WILBERFORCE — The bricks of progress are going up, and coach Derek Williams and the Wilberforce University women’s basketball team are going to the Association of Independent Institutions Conference tournament as a result.
Williams is in his second year as the Bulldogs coach, and so he was unsure of the last time a Wilberforce University women’s basketball team had qualified for a postseason tournament.
“I know it’s been more than a decade,” he said. “I am happy with the way this team has played all season long. The players have worked really hard and played some very tough teams along the way. We played a tough Cedarville team and lost by 10, we lost by six to Central State and lost to NCAA Division I North Carolina Central by six points. I feel really good with what these young ladies have done,” Williams said.
There are currently 17 colleges and universities in the AII Conference.
The Bulldogs (12-11) enter the AII eight-team tournament as the No. 5 seed, and will take on Fisher College (Mass.) in the opening round at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 on the Lincoln Christian University campus in Lincoln, Illinois.
The tournament semifinals will be held on Feb. 23 with the championship game set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 24. The two championship game finalists along with the winner of the third-place game will receive automatic bids to the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national tournament.
Williams says Wilberforce will need to be ready defensively against Fisher College, a team noted for solid guard play.
“If we can get out and pressure the ball, force them into some turnovers, and rebound the ball we will have a really good chance at winning the game. We are at our best when we are getting transition points and that starts with defense,” he said.
The Bulldogs are led by 5-foot-5 sophomore guard Nia McCormick, who is averaging 12.7 points per game. Former Central State player Mustafa Notter also is averaging double figures with an 11.3 points-per-game average. Notter leads the team in rebounding, too, with 8.8 per game.
Malika Wildon leads WU in steals with 24, with McCormick (23) and Amaiah Jones (20) right behind her. Notter is definitely the team’s defensive rebounding leader with 88 defensive boards so far this season from her team-best 140-rebound total.
The Bulldogs are among the leading NAIA Division schools in field goal percentage (12th nationally) 44 percent. According to a WU press release, WU averages 64.4 points per game while holding opponents to 37 percent shooting, which ranks them among the top-5 NAIA D-II schools in the country in those categories.
Regardless of how Wilberforce fares in the AII tourney, Williams has been enjoying the program’s rise. McCormick will likely be back for her junior year, and Williams said he has roughly eight players who will also return.
“As I tell everyone, we are building this program Brick by Brick and it will take some time, but we are heading in the right direction. The future is bright for the Women’s Basketball program here at Wilberforce.”
The AII tournament entrants, listed in order of seeding, are College of the Ozarks (Mo.), who is ranked No. 6 nationally among NAIA Division II schools, Indiana University Northwest (ranked No. 23), Haskell Indian Nations University (Kan.), Fisher College, Wilberforce, Vorhees College (S.C.), Washington Adventist University (D.C.) and host Lincoln Christian.
Fans can follow the tournament action on Lincoln Christian’s website lcuredlions.com.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.