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Wayne Cavadi | NCAA.com | March 31, 2023

Ashland vs. Minnesota Duluth: How to watch, preview and prediction

Ashland beats Glenville St. in the 2023 DII women's basketball semifinals

Two teams remain standing in the 2023 DII women's basketball championship bracket. Coincidentally, they are the exact two teams I predicted would be here on March 6, the day after the selection show. No. 1 Ashland will look to pull off its second undefeated championship season while No. 2 Minnesota Duluth looks to make program history with its first-ever national title. 

How to watch Ashland vs. Minnesota Duluth

The Eagles and Bulldogs square off in Dallas on Saturday, April 1, where all three divisions of women's college basketball will play their championship games in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The DII championship game will follow the DIII game and is scheduled to tip off at 3:30 p.m. ET. You can watch all the action on CBS Sports Network. The DI championship is at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

Preview: The DII women's basketball championship game

It's the tale of two polar opposites, but they do have some similarities. Ashland has been one of the most dominating programs for more than a decade now. Just four full seasons ago, the Eagles went on a historic run, setting the DII record for most consecutive wins and falling one game short of back-to-back undefeated championship seasons. This is the first time Ashland is back since that 2018 loss, in which it played another Central Region adversary in Central Missouri. 

TOURNEY TRACKER: Scores, bracket, and history of the tournament | ELITE: A look back at the DII Women's Elite Eight

For Minnesota Duluth, it's a season of program firsts. The 32-3 record already makes it one of the best seasons in the Bulldogs' history, but it was also the first trip to the DII Women's Elite Eight, which meant it was their first appearance in the semifinals and now national championship game. 

Both teams had incredibly tough roads to get here. Ashland plays in the Midwest Region, which boasts three top 10 (often top 5) teams making it the toughest region on an annual basis. The Eagles had to dispose of Grand Valley State and its DII-best scoring defense just to reach the DII Women's Elite Eight where they went on to end the repeat hopes of defending champ Glenville State in the semifinals. Minnesota Duluth plays in arguably the second-toughest region in DII women's basketball. A thrilling second half led to a victory over a very tough Missouri Southern team in the Central Region finalé and then the Bulldogs had to beat two region's respective No. 1 seeds... and did so twice by double digits. 

Now, Ashland doesn't have any players left from those championship runs, but it has not only an Ashland legend at the helm, but one of the best players in DII women's basketball history. Head coach Kari Pickens (then Daugherty) was on the 2012 and 2013 national runners-up and championship team, finishing third in DII in scoring in Ashland's first-ever championship run. 

Both teams are deep and have fantastic players to watch. Two were highlighted before the tournament in my piece about the nine players that could affect the outcome of the bracket. Ashland's Annie Roshak has lived up to the billing, playing strong in the tournament thus far, especially in the second half of the past few games. For Minnesota Duluth, well, there was simply no one better than Brooke Olson this year. She earned the DII women's basketball national player of the year honors scoring 23.1 points per game on 57 percent shooting while pulling down 7.4 rebounds per game. An all-around dominating presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, Olson was responsible for the outcome of many Bulldog wins.

TOURNEY FAQ: The ultimate guide to the DII women's basketball championship

Ashland vs. Minnesota Duluth

If you look at the chart, and blindly have no idea about either team, Ashland seems to have a huge upper hand. The Eagles have a pretty large edge in every statistical category with DII women's basketball's fourth-best scoring offense, top scoring margin, best field goal and 3-point percentage, most assists per game, and the top assist/turnover ratio. What they don't have is Olson, who is such a special player that can make the impossible possible in the madness of tournament season.  

Tale of the tape

Stat (per game)  Ashland Minnesota Duluth
Record 36-0 32-3
Points 83.6 70.9
Scoring margin 24.2 14.5
FG % .521 .473
3-point % .403 .319
Rebounds 36.4 34.3
Assists 20.2 14.4
Steals 8.7 7.5

Prediction: Ashland wins 78-71

Whenever I make predictions, people like to make fun of them on Twitter. So in my defense, this year (so far), I predicted four of the DII Women's Elite Eight, three of the semifinalists, and the national championship game matchup. On March 6, I predicted it would be Ashland that won it all and the Eagles haven't done anything to change my mind since.

That's not a knock to the Bulldogs. This is, hands down, the 1B to Ashland's 1A. If you saw my DII men's basketball preview, you saw I said it would be one of the best men's championship games in history and it was. Well, guess what. This one will be, too. 

Ashland has simply been the best team in DII women's basketball from Day 1, and it just feels like the Eagles are on pace to become the sixth undefeated national champion in DII women's basketball history (Lubbock Christian in 2021 and 2016, Ashland in 2017, Cal (PA) in 2015, and North Dakota State in 1995). The DII women's basketball championship game is not often a close one: Each of the last five games have been decided by at least 10 points, and that includes the double-overtime thriller from Lubbock Christian and Southwestern Oklahoma State in 2019. Minnesota Duluth has shown all season that it is a team that will not go away against any competition and is going to make this one come down to the wire, but in the end, Ashland wins another instant classic. 

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