KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Carroll College men’s basketball team is pretty unfamiliar playing in the NAIA Fab Four.
It’s been 14 years since its last appearance.
But at least it will face a familiar foe.
When the Saints step onto the court of the Municipal Auditorium Monday at 7 p.m. for the school’s second National Semifinal appearance, they will look across at Frontier Conference rival Lewis-Clark State.
“It’s a very unique situation,” Carroll coach Kurt Paulson said following the team’s practice on Sunday. “Obviously, when the bracket got released, you aren’t thinking of the fourth-round game. You don’t even fathom that it was happening until you look at your next opponent.”
At least the scouting will be minimal.
This will be the fifth time the two teams play each other this season. They met three times during the regular season, and then a fourth time earlier this month in the Frontier Conference Tournament championship, with Lewis-Clark State prevailing.
Lewis-Clark State coach Austin Johnson joked that this was like the NBA, so a best of seven series only makes sense.
“Don’t forget we have also played each other in three different time zones,” Johnson said.
But it was all business Sunday as the Warriors refused to waste the program’s first opportunity in the Fab Four. They just want to compete for a championship and don’t care who they play.
“At the end of the day, the four best teams are still in this tournament,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. It would have been great if we were on opposite sides of the bracket. Regardless, it shows how good the basketball is in the Pacific Northwest.”
Now, the two teams really get to show who is the best.
Carroll and Lewis-Clark State each took two games in the season series. The Saints won the first two regular season games, first on Jan. 10 in Lewiston, Idaho, and then two weeks later in Helena.
After Johnson made some tweaks to his rotation, the Warriors came back to win 70-55 in Lewiston on Feb. 9 and then blew out Carroll on its home floor by 16 points during the Frontier Conference title game.
Those games still leave a bitter taste in Paulson’s mouth.
“Those losses are definitely in the front of our minds,” Paulson said. “They have beat us the last two times and we have a chip on our shoulder. We beat them, too, but that seems like a long time ago.”
While the Saints were tripped up in the Frontier Conference title game and had to rebound after receiving a No. 3 seed in the tournament, Lewis-Clark State could be one of the hottest teams in the nation.
The Warriors last loss came on Jan. 26 when Rocky Mountain escaped with an 84-81 overtime win.
Part of the reason For Lewis-Clark state’s wins has been senior Dana Abe. The Seattle native has averaged 18 points per game. Other role players include Josiah Westbrook, who has been averaging 14 points per game.
“It’s going to come down to executing,” Paulson said. “They know what we are going to do, and we know what they are going to do. It comes down to who executes better.”