SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Another sweet season for Elle Ruffridge and Missouri State.
Ruffridge had a career-high 20 points with five 3-pointers, Jasmine Franklin had a double-double and the fifth-seeded Lady Bears are going to their second consecutive Sweet 16 in the women’s NCAA Tournament after knocking off Wright State 64-39 in matchup of mid-major teams Wednesday.
“It feels amazing. I cannot tell you how much I love this team,” Ruffridge said. “We have been waiting since 2019 to punch our ticket back. I’m just speechless right now.”
Ruffridge and Franklin are among nine current Missouri State players who were also part of the Sweet 16 team two years ago, though they have a different coach. The Lady Bears (23-2) lost in 2019 to Stanford, the same team they will play in the Alamo Region semifinal Sunday.
“We’re going to enjoy this one. Making it to the Sweet 16 is not easy,” second-year Missouri State coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton said. “There’s so many teams that would love to be in this position. We are not taking that for granted at all. So we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to enjoy each other. That’s what we do, we enjoy the journey. Obviously, we’re going to be prepared.”
The Lady Bears pulled away in the second half when Ruffridge had 17 of her points. Franklin finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Angel Baker and Shamarre Hale each had 10 points for the 13th-seeded Raiders (19-8), who got outscored 40-20 after halftime and outrebounded 47-31 overall. They had gotten their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in the opening round against Arkansas on Monday.
“Today was tough obviously. We didn’t make the shots that we thought that we would,” Wright State coach Katrina Merriweather said. “Credit Missouri State with their game plan, their defense. Never did I imagine that this group would get outrebounded the way that we did. So there’s a lot of things when you look at that stat sheet, it’s difficult to comprehend.”
Agugua-Hamilton succeeded Kellie Harper, who after coaching the Lady Bears’ 2019 Sweet 16 team was hired by Tennessee, her alma mater. Missouri State then went 26-4 in Agugua-Hamilton’s debut last season before the NCAA tourney was canceled because of the pandemic.
Missouri State went ahead on two tiebreaking free throws by Missouri Valley Conference player of the year Brice Calip with 2 minutes left in the second quarter before Mya Bhinhar swished a 3-pointer for a 24-19 halftime lead. Sydney Manning’s 3-pointer capped a 12-3 run to start the second half. That trio was also on the last Sweet 16 team.
After opening this tournament with a 21-point win over UC Davis, another mid-major, Missouri State now has to play the Cardinal, the No. 1 overall seed in this NCAA Tournament. Stanford beat the then-No. 11 seed Lady Bears 55-46 in the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Wright State got even at 19-all Wednesday when Emani Jefferson made a 3-pointer that hit the rim, popped straight up and then fell through the net with 3:44 left in the half. The Raiders didn’t get any more breaks after that.
“They had great execution, great patience. I think they controlled the tempo of the game,” Merriweather said. “They just played an amazing 40 minutes, even with the slow start that I feel like we both had. Containing them would mean we could not be a step slow like we were today.”
Baker had averaged 25.6 points in four postseason games for the Horizon League champions before Wednesday. Her 3-pointer with 29.1 seconds left put Wright State ahead of Arkansas. Baker was averaging 18.4 points on the season, but was 3-for-14 while mostly defended by Calip.
“Brice is just a lock-down defender. Brice did things that may not have shown up in a stat line, but she was huge for us. Big stops, limiting Angel under average,” Ruffridge said.
The Lady Bears hadn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2001, when they made it all the way to the Final Four. This is their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance since then.
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