When Ashland head coach Sue Ramsey sat in the press room following her team’s 66-54 win over Western Washington in the Final Four, she talked about how playing the Vikings was like looking in a mirror.
That won’t be the case tonight when the Eagles take on No. 10 Dowling (30-3) for the national championship. The game will pit the nation’s top defense against its most efficient offense.
The Golden Lions rank first in the country in scoring defense (47.8 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (30.8). They are also seventh in blocked shots (5.6 bpg).
Ashland ranks first in assist-turnover ratio (1.43) and scoring margin (21.8) and is second in field goal percentage (46.8), third in assists per game (17.9) and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (38.6).
How well the Eagles can move the ball against Dowling’s pressure could go a long way towards deciding the winner.
While the teams may not play the game the same way, there was a high level of respect between them at Thursday’s press conference.
“It will be two teams that execute the game, that respect the game and play it well,” Ramsey said. “Lives will be touched in the fact that they had an experience, but who they are as people will remain the same.”
While the defensive numbers are the ones that jump off the page, Dowling is no slouch on the other end.
Leading the way is 6-foot, 3-inch senior forward Danielle Wilson, who scored over 1,000 points in her career Baylor before taking a few years off and enrolling at Dowling to use her last year of eligibility. Wilson averages 17.2 points and 11.1 rebounds. She also has 98 blocked shots this season.
In the backcourt, 5-foot, 10-inch senior Connie Simmons comes in averaging 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. In Wednesday’s semifinal win over Augustana, she had 24 points, six rebounds and six steals.
Ashland will have to try to contain the Golden Lions on the glass. They average 40.3 rebounds per game and have a rebound margin of over plus-seven.
“Dowling’s defense and rebounding is tremendous,” Ramsey said. “It takes a team to be able to play the way that they play.”
The Eagles came into the season with the goal of getting back to the national championship and winning it. Dowling has had an unbelievable run to get to this point and will want to keep that dream from becoming a reality.
At the end of the night, one team will be holding the trophy in hand while the other has to experience the feeling of coming oh-so-close.
“We’re actually back for the national championship,” AU senior forward Kari Daugherty said. “We have a chance. What an incredible opportunity.”