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Providence hoops squads gear up for NAIA national tournament

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Posted at 8:15 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 00:26:22-05

GREAT FALLS — Just about a year ago, the University of Providence basketball teams had just learned where they would be playing in the national tournament, only to have it canceled before they made the trip. Fortunately for Argo Nation, that’s not the case this year.

The Frontier Conference-champion Argo men received a No. 1 seed in the opening round of play at the NAIA men's basketball national championships. Zaccheus Darko-Kelly and company will play in Omaha, Nebraska, on Saturday against either Bethel University (Minn.) or Texas A&M - Texarkana.

If the No. 10-ranked Argos win that game, they’ll be in the 16-team championship bracket in Kansas City next week. Head coach Steve Keller was confident about his team’s recent play during Tuesday’s press conference.

"We tell people we're good, but nobody really knows until you play somebody nationally. We think Carroll College is real good. We beat them four out of five," Keller said. "And so if we could play anything like we did against Carroll on championship night, we're going to compete with anybody."

The Argo women received an at-large bid after a season of ups and downs, including seven canceled games. But they had a pair of top-tier seniors to guide them through it. Emilee Maldonado won Frontier Conference player of the year, and Parker Esary was first-team all-conference.

Head coach Bill Himmelberg will surely be counting on those two this weekend, as each player has plenty of prior experience at the tournament.

"You don't get that too often, where you get kids who played as many minutes as they had at the national tournament," he said. "So I feel pretty confident they know what it's about. They know what it takes to win there. And I feel pretty confident that we're going to have a pretty good shot."

The Argo women will have to win two games in Omaha to move on to the championship bracket in Sioux City, Iowa. They’ll take on Cumberlands (Ky.) on Friday.