Jackson, Tenn. - Senior point guard Alex Barone (Joliet, Ill./Joliet Catholic) finished with 17 points and five assists, but the No. 12 ranked and No. 3 seeded Saint Xavier University women's basketball team fell to No. 24 ranked and No. 6 seeded Shawnee State University (Ohio), 70-60, in the first game of the 2011 NAIA Division I Women's Basketball Championship Wednesday morning at Oman Arena in Jackson, Tenn. The Cougars struggled to find a rhythm offensively committing 23 turnovers and shooting 44 percent (22-for-50) from the field. Rebounding and late fouls also proved to be deciding factors as SXU lost the battle of the boards by a 44-20 margin, including 18 on the offensive side for the Bears, and had three starters foul out of Wednesday's first round game.
Senior guard Shalonda Young (Chicago, Ill./Crane Tech) just missed a double-double performance with 10 points and nine rebounds for Saint Xavier. Junior forward Mary Kusner (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West) provided a nice lift off the bench scoring nine points on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor. Freshman guard Alannah Sheets led all scorers with 21 points for the Bears, while junior guard Abby Ballman chipped in 13 points and six rebounds. Shawnee State, the 2010 State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball runner-up, took full advantage of SXU's 23 turnovers scoring 26 points off the miscues. One bright spot for the Cougars was that junior forward Brittany Jones (Tinley Park, Ill./Andrew) became the program's new single-season blocks record holder with 56 after blocking five shots in the game.
The first half was back and forth with neither team able to establish more than a four-point advantage. In fact, Saint Xavier had the biggest lead of the opening frame when Kusner hit a free throw to put her team ahead, 16-12, with 10:25 to play before halftime. The Bears would lead by one, 30-29, at the break despite committing 16 turnovers in the half. A slow start offensively to the second half plagued the Cougars as a three-pointer by junior guard Michelle Tourtillott (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine South) was the only basket for the team over the first 7:30 of the frame. Shawnee State was able to build a 43-32 lead during SXU's scoring drought and it proved to be the difference as the Cougars were never able to fully recover from the double-digit deficit. SXU would close to within eight points a couple of times in the final minute, but would get no closer.
Saint Xavier ends its season with an overall record of 24-7. The Cougars won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) regular season and tournament titles, while also making their ninth consecutive trip to the NAIA Championship.