The Butler women will make their second appearance ever at a national tournament against a formidable opponent from Florida on Wednesday.
Northwest Florida State defeated Northern Oklahoma-Enid 79-50 in the first round on Tuesday afternoon, propelling the Raiders to a second-round showdown with sixth-seeded Butler. The Grizzlies had a first-round bye.
Butler and Northwest had no mutual opponents this season and have never faced each other previously.
Northwest averages 72.8 points per game, while allowing just 53.3. By comparison, Butler averages 71.6 and allows 54.0.
Butler (28-4) is the sixth seed in the tournament after winning the Region VI championship nearly two weeks ago at Hartman Arena in Park City. The Grizzlies advanced by beating top-seeded Seward County in the finals, 62-54. It is the first Region VI title in the history of the women's program. Butler had been 0-5 in regional championships prior.
Butler comes into the tournament with a 3-1 record against other tournament teams as Butler went 2-0 vs No. 7 seed Seward and 1-1 against No. 13 seed Hutchinson.
The Grizzlies are led a class of eight sophomores; six of which played for the Grizzlies a year ago. Jalise Smallwood is Butler's leading scorer at 10.8 points per game, but Kyla Callins and Criste'On Waters average 10.4 apiece. Callins was the Region VI Tournament's Most Valuable Player and was also named NJCAA Player of the Week after averaging 18 points and nearly nine points a game in the three games in Park City. Callins also leads Butler in rebounds at 7.8, assists at 2.6 and steals at 2.3 per game.
Butler is 2-1 in national tournament games. The Grizzlies were selected as an at-large team in 2014 and won their first two games, finishing among the final eight teams in the country that season. The season ended with a loss to Chipola (Fla.).
Northwest Florida State (25-5) rolled over Northern Oklahoma-Enid 79-50 on Tuesday afternoon. The Raiders are located in Niceville, which is near Fort Walton Beach and Destin, just north of the Gulf Coast.
Northwest was 8-4 in conference games, falling to Gulf Coast State twice, as well as Chipola and Tallahassee. The Raiders defeated Miami Dade and Santa Fe in the Florida playoffs before falling 67-63 to Gulf Coast for the third time this season. Gulf Coast is the No. 2 seed in the national tournament.
Like Kansas, Florida put three teams in the national tournament, as Florida Southwestern was the No. 17 seed, falling 81-78 to No. 1 Wabash Valley (Ill.) on Tuesday.
Four players average double figures for Northwest, led by Cece Mayo at 12.1 and Georgia Gayle at 12.0. Awa Trasi leads the team with 7..1 rebounds per game. Four players have started every game this season, while a fifth has started 27 of the 29 games coming into nationals.
Mike Helmer (249-104) is the winningest coach in program history, now in his 10th season at Butler. He won back-to-back conference titles in 2014 and 2015 and added another in 2019. The Region VI title in 2019 is the first in program history. He has led Butler to its only two appearances ever in the NJCAA National Tournament, taking the Grizzlies to the Elite Eight in 2014. Before Butler, Helmer was the head coach at Wichita South.
Bart Walker (242-76) is in his second season in his return to Northwest Florida, where he has gone 49-12 over the past two years. He took the team to the Elite Eight in the 2018 national tournament. Walker had previously coached at Hiawasee College in Tennessee, taking his team to two national tournaments as well as Chattanooga State, wehere he took his team to the Elite Eight in 2006. He spent two years at Northwest Florida before becoming an assistant at Tennessee Tech for four years and one season as head coach at Motlow State in Tennessee before returning to Northwest.