Ali Dolphin
Ali Dolphin

SIOUX CITY, Iowa -Smothering defense in large part was what carried the St. Ambrose Queen Bees to their 16th NAIA National Championship appearance, and Wednesday it carried the 10th-ranked Bees to the Sweet 16.

St. Ambrose limited No. 24 Mount Vernon Nazarene to 26.6 percent shooting from the floor and cruised to a 73-56 victory in the opening round of the NAIA Division II tournament at the Tyson Events Center.

SAU improved to 29-4 with its 11th straight win and Friday will face seventh-ranked Indiana Wesleyan (28-5) in the Sweet 16 at 3:30 p.m.

"Our defense day in and day out forces people to take bad shots, and we did that tonight," first-year SAU coach Krista Van Hauen said of a crew that limited opponents to 38 percent shooting coming into the tourney.

Ali Dolphin had 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Mollie Yeargle matched her 15 points, hitting 6 of 9 shots from the floor and 3 of 5 3-point tries.

"Ali was her typical self, grabbing rebounds and hustling," Van Hauen said. "Mollie came to play. She definitely has a mission down here."

The Queen Bees scored the game's first seven points vs. Mount Vernon Nazarene of Ohio (28-9), and they never looked back.

They led 37-24 at intermission after limiting Nazarene to 23.7 percent shooting.

The Queens Bees also overcame 16 turnovers and an 18-for-30 effort at the line with six steals and six blocks, three of the latter from 5-foot-4 point guard Ashley Dexter.

Annie Smith netted 11 points in a reserve role as the Bees' bench outscored the Lady Cougars' reserves 26-7.

"I think everybody here is talking about how deep we are and how much we play as a team," Van Hauen said. "I think that made a statement."

Dolphin recorded two steals in the contest to close to within nine of the career lead at Ambrose.

Indiana Wesleyan is five years removed from a 38-0 NAIA Championship season and lost by a bucket in in the semifinals to last year's national champ.

Wednesday, IWU advanced through the tourney's first round for the eighth time in nine trips, but they didn't do so easily.

Guard Ashley Brooks netted a pair of free throws with 24 seconds to play, supplying Wesleyan (28-5) the cushion it needed to weather a Cornerstone University 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 57-55 win.

Brooks had career highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds from IWU, the Mid-Central College Conference champions.