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Cougars advance to NAIA quarters

Shurn, Ridley lead St. Francis blowout

– A 32-10 run on both sides of the halftime break propelled top-ranked Saint Francis to an 83-59 victory over Siena Heights in second-round action of the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national championship at the Tyson Events Center on Friday.

Saint Francis (35-0) faces Southwestern College of Winfield, Kan., in an Elite Eight showdown at 2 p.m. today. The Cougars are trying to avenge a loss in last year’s quarterfinal round, an 87-77 setback to Northwestern College of Iowa.

Leading 27-24 with five minutes remaining in the first half, the Cougars looked to guards Brooke Ridley and Skylarr Shurn to break the game open. The pair combined to make 19 trips to the free throw line in the first half alone, contributing to a 12-point halftime lead at 40-28.

Coach Gary Andrews’ message at the break? Do more of the same.

“Coach told me at halftime to keep attacking, keep attacking,” said Shurn, a 5-foot-7 senior from Kokomo. “That’s how we were going to extend the lead.”

The Crossroads League champion Cougars did just that, using ball screens and ball movement to open up paths to the lane.

“We had only 10 turnovers and scored 83 points against a very good defensive team,” Andrews said. “We maybe started a little slowly, but then Brooke got us going.”

Ridley, a sophomore from Bishop Luers, battled for 14 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds to complement a 21-point effort.

Shurn led all scorers with 27 points, including a 15-of-17 performance at the free throw line, a category Saint Francis dominated with a 30-8 advantage.

“Sky is such a nice, quiet kid, we really have to keep on her about using her talents to attack,” Andrews said. “We really look to her, Jennelle (Wilson) and Brooke to make plays.”

A 3-pointer by Wilson midway through the second half completed the scoring run and gave Saint Francis a commanding 25-point cushion, at 59-34. Wilson, the third guard in this attack, made the only three 3s for the Cougars, part of her 16-point outing.

Siena Heights, which recorded its first victory ever Wednesday in the national tournament, struggled from the floor, connecting on just three of 21 3-point shots and 24 of 71 total field goal attempts.

The Saints did get a 20-point, 5-assist effort from senior point guard Grace Howrigon, who finished the season with 214 assists while averaging 13 points per game.

“We went in at half down 12 and started the second half with the ball but missed a shot and they scored right away,” Saints coach Sue Syljebeck said. “We wanted to cut into the lead right there but didn’t.”

Saint Francis won an earlier meeting between the schools, 76-56 at Siena Heights on Dec. 1.

“Shurn is a great player, we had a hard time stopping her,” Syljebeck said. “And they did a good job of holding (Sierra) Calhoun and (Morgan) Warfield, two of our all-conference players.”

Calhoun had three points, while Warfield didn’t score. The two came into the game averaging 24 points between them.

Alexxis Knannlein, a junior forward, paced the Saints with 10 rebounds while adding 12 points for a double-double.