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Tim Hynds | Special to The Journal Gazette
Jenelle Wilson runs down a loose ball in front of Ashford’s Janell Anthony during the Cougars’ win Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa.

Top-ranked Cougars roll in 1st round

NAIA Division II tournament begins with 20-point victory

– Saint Francis proved too athletic and skilled to allow Ashford (Iowa)’s plan to slow the Cougars down to work in Wednesday’s NAIA Division II women’s tournament opening-round game.

The top-seeded and top-ranked Cougars came away with a 57-37 victory. Saint Francis (34-0) plays No. 4 seed Siena Heights (Mich.) (26-8), a 77-59 winner over Tennessee Wesleyan, at 11:15 a.m. Friday in the second round.

“They were trying to keep the score in the 30s and 40s and our kids played good enough defense and hit enough shots to move on,” Saint Francis coach Gary Andrews said. “Happy with our defense and know we can play a lot better, but hopefully we will have more good games.

“Give Ashford a lot of credit. Their coach did a good job and had a good game plan trying to slow it down and make it a low scoring game. Our kids did a good job of keeping their composure and found a way to win by 20.”

Ashford (12-21) was in no rush in the first half as the shot clock routinely worked its way to less than five seconds before a shot would go up. It worked as the Saints found themselves down just 20-15 with three minutes to go.

The Cougars got out to a 10-2 lead to open the game as the Saints did not record their first field goal until almost nine minutes in when Elizabeth Nardi hit a shot. Ashford started the game 1 of 12 from the floor.

“We told our kids if we can withstand the first punch in the face; ... we kind of regrouped and got it within four before they went on that run right before the half,” Ashford coach Kelly Kruger said. “I was proud of how our kids handled that and kept us in it.

“They are better than us, and I think trying to run with them it would have been a major blowout right away.”

Ashford pestered the Cougars with determined defense that kept it in the game until Brooke Ridley got to work from in close. Ridley had 12 first-half points and seven rebounds to give the Cougars the nine-point cushion at the break.

“There are teams that have already lost and going home so you just have to find a way to win. That is the big thing,” said Andrews, whose team shot 9 of 22 in the second half. “We got the lead early, and if we would have gotten behind early we maybe could have got a little nervous.”

Ashford opened the second half with a chance to cut into the lead with a pair of free throws but Madison Wagner missed both attempts. That seemed to be enough of a spark for Saint Francis to pull away.

“I think that tightened us up a little bit instead of being a little closer,” Kruger said. “Then they made that run and it got to be 15 right away. If only we could have made a few hoops earlier and kept it a little closer the first half.”

The Cougars went up 39-25 with just more than 10 minutes to go.

Skylarr Shurn led the Cougars with 17 points, and Ridley added 16 points and 10 rebounds. Jennelle Wilson had 10 points.

Ashford was led by Nardi’s 14 points.

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