SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Going into the 2018 NCAA Division II Final Four on Wednesday (March 21) at 9:30 p.m. Eastern/8:30 p.m. Central vs. Indiana, Pa., Ashland University's women's basketball team leads the country with 100.0 points and 24.3 assists per game and a field-goal percentage of 51.3 on offense, and 28.14 turnovers forced and 16.6 steals per game on defense.
Coincidence? Not at all.
One of the long-standing trademarks for the top-ranked Eagles has been an aggressive defense which quickly turns into an aggressive offense. Ashland has scored an NCAA women's basketball-record 3,500 points in 2017-18, and 35.6 percent of those (1,245) have come directly off turnovers.
"Basketball is a fluid sport," said Ashland head coach Robyn Fralick. "They're highly connected. Our style of play matches – we play fast offensively, and we play fast defensively. Our ability to pressure and force turnovers has been critical in our ability to score.
"The teams that are left playing do both well. They are related. You take good shots offensively, it lets your defense get set. You take bad shots or turn it over, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. Both take care of each other."
In facing the No. 12-ranked Crimson Hawks in the national semifinal on Wednesday night, Ashland will go against a pretty good defense in its own right. IUP is fourth in the country in field-goal percentage defense (34.2), and eighth in scoring defense per game (55.5 ppg.).
"IUP's an excellent team," Fralick said. "That's something that IUP's done well all year."
Snyder, Johnson Could Join 700 Club
There is just one player in Ashland women's basketball history to score at least 700 points in a season – current associate head coach Kari (Daugherty) Pickens in 2011-12 (744).
Senior forward Laina Snyder (686) and sophomore guard Jodi Johnson (669) have the opportunity to join the 700 club. Snyder's point total is the second-most in a season in program history, and Johnson's is fourth-most.
With 28 more points, senior forward Andi Daugherty (472) would become the first player in program history with three 500-plus-point campaigns.
Eagles vs. Crimson Hawks
The campuses of Ashland and Indiana are about 3½ hours away from each other, but Wednesday night's game will be just the 10th in the all-time series. The Eagles have a 5-4 edge, with the last meeting coming on Nov. 28, 2004 – a 79-72 AU win at Kates Gymnasium.
In that game more than 13 years ago, Jackie Mason turned in one of the best all-around single-game performances in program history – hitting 12-of-13 shots from the field and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line en route to 28 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
First Look At The Final Four
In terms of Elite Eight seeding, Ashland remains at No. 1, IUP is No. 5, Central Missouri is No. 6 and Union, Tenn. is No. 7.
"Seeding to me goes out the door this time of year," Fralick said. "They're all top teams left. Everyone's been doing some exceptional things to still be playing."
Looking at the final regular-season Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) NCAA Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll rankings, however, there are four teams remaining who finished in the top 14 in the country – Ashland No. 1, Central Missouri No. 10, IUP No. 12 and Union No. 14.
At the 2017 Final Four in Columbus, Ohio, those teams were ranked No. 1 (Ashland), No. 3 (California Baptist), No. 10 (Harding) and No. 18 (Virginia Union).
All-time in the D-II women's basketball postseason, Ashland is 25-5 with two national championships, Central Missouri is 25-20 with a national title, IUP is 12-11 and Union is 6-2.