The jury is definitely not out on Drury.
The women’s basketball program at that Springfield, Missouri, university is regarded as one of the best in NCAA Division II, and that’s who the University of Charleston runs into Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the national tournament at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio.
Tipoff for the day’s first quarterfinal is set for noon at the GCCC, which is the same court where UC played its two Atlantic Regional games last week.
The Panthers (21-1) come in as the No. 3 seed in the Elite Eight field, while the Golden Eagles (19-2), champions of the Mountain East Conference, are seeded sixth as they make their first national tournament appearance since 2005-06.
Drury owns a sparkling 89-2 record over the last three seasons, going 32-0 last year before COVID-19 shut down everything during the Midwest Regional, and 35-1 the year before, when it advanced as far as the national semifinals. In the five seasons prior to that, the Panthers made it to at least the regionals.
“When you say the name ‘Drury,’ and when you have the success they’ve had over the years,’’ said UC coach Tianni Kelly, “sometimes you walk into the gym with confidence that sometimes propels you to win some games.
“So one, they’ve got the tradition of being so good and the other thing is that they’ve got some really good players. Paige Robinson is very crafty, they’ve got a good post player in [Azia] Lynch and a solid shooter in [Payton] Richards. They’ve got a lot of good pieces and the tradition of being good.’’
The Panthers also have a knack of forcing turnovers — 23.5 per game — which is almost twice what they average themselves. Kelly admires the defensive doings of Drury, but thinks the Golden Eagles can handle the ball well enough, owing to their experiences against high-energy MEC opponents such as Glenville State and West Virginia State.
“They press a lot,’’ Kelly said of the Panthers, “but their pressure is not as intensive as Glenville, full-court man-to-man. I expect us to handle it very well. We’ve done a good job taking care of the ball. In the Glenville game [in the MEC finals], they had more turnovers than they typically average . Playing against their pressure and West Virginia State’s kind of pressure helps us prepare quite a bit.’’
That means UC sophomore point guard Trinity Palacio, who holds a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, will be called upon to settle things down against Drury’s pressure and get the ball to the likes of Brooklyn Pannell and Erykah Russell, the Golden Eagles’ two first-team All-MEC performers.
Pannell, the MEC player of the year, averages 24.2 points and the 6-foot-2 Russell 19.9 points and 10.8 rebounds. Dakota Reeves, the team’s top 3-point threat, averages 10.9 points.
For Drury, Robinson scores 21.1 points per game, followed by Lynch (14.5) and Emily Parker (13.8). The 6-foot Lynch shoots 57% from the floor and Robinson and Parker hit a combined 40% from 3-point range. UC’s Reeves, Pannell and Abby Lee all hit 44% or better on 3-pointers.
Charleston has had more than a week to recover from its victorious trip to Columbus for the regionals, and Kelly said her players have watched a lot of game video of Drury during the down time. She thinks the amount of preparation the Golden Eagles put in during that period will help her players be prepared for the colossal challenge of facing Drury.
“Honestly, I’ve been watching film,’’ Kelly said, “my assistant [Bubby Johnson] has been watching film and the girls have taken it upon themselves to watch film. What they’ve seen is that they make mistakes, just like we do, they miss shots, just like we do. We watch them to pick up some of their tendencies, what they’re good at and what they’re not good at.
“Preparation breeds confidence, and this has helped us to build up some confidence. As long as our players go play defense and believe, they can win any game against anyone. Now I’m not guaranteeing any wins, but we can make sure we compete and play hard.’’
The UC-Drury winner plays in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s quarterfinal game between No. 2 seed Lander (19-1) and No. 7 Azusa Pacific (12-4). The title game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday.
Just like for last week’s regionals, Kelly expects to have several family members in attendance for Tuesday’s national quarterfinal. Kelly hails from nearby Pickerington and Pannell played at Reynoldsburg, about 12 miles outside of Columbus.
“We had a pretty good crowd last week,’’ Kelly said, “and I expect we’ll have the same people there this week, a pretty good following again. It’s been a very good experience for us, both playing in front of our families and being able to have that support there.’’
Attendance will be limited largely to family members, and no public sale of tickets will be held.