Campbell (11.7 ppg / 5.8 rpg). The two sides split their regular season meetings with Concordia winning 90-58 in Seward and the Tigers triumphing 71-67 in Mitchell.
GPAC tournament pairings
Quarterfinals – Wednesday, Feb. 23
(8) Hastings at (1) Morningside, 6 p.m.
(5) Briar Cliff at (4) Northwestern, 6 p.m.
(6) Concordia at (3) Dakota Wesleyan, 7 p.m.
(7) Jamestown at (2) Dordt, 6 p.m.
Semifinals – Saturday, Feb. 26
1/8 winner vs. 4/5 winner, time TBA
2/7 winner vs. 3/6 winner, time TBA
Championship – Tuesday, March 1
Highest seed hosts, time TBA