A tribute to West Texas women’s basketball will be on display in Lubbock tonight when two of the top programs in the nation go head-to-head with a spot in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on the line.
Though it hasn’t been spoken as much, there isn’t a question that fans have been thirsting for a matchup between Lone Star Conference champion West Texas A&M and Heartland Conference champion Lubbock Christian University.
That time has arrived, and the stakes couldn’t be higher when the two teams battle it out in the South Central Regional finals at 7 p.m. tonight at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock.
With LCU joining the Division II ranks in 2011-2012, the schools haven’t had the chance to build a great rivalry, however, all the makings are there.
The schools are 100 miles from each other, the program’s are traditionally strong and each coach builds their teams around players known for high basketball IQ’s.
“I hope it’s quality basketball for the fans,” said LCU coach Steve Gomez, who is 364-117 in 15 years at LCU. “I hope it’s a celebration of women’s basketball. One team is obviously not going to feel the celebration. But it should be a good game of basketball, and whoever wins, hopefully they’ll pull for that team to go win it all in the Elite Eight.”
The No. 2-ranked Lady Chaps are 30-1 for a reason. Their lone loss comes early in the year to No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Ashland (33-0).
Since that loss, LCU has reeled off 24 straight wins. On top of that impressive streak, stands a 49-game home win streak at the RIP Griffin Center, and an 8-0 all-time record in the NCAA Division II tournament.
WT enters the contest at 29-4 overall, winners of 14 straight. This is the Lady Buffs fifth straight regional final and 24th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Lady Buffs have punched a ticket to the Elite Eight in three of the last four years. The last time the Lady Buffs fell short was at the hand of the Lady Chaps in 2016.
It was almost two years to the date when LCU dominated WT in an 88-68 beating on March 13, led by Canyon graduate Nicole Hampton.
That win lifted LCU to the Elite Eight, as Hampton and the Lady Chaps went on to capture the Division II national championship at 35-0.
Most of the rosters has changed, Madison Parker and Reagan Haynes are the only Lady Buffs left from that loss.
For LCU, Tess Bruffey is the lone remaining player off that title team. Bruffey had a huge night against WT in the 2016 regional final, scoring 18 of her 26 points in the first quarter.
A memory WT coach Kristen Mattio hasn’t forgotten.
“I remember that first quarter explosion they had on us very well,” said Mattio, who was in her first season as a head coach in 2016. “Any time you have a chance to fight to go to the Elite Eight and you don’t get it that’s tough. It’s a new year and a new opportunity. We have a lot of new faces, and I hope I’m a better coach being three years in.”
The 6-foot-4 Bruffey is now a polished senior, and captain of the Lady Chaps.
Bruffey will be one to keep an eye on for Mattio and the Lady Buff defense. The 6-foot-4 post player can get physical inside and shoot as good as any guard on the court.
Bruffey will play in her 123rd game on Monday night, as she continues to crawl up the all-time scoring list with 1,702 career points.
“LCU is a disciplined team,” Mattio said. “Tess Bruffey is as good as they come for them. We’re going to have our handsfull. But we’ve had a day to prepare, so we’ll have to be ready for them.”
WT’s discipline and balance is going to be crucial. Like they have all season, the Lady Buffs have shot the ball extremely well in this regional.
In wins against Arkansas-Fort Smith and Metro State, the Lady Buffs are hitting 50 percent of the shots taken.
The Lady Buffs have been equally impressive at the charity stripe, knocking down 45-of-53 free-throws.
Utilizing size is another key. Post Tiana Parker is having a fantastic tournament. In two games, the 6-foot-5 post has averaged 20 ppg.
“WT is as long as anyone we’ve faced,” Gomez said. “They are really good and do everything well. They score it inside, defend well and shoot it on the perimeter. They also rebound. They have quality wins, and a great coach. They know how to win.”
Local ties: This game sees a total of six former Texas Panhandle players that will make appearances on the floor.
Former Canyon teammates, now opponents will start for their respective teams. Madison Parker for WT, and Caitlyn Cunyus for LCU. Sydney Watlon from Perryton, Lexy Hightower of Amarillo High and Gruver’s Reagan Haynes round out the Lady Buffs local roster.
Nazareth freshman Allie Schulte will come off the bench for the Lady Chaps.
West Texas A&M Lady Buffs
Overall Record: 29-4
Head coach: Kristen Mattio (3rd Year)
Lubbock Christian Lady Chaps
Overall Record: 30-1
Head Coach: Steve Gomez (15th year)
Caitlyn Cunyus;G;5-6;So.; 3.0;8.9
NCAA Division II South Central Regional
at Rip Griffin Center, Lubbock Christian University
MSU Denver 78, Colorado State-Pueblo 70
West Texas A&M 81, Arkansas-Fort Smith 66
Lubbock Christian 78, Tarleton State 46
Angelo State 87, Black Hills State 75
West Texas A&M 70, MSU Denver 60
Lubbock Christian 61, Angelo State 59
West Texas A&M (29-4) vs. Lubbock Christian (30-1), 7 p.m. Monday
The game: No. 23 West Texas A&M Lady Buffs (29-4) vs. Lubbock Christian Lady Chaps (30-1), 7 p.m. Monday night, in a NCAA Division II South Central Regional championship game, Rip Griffin Center, Lubbock Christian University.
Noteworthy: The Lady Chaps beat the Lady Buffs 88-68 in the 2016 South Central Regional championship. LCU also has a 49-game home streak.
On the air: The game will be broadcast on KPRF 98-7-FM. Lucas Kinsey will handle play-by-play with Kent Johnson on color commentary.