WILBERFORCE — The bar has been raised and the records are falling for Wilberforce University’s women’s basketball program. While enjoying the school’s winningest season in history, the Bulldogs (19-11) are set to record another first — they’re the first Wilberforce women’s basketball team to play in the NAIA Division II women’s national championship tournament two years in a row.
Wilberforce will open NAIA tournament first-round play on Wednesday morning, March 11 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux Falls, Iowa. And it’s guaranteed that the Bulldogs will win.
The Wilberforce Bulldogs, seeded eighth in the tournament’s Naismith Bracket this season, will take on the Concordia Bulldogs again in the opening round of the 2019-2020 tournament. Concordia (31-2) is the NAIA’s Division II regular season poll champion, and they’re also the 2020 NAIA’s tournament’s top overall seed.
In the team’s first-ever trip to the NAIA Division II women’s national championship tournament last season, Wilberforce lost 100-62 in the opening round to No. 1 overall seed and eventual NAIA D-II tournament champion Concordia (Neb.) University.
Concordia, out of Seward, Nebraska, won the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) championship for the fourth year in a row, last weekend.
Competing in the Association of Independent Institutions (AII) tournament, Wilberforce defeated Washington Adventist University (Maryland) in the tournament consolation game, 75-41, to finish third in the AII postseason tournament for the second year in a row.
While there’s many similarities between this year and last, third-year Wilberforce coach Derek Williams says his team expects to have a better showing this time around.
“Last time was the first time for us going there, and a lot of these kids they were amazed by the experience. For a lot of them, their eyes were just wide open. It was the first time they’d ever played in a venue of that size,” Williams said. The Tyson Events Center has a capacity of more than 6,800. “Now, going back we know what it takes. We know what to expect, and so we want to go out there and put forth our best foot.
“I think that’s the biggest difference. We’re beyond that first experience. … It’s like anything. The first time, you don’t know what to expect. But the second time, you know what to expect and you can make adjustments to do things differently.”
Wilberforce owns the 31st best overall record among 145 NAIA Division II basketball programs across the country. The Bulldogs are ranked within the top 40 in seven team statistical categories, including a team-best 14th overall in steals per game with a 12.280 average.
Nia McCormick leads Wilberforce in scoring with a 14.8 point per game average. McCormick is actually making her third trip to the NAIA’s Big Dance, having played three years ago when she was a student at Rio Grande (Ohio) College. LaTyrah Beasley is the Bulldogs’ rebound leader with a 7.13 rebounds per game average, and Malika Wildon leads the team in two categories: steals (46) and assists (49).
Despite the talent he has on his team, Williams says the Bulldogs will have to be at their very best to knock off the nation’s top NAIA Division II team.
“I just told the girls today in practice, this is a rematch,” he said. “They beat us pretty good last time, and so we’ve gotta take a little pride in going out there and changing the story this year. The keys for us to win are that we have to be perfect. We have to play a flawless game. We’re going to have to sit down and play some hard-nosed, tough defense, we have to keep our turnovers down, too.
“Concordia prides themselves in playing a really, really fast and aggressive basketball game, which oftentimes causes the opposing team to turn the ball over. We have to take care of the basketball. We were nervous and didn’t know what to expect last year. This time, we just need to go in, settle down and play our game.”
The Bulldogs’ first-round game is scheduled for an 11:15 a.m. start (Eastern Time) on Wednesday, March 11. Fans can purchase tickets at ev7.evenue.net. Live statistics or video (by subscription) will be available on the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics website at naia.org .