NEW ORLEANS — Two defining moments this season helped SUNO and Xavier qualify for the opening round of the NAIA Division I women’s basketball national championship.
Third-seeded Xavier (24-5) will play Faulkner (25-6), a sixth seed, at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, followed by top-seeded Lubbock Christian facing eighth-seeded SUNO. Both games are at the Frankfort Convention Center in Frankfort, Ky.
To get to the NAIA tournament, it took an ankle that refused to be sidelined and a conference champion with hopes that the second time against a familiar foe proves to be the charm.
April “Dee Dee” Perry sprained her right ankle during the final five minutes of SUNO’s appearance earlier this month in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament championship.
Teammates carried Perry to the bench. SUNO coach Elston King called timeout.
King remembered putting his head down, wondering what adjustments he was going to make against Tougaloo College, now that his all-conference point guard was sidelined. The score was tied.
Then King looked up. He saw Perry checking in at the scorer’s table. But you can’t run, King told her.
“Coach ... we’re not losing this,” Perry said, moments before she put the finishing touches on a 28-point performance, enough to give SUNO a 74-71 win and an automatic berth to the NAIA tournament, the school’s first appearance since 2000.
“I knew my team needed me,” Perry said. “I had to suck it up, play through it.”
Perry is averaging 22.2 points per game.
Thursday’s opponent, Lubbock Christian, is led by the scoring duo of center Kelsey Canavan (13.1 ppg, 7.1 rebounds) and forward Emily Atkins (13 ppg).
Xavier has enjoyed more success in recent seasons. The Gold Rush are ranked 12th in the latest NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 poll and have qualified for nationals four consecutive seasons.
But Xavier, winners of the past three GCAC regular-season championships, lost 64-52 to Fisk in the opening round of the GCAC Tournament. The Gold Rush earned an at-large bid to the NAIA tournament.
SiMon Franklin, who prepped at Baton Rouge’s St. Joseph’s Academy, leads Xavier in scoring with 10.4 points per game. Whitney Gaston-Loyd (9.2 ppg) ranks second.
In December, Franklin scored 25 points during a 66-64 loss to Faulkner at the at Coaches vs. Cancer Classic Tournament. Brittney Carter and Christina Hayes led Faulkner with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
Faulkner is making its first appearance in the NAIA tournament.
“We can’t count on them doing the same things they did before,” Franklin said. “We have to be ready for anything.”