SAN ANTONIO -- When the Dowling women's basketball team lost in the opening round of the NCAA Division II regionals a year ago, the Golden Lions were determined to make amends -- and they have.
Dowling plays for its first NCAA championship Friday night against Ashland (Ohio) after two impressive victories in the Elite Eight tournament. The chance for a title isn't coming as a surprise.
Latest college sports stories
"We wanted to have this experience," guard Connie Simmons said. "We started preparing in preseason. We've been working for it ever since. Now it's happening."
Thanks to solid play in the first two games of the Elite Eight, Dowling (30-3) will battle Ashland for the crown at 8 Friday night at Greehey Arena.
While Dowling is playing for its first title, Ashland (36-1) made the final last year, losing to Shaw (N.C.).
The Golden Lions plan to stick to the same tactics that resulted in dominant victories over Colorado Mesa and Augustana (S.D.).
"We have to keep concentrating on why we're here," coach Joe Pellicane said. "We're playing a great team. We have to play the way we play."
Dowling's defense has been solid throughout the Elite Eight. In the semifinals, the Golden Lions held Augustana to 26.9 percent shooting while cruising to a 76-54 win. They held Colorado Mesa to 29.3 percent shooting in their 60-44 win.
The offense also was sharp against Augustana, with Simmons scoring 24 points and Danielle Wilson adding 18 points and 10 rebounds.
The Golden Lions will get a major test from Ashland, which reached the final with a 66-54 victory over Western Washington. Much of the Eagles' power comes from 6-1 center Kari Daugherty, who had 24 points and 16 rebounds.
The season has been a series of first-time experiences for Dowling. Not only is this the Golden Lions' first Elite Eight appearance, but they started the run by getting their first East Region Tournament victory, a 62-51 win over New York Institute of Technology.
"This is one of the most humbling experiences we have ever taken in," Dowling guard Seja Gamble said. "It's amazing how everything came together. We felt in our hearts we could do this. To actually be here takes the cake. We want more."