BILLINGS -- Who’s next?
A year ago, Lewis-Clark State carried the Frontier Conference banner all the way to the championship game before falling to Oklahoma City, 73-66.
This year, four teams from the state of Montana are representing the Frontier Conference at the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in Billings. The 32-team tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark begins Wednesday morning with Columbia (Mo.) playing Benedictine (Kan.) at 8:30 a.m.
Oklahoma City University returns to defend its national championship. The Stars will be seeking their 10th national title overall.
Trying to repeat the Frontier Conference success will be Rocky Mountain College, Carroll College, Montana Western and Providence.
There will be 31 games across six days, culminating with the national championship game on Tuesday, March 20.
Rocky vs. Science and Arts
The Battlin’ Bears, the host team, return a second straight year in a totally different form.
Rocky was 13-18 last season before losing to No. 1-ranked Freed-Hardeman 62-52 in the first round. The Battlin’ Bears were without three players, all lost to season-ending knee injuries, including their top two scorers.
“We had a lot of adversity thrown our way,” said senior guard Hailee Farstveet, who had 21 points in the tournament game last year. “Our goal at first this season was to be above .500. As we kept going our goals kept rising.”
Rocky enters 23-8, while the Drovers of the Sooner Athletic Conference are 28-5. It is Science and Arts first NAIA tournament appearance since 2008.
OCU defeated Science and Arts 89-63 in the conference tournament championship game. The Drovers feature three players averaging in double figures and three averaging nine points or more a game.
“They’re really similar to us,” said Rocky coach Wes Keller on Science and Arts style of play. “They want to play inside-out and have a couple of players who can shoot the 3-pointer.”
Dierra Ely is averaging 13.9 points a game for the Drovers, while Rebecca Worthy has 56 3-pointers and Darian Hill 51.
Rocky counters with a defense that is allowing just 51.3 points a game, third-best in the NAIA, and allowing teams to shoot just 26 percent from 3-point range.
“We have to defend like we do,” Keller said. “Rebounding will play a huge role in the game and we have to find a way to get some easy baskets.”
Mikayla Jones is averaging 12.3 points a game for Rocky, while Brooke Jones is adding 10.6. Farstveet has scored in double figures 15 of the last 17 games.
Battlin’ Bears assistant coach Camden Levett also returns to the tournament. He was an assistant with Central Methodist a year ago.
Montana Western vs. Dillard
Montana Western (24-8) returns after reaching the second round in 2017. Eventual national champion OCU defeated the Bulldogs 81-79 in the second round. It was the Stars’ closest game of the tournament.
UMW will play Dillard (23-5) of Louisiana at 1:45 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament champion is led by Shaelynn Moore’s 13.9 points a game, while Alexia McDonald is adding 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds. Moore has 60 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs are led by Frontier Conference player of the Year Brianna King, who is averaging 18.8 points. Britt Cooper is averaging 7.8 rebounds and has 42 blocked shots. UMW is limiting opponents to 55.4 points a game.
Providence vs. OCU
The Lady Argos (19-11) draw the tough task of playing the defending national champions in the first round on Thursday at 2:15 p.m.
UP, which stumbled a bit during the regular season with four straight losses, is led by Stephanie McDonagh’s 17.7 points a game, including 51 3-pointers. Parker Esary is adding 14 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
The Stars (28-5) have won eight straight and are led by Daniela Galindo. Galindo is averaging 21.5 points a game with 83 3-pointers. This is OCU’s 23rd tournament appearance.
Carroll vs. William Penn
The Saints (24-7) return after a one-year absence, while William Penn (23-8) is back for a second straight year.
They will play at 8 p.m. Thursday.
It is also the second straight year that William Penn opens against a team from the Frontier Conference. Lewis-Clark State defeated the Stateswomen 59-45 last year.
Carroll is making its ninth appearance overall and fourth under the guidance of coach Rachelle Sayers. The Saints reached the Sweet 16 in 2013.
The Frontier Conference regular-season and tournament champions are led by Hannah Dean, who is averaging 12.6 points and 7.6 rebounds. She also has 55 blocked shots.
The Saints’ calling card has been defense. Carroll ranks fourth nationally for points allowed per game and ranks among the top 10 for defensive rebounds and blocked shots.
Vashti Nwagbaraocha is averaging 16.3 points a game for William Penn.