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Looking Back: The 2017-18 USAO Basketball Season


At top, an image of the USAO men's basketball team; at bottom, an image of the USAO women's basketball team

Looking Back: The 2017-18 USAO Basketball Season

 

For the first time in 14 years at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, the 2017-18 men’s and women’s basketball seasons culminated with simultaneous appearances in the NAIA Division I national tournaments.

Under third-year head coach Chris Francis the men’s basketball program opened the season with a nine-game winning streak. The Drovers faced hard competition throughout conference play to end the season with an 11-9 conference record. USAO received a surprise at-large bid to send the men’s team to its ninth appearance in the national tournament. With a hard-fought 68-63 loss in the first round, the men’s team ended the season with a 21-11 record and multiple accomplishments.

Two seniors, Brandon Scott and Julius Foster, were voted to the Sooner Athletic Conference all-conference teams. In addition to his first-team selection, Scott’s gameplay as a first-year Drover earned him recognition as one of the top NAIA basketball players as he was selected to the Honorable Mention All-American team.

“Brandon was a big part of our early success,” said Francis. “He is a quiet and respectable guy, so he leads by example. The guys see how hard he works, and they start working just as hard.”

The men’s program peaked with its highest ranking this season at No. 7 in the NAIA. During the week that the rankings were released, the team also progressed off the court when the team GPAs were announced.

“With all the activities these guys were doing they still managed to pull our team GPA up to a 3.2, which hadn’t been done in a very long time,” said Francis. “Along with winning games and being nationally ranked at No. 7, it made it even better when the GPA came out.”

Women’s head coach Darrick Matthews is also in his third season. Matthews led the women’s program to its most wins in the history of the university along with a win in the first round of the national tournament to end the season with a 29-6 overall record. The team received an automatic berth to the tournament after winning conference for the first time with a 17-3 record.

“What we did was very impressive and extremely hard to do, having a 17-game improvement is almost unheard of,” said Matthews. “I’m just so happy that my seniors are leaving on a high note and my returners will be hungrier than ever next season to keep the program at an elite level.”

To further exemplify this season’s success, the team’s five starting players were named to SAC all-conference teams as well as senior starting forward Dierra Ely being chosen as defensive player-of-the-year for the SAC. The players wouldn’t have progressed so successfully without Matthews’ influence. His fellow SAC coaches agree, and he was voted SAC women’s basketball coach-of-the-year. Along with the players’ progress, this season has reminded Matthews of the immense progress of his own career.

“This is how I look at it, I only won five games my first year here,” said Matthews. “Knowing that we have won the most regular season games in a season just tells me we are all doing something right. My players have bought into the program and culture, I have a great assistant coach, we recruit the right players, and we have supportive administrators that allow us to be this successful.”