SIOUX CITY, Iowa – When in new territory, it is natural to look to make pals.
But for the eighth-ranked Roosevelt women's basketball team's national postseason debut, the Lakers were not seeking to open their arms to Friends.
Casey Davis led all scorers with 19 points, and second-seeded Roosevelt held off a late rally by seventh-seeded and 22nd-ranked Friends (Kan.), 57-52, in the opening round of the 2013 State Farm-NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship at the Tyson Events Center.
Roosevelt (28-6) advances to face 11th-ranked Bethel (26-7) in a second-round contest this Friday, March 8 at 3:30 p.m. in Sioux City. The Lady Pilots, who advanced by eliminating Valley City State by a final of 79-63 earlier in the day, own an 11-point regular-season victory over the Lakers that took place back on Dec. 5 in Mishawaka, Ind. that Roosevelt will seek to avenge on a grander stage.
In the first national tournament contest in the three-year history of Roosevelt's women's basketball program, the Lakers, who qualified for the big dance by winning the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship and later clinched the CCAC's tournament crown, showed they were not intimidated by new postseason surroundings.
The pace of the game seemed to play in the hands of the defensive-minded Falcons (23-9), who entered the game wielding the nation's second-best field goal percentage defense and the fourth-fewest points per game allowed. The two teams would combine for just 109 points, with both teams shooting below 32 percent from the floor.
Despite falling 21 points short of their season scoring average, the Lakers proved adaptable and showed off a stingy defense that induced 25 turnovers and forced Friends to miss 50 of their 65 field goal attempts for a paltry 23 percent clip.
"It was an ugly game," said Roosevelt head coach Robyn Scherr-Wells. "We had our chances to build a lead but just couldn't quite get over the hump.
"I had a feeling the first game in this atmosphere would be tough, and I am proud of the girls for finding a way to win."
Davis once again proved to be the go-to scorer when Roosevelt needed it most, making six of 13 from the floor and six of seven from the stripe to carry the bulk of the offensive load.
The game was tight for most of the first half, with Roosevelt taking a two-point lead into the break, and after Friends knotted the game at 29-29, the Lakers went on a 10-0 run that proved to be the turning point.
The Falcons would chip away and eventually cut their deficit down to two with just over two minutes remaining in regulation. A free throw from Tori Clark would extend the lead back to three with 40 seconds remaining and the Falcons with possession, but a miss by star center Abril Marshall and a rebound hauled in by Tamburrino forced Friends to foul and send the junior forward to the line, where she made one of two.
Marshall would make a free throw with eight seconds left to cut the Lakers' lead to three, but Williford was sent to the charity stripe with three seconds left and calmly made both to put the game out of reach.
Scherr-Wells recognized Clark (eight points, eight rebounds) and Williford for their contributions, including key late free throws, against the Falcons.
"Tori and Becky were really tough for us and big difference-makers in getting us the win," Scherr-Wells said.
The win gave the Lakers as many victories in one season as they had in the previous two campaigns combined.
Wednesday's win was also the third straight game involving Roosevelt that was decided by exactly five points and the fifth straight contest, all with postseason ramifications, with a margin of five points or less for the Lakers.