Vs. Cal State San Marcos
The Vanguard University women's basketball team (26-1), ranked No. 1 in Division I all season, opens the NAIA Tournament on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. PT against Cal State San Marcos (15-17) in Frankfurt, Ky.
The Lions, who claimed the national championship in 2008, are making their 13th straight appearance in the NAIA Tournament, their 16th overall, all during Coach Russ Davis' 18-season tenure.
Cal State San Marcos is making its inaugural trip to the tournament after winning the Assn. of Independent Institutions Tournament.
It's the third meeting this season between the two teams. Vanguard topped the Cougars, 91-54, at home on Dec. 30 and posted a 78-54 triumph on Dec. 17 in Oceanside.
The Lions are led by All-American and Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year Nicole Ballestero, a 5-foot-8 senior guard averaging 22.9 points per game. Ballestero averaged 26 per game against Cal State San Marcos and is coming off a school-record 53-point performance in an 80-76 loss to Hope International in the GSAC Tournament semifinals.
Senior point guard Taylor Belmont, has had a breakout season on her way to All-GSAC recognition. She leads the nation in assists (8.7 per game) and is also chipping in 15.6 points per contest and shooting 52% from the field.
Samantha Doucette, another All-GSAC performer, is a 5-11 sophomore who is averaging 15.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Lions.
Junior Ashleigh Anderson (7.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg) has also been a consistent starter, while 6-3 senior Leigha Bednar has been the primary starter in the post. Bednar averages 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per outing.
The Lions have outscored opponents an average of 27.7 points per game this season and are only one of two one-loss teams in the field, along with No. 2-ranked Freed-Hardeman of Tennessee (32-1).
Cal State San Marcos is led by 5-8 junior guard Cassie Damyanovich, who is averaging 13.6 points per game.
Sherika Miller, a 5-11 senior forward, averages 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Cougars, who are receiving 11 points and 10.9 rebounds per contest from 5-11 junior forward Heather Thompson.
Vanguard is 25-14 all-time in the tournament, reaching the final four in 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2003.
Thursday's winner advances to Friday's second round against either Lyon of Arkansas (24-8) or John Brown of Arkansas (25-7).
— Barry Faulkner