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Mayer: Tiger women have plenty to prove in postseason

The DWU bench celebrates a basket by Dakota Wesleyan's Kynedi Cheeseman (30) during a Great Plains Athletic Conference game against Midland University earlier this year at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

There's no denying it's been another successful season for the Dakota Wesleyan University women's basketball team.

DWU has secured its third straight 20-plus win season and will enter the postseason with a record of 25-5. So far this season, the Tigers have picked up eight wins against ranked opponents—all by double-digit margins. DWU has been ranked inside the top-12 in each NAIA Division II coaches poll. The Tigers also rank in the top 10 in 12 different statistical categories, including No. 1 in defensive rebounds (26.8 per game) and No. 2 in field goal percentage (48 percent).

But make no mistake, there's still plenty for this team to prove. And the postseason is the right time for this group to show how good it can be.

No. 10-ranked DWU has already proven it can put together long winning streaks and compete with the best teams in the nation. The Tigers just strung 10 wins in a row, culminating in an 81-60 dismantling of No. 9 Northwestern before being stifled by No. 2 Concordia 55-42 on Saturday.

After losing to the Bulldogs by just four points back in November, DWU would surely embrace a third crack against Concordia in a possible Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship rematch. But first, there's an opening round game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday against Midland University, which the Tigers topped by 12 points on Nov. 21 in Fremont, Nebraska, and by 20 points on Jan. 14 at the Corn Palace.

With such a talented, balanced, battle-tested and experienced roster, the Tigers will be an exciting team to watch in these do-or-die situations. DWU has won games in a variety of different ways this season, but the team's calling card has been defense. It's been a point of emphasis for the team all year long.

The extra attention has been working. After allowing an average of 60.9 points per game last year, the Tigers are currently holding opponents to an average of 58.3 points per game. DWU's scoring is also up, pouring in an average of 80.9 points this year compared to 75.7 last year.

"Our defense has picked up so much," DWU junior Rylie Osthus said last week about the team's biggest single key during its winning streak. "It's one of those things where we want to get every loose ball. It's been a mentality and intensity thing for us."

That mentality and intensity will be put to the test even more as the margin for error becomes thinner and thinner. No matter how the GPAC tournament plays out, the Tigers will be heading back to Sioux City, Iowa, for the national tournament. But after back-to-back GPAC tournament second place finishes, the Tigers should be hungry for their first conference title since 2002. Not to mention a higher seed for the national tournament.

Let's see what these Tigers can do in this postseason.