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DWU coaches gunning for postseason title to get into national tournament

Shane Murphy and Jason Christensen are both taking the same approach headed into the postseason.

They believe their Dakota Wesleyan University basketball teams need to win their Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament to earn a spot in the NAIA national tournament, meaning both are doubtful they'll get in with an at-large selection.

The DWU women, coached by Christensen, are seeded fifth in the conference tournament and play fourth-seeded Briar Cliff at 7 p.m. today in Sioux City, Iowa, in the first round.

Murphy's men's team snuck into the postseason tournament as the eighth and final seed with a win Saturday. The Tigers play top-seeded Northwestern at 8 p.m. today in Orange City, Iowa, in a first-round game.

"We're in a do-or-die situation," said Murphy, whose team is 14-16 overalland 9-11 in the GPAC. "Hopefully that will inspire these guys to dig a little deeper and find that extra to beat teams like Northwestern."

While the DWU men are certain they must win out to earn a berth to nationals, the DWU women are teetering among the teams that could receive an at-large bid because of their strong record.

Tuesday, the Wesleyan women did not make it in the top-25 poll after defeating Briar Cliff, ranked No. 9 in the nation, over the weekend. The Tiger women (20-10, 11-9 GPAC) were the 10th team in the poll's receiving votes category, essentially making them the 35th-ranked team overall. That spot does not fare well for the Tigers to earn an at-large bid.

If the DWU women do not win the GPAC postseason tournament, they must be among the top-ranked teams in the nation that do not already have a guaranteed spot. After all of the teams that earn an automatic berth are determined, the at-large bids are given based on top-ranked teams in the final poll of the year, which comes out early next week.

Last week, the Tigers were the fifth team in the poll's receiving votes section. But after a six-point loss to No. 10 Northwestern and a 96-72 win over No. 9 Briar Cliff, the poll-makers decided Wesleyan should drop, something Christensen questioned.

"I don't feel like we're in at all," Christensen said, referring to the national tournament. "I feel like we have to win the GPAC tournament to get in. I don't know how you beat the No. 9 team in the country and drop five spots. I guess that's why you have a conference tournament at the end of the season. If you feel like you're getting shafted, you can prove that you deserve to get in."

The Wesleyan women are led by junior Kim Johnson's 18.6 points per game. She also leads the GPAC in scoring. After Johnson, Amanda Hart and Celeste Beck each average about 11 points per game.

Briar Cliff (22-8, 13-7 GPAC) is led by Kelsey Evans' 14 points per game and Sara Reeves and Mattie Murren each average about 12 points per game. Briar Cliff beat DWU 76-61 in November but is currently on a three-game losing streak.

The DWU women are riding an emotional win headed into the postseason, and so are the Tiger men.

Murphy's squad beat Briar Cliff 81-75 Saturday to keep their season going. Had the Tigers lost, they would have been knocked out of the top eight teams in the conference and their season would have ended.

The Tigers lost to Northwestern in both games this season by three points.

To overtake Northwestern, ranked fifth in the nation, Murphy said his team will need to do a better job guarding the Red Raiders' top two players in Ben Miller and Daniel Van Kalsbeek.

Miller averages 18.4 points per game and Van Kalsbeek is at 14 points per game.

Wesleyan is led by Jalen Voss, who averages 14.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. Aireus Stephenson is at 14 points per game and Mike Lee is at 12 points per game.