Milligan women’s basketball draws St. Francis in NAIA opening round

Published 11:47 am Friday, March 1, 2019

MILLIGAN COLLEGE, Tenn. (Feb. 27, 2019) – Two of the NAIA’s winningest active coaches will square off in the opening round of the NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship next week. The NAIA announced the bracket for the upcoming tournament, and Milligan College drew a No. 5 seed and will face No. 4-seeded University of St. Francis (Ill.) Thursday, March 7, at 11:15 a.m. EDT.

Both programs are led by coaches who won their 500th career game this season. Milligan coach Rich Aubrey has won 507 games, ranking No. 5 all-time among active NAIA coaches. St. Francis coach Steve Brooks sits at No. 4 with 514.

The 28th annual event is set for Wednesday, March 6, through Tuesday, March 12, at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

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This is Aubrey’s eighth time leading the Buffs to the national tournament after doing so four consecutive years from 1997-2000, again in 2013, and back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. Among Aubrey’s seven previous trips to the national tournament, the Buffs have advanced to the Sweet 16 twice. Each of the last three trips saw Milligan lose in the first round to a national top 10, including losing to the eventual national champion in 2016.

This season, Milligan (26-6, 23-3 AAC) finished as the Appalachian Athletic Conference runner-up to earn the league’s second automatic bid. The Buffs won nine straight games to start the campaign and later added two more streaks of six straight wins. They will head to the national championship having won four of their last five and 10 of their last 12.

Seniors Sarah Robinson and Mackenzie Raizor, both All-AAC first-team selections, have been keys to Milligan’s success. The pair combined to average more than 23 points and 16 rebounds per game as Milligan ranks in the top five nationally in three rebounding categories and in the top 20 in scoring offense. Fellow senior Andi Lamb, a member of the All-AAC second team, has been a nice compliment in Milligan’s backcourt, averaging 10.0 points per game and 2.2 assists per game.

St. Francis (23-8, 17-3 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference) won its conference regular season and enters national championship play with wins in five of the last six games. The Fighting Saints finished their season in much the same way as Milligan, winning the last four games of their regular season and a game in the quarterfinals of the CCAC tournament before suffering elimination in the semifinals.

St. Francis was led this season by Kaitlin Aylward, a 6-foot junior post who averaged 17.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and was named to the CCAC All-Conference first team. Ivana Markovic, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, earned All-Conference second team honors with 7.5 points per game as the team’s third-leading scorer. Brooks, in his second season at USF after serving as head coach at Indiana Wesleyan University for 17 seasons, earned CCAC Coach of the Year.

The Buffaloes ranked inside or near the NAIA top 25 since the first national poll of the season. They ranked the highest in the last poll of the regular season at No. 21. Currently, they rank No. 22 compared to St. Francis which is No. 14.

The Buffs and Fighting Saints will face off Thursday, March 7, with tipoff scheduled for 10:15 a.m. local time (CDT). The winner will move on to face the winner of No. 1 seed Dakota Wesleyan and No. 8 seed St. Thomas Friday at 3:30 p.m. CDT. Dakota Wesleyan ranks No. 3 nationally.