Columbia College heads to NAIA women's basketball tournament

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Since its reinstatement in 2000, the Columbia College women's basketball team has accumulated a record of 183-80, five regular-season conference championships and three conference tournament titles.

But the Cougars have never made it past the second round of the NAIA national tournament.

Thursday's game

Bethel (Tenn.) (21-10)
vs. Columbia College (28-5)
WHEN: 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Oman Arena, Jackson, Tenn.
The 32-team NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship will be held March 17 - 23 at Oman Arena in Jackson, Tenn. Tickets can be purchased by calling (731) 425-8587.

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This year's team is looking to change that.

"We're excited," senior guard Whitney Davis said at the team's final home practice on Monday. "A lot of us were dreading coming to practice because we're just ready to go."

The Cougars will take on Bethel (Tenn.) in the first-round of the tournament at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday in Jackson, Tenn.

"We're anxious, but we're relaxed at the same time," Cougars coach Mike Davis said. "We don't want to get down there and run, run, run, or we'll just make mistakes."

Davis has his team fixing the problems that have plagued the Cougars in the past few games, notably missed free throws and field goals, but he just wants to get back to the way his team knows how to play.

"It's too late to change things now," Davis said. "It's just getting back to your strengths and how you play the game."

The Cougars know Bethel, the 10th highest scoring team in the NAIA, is good, but they're wary of one player in particular, senior forward Nina Djokovic, who has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. But the Cougars are no stranger to Djokovic.

"She actually played her sophomore year at Hannibal-LaGrange, who is in our conference," Davis said.

The Cougars said she is going to be the big key to winning their opening round game.

"We know it's going to be a good game," senior forward Veronica Smith said, "but if we can shut down her (Djokovic), we can win."

But the road to the Final Four doesn't get any easier for the Cougars should they beat Bethel. The No. 1 seed Vanguard (Calif.) will most likely be Columbia's next opponent.

"It's the national tournament, so we know there's going to be a lot of good teams that we're going to have to beat to get to the Final Four or Championship," Davis said. "So we figure, 'Might as well beat one in the second round.' "

If the Cougars advance to the Elite Eight round, they will most likely draw Oklahoma Baptist, the team that knocked Columbia out of the 2009 tournament.

"We want to get them back," Davis said.

But this whole scenario is one big if. If the Cougars want to make it reality, they know what they have to do.

"We don't want to make it a wasted trip, so we're really getting back to the things we know how to do well. We don't know much about them (Bethel), but they don't know much about us," Davis said. "We really want to finish off what we started and get all we can while we're there."

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