If the finale is anything like the preview, basketball fans are in for a treat.
Oklahoma City and Freed-Hardeman both pulled out close victories in the semifinals of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship Monday at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Oklahoma City edged John Brown University 67-65 in Monday’s opener, and Freed-Hardeman scored at the buzzer to send the second game to overtime, where the Lady Lions squeaked past Wiley College 88-86.
Monday’s winners meet tonight in the championship game at 6:30.
FHU (36-1) is making its first appearance in the title game while the Stars (26-4) will be going for their seventh national championship.
Wiley 86 (OT)
Just when it looked like Freed-Hardeman’s 18th straight trip to the national tournament would end in the semifinals, junior Hayley Newby’s putback at the buzzer gave the Lady Lions new life.
“It’s been a long time, and this is a great bunch to do it with,” Freed-Hardeman coach Dale Neal said about reaching the championship game for the first time.
“I feel really pleased. We had some adversity there, we played hard but we didn’t play that smart. Towards the end we had about eight possessions where we didn’t score, but when it came crunch time who better than Hayley to do this for them.”
Third-seeded Wiley (30-5) shot 50 percent in the first half and led 41-38 at the break.
The Lady Wildcats extended their lead to eight points, 50-42, but top-seeded Freed-Hardeman went on a 23-6 run to go ahead 62-56.
“At halftime we were all saying it’s a new game, a new half,” Newby said. “Start over and do the things we’re supposed to do right. Focus on what we want to do and don’t let them control the speed of the game.”
Wiley came back, eventually tying the game at 69 on a jumper by Danisha Shaw with 1:29 remaining in regulation, and the Lady Wildcats took a 71-69 lead on a layup by Kyniddia Purdy with four seconds left.
FHU quickly got the ball downcourt but misfired on a 3-pointer.
Newby corralled the rebound and scored on a putback at the buzzer.
“Being able to put that back, I don’t know how that happened,” Newby said. “It was a God thing, a blessing.”
The Lady Lions appeared to have the game in hand, leading 85-78 with 33 seconds left, but a 3-pointer by Wiley’s Kayla Brown cut the lead to four.
Wiley stole the ensuing inbounds pass and Purdy hit a layup to make the score 85-83 with 15 seconds left. Two free throws by Brittany Montgomery pushed FHU’s lead to four, but a three-point play from Purdy with two seconds left made it a one-point game.
Montgomery hit a foul shot with a second left to make the final score 88-86.
Freed-Hardeman shot 42 percent compared to 45.5 percent by Wiley. The Lady Lions outrebounded Wiley 53-41.
Newby finished with a game-high 32 points and 13 rebounds, and teammate Grace Alonso de Armino had a double-double with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
FREED-HARDEMAN (88) — Grace Alonso de Armino 15, Hayley Newby 32, Brittany Montgomery 14, Taleeah Cross 15, Cynthia Woodward 6, Kenley Crowell 2, Emily Towery 4.
WILEY (86) — Alexis Kelley 6, Kirbi Clark 6, Danisha Shaw 18, Kayla Brown 18, Kyniddia Purdy 27, Gelese Lampton 3, Ri’Kell McWright 8.
Oklahoma City 67,
John Brown 65
Oklahoma City Latricia Trammell knew what was coming when her team took a double-digit lead on John Brown in the second half.
After all, the Stars had already played JBU three times this season.
“That’s something with John Brown, when we do play them, you can’t take that for granted,” Trammell said about a lead. “You noticed I called several timeouts during the second half just to remind our young ladies that it’s not over and they’re a good comeback team, which obviously you saw.”
OCU scored its last points with 4:27 left in the game, going ahead 67-59, then weathered a comeback by the Golden Eagles to earn a spot in the championship game.
“That’s why I color my hair,” Trammell said. “I’d be full grey if I didn’t. I’ll take these close games, though, if we come out on top.”
Fifth-seeded John Brown (28-8) had the ball in the final seconds, trailing 67-65, but a layup by Sierra Shipley bounced off the rim and the Stars took the victory.
“It’s one of those moments where we had to get stops,” Trammell said. “They’re such a good 3-point shooting team. This is our fourth time playing them this season, and they usually live and die by that 3.
“I thought it would probably go inside, and they end up giving it back to Shipley. I knew what was going to happen, she’d either drive it or go for the 3. She had an open look, but that (shot) doesn’t define who she is. She’s a great basketball player.
“I’m proud of our girls’ effort. They deserve it, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s championship game.”
Oklahoma City shot 43 percent from the field, and John Brown shot 44.4 percent. The Stars held a 43-23 advantage on the boards, led by Ouleymatou Coulibaly with a double-double of 12 rebounds and 12 points.
Autumn Huffman was OCU’s leading scorer with 17 points, and Shipley scored a game-high 23 points for the Golden Eagles.
The Stars, a No. 2 seed, will be seeking their first national championship since 2012.
“This is why we do the things we do,” Trammell said. “This is why we go through the adversity and celebrate the successes and get through the hardships, to get to this point, that these kids have an opportunity to cut down the nets.”
OKLAHOMA CITY (67) — Autumn Huffman 17, Ouleymatou Coulibaly 12, Kayla MacKenzie 13, Yvonte Neal 12, Markeisha Johnson 2, Cara Pugh 6, Autumn Lau 5.
JOHN BROWN (65) — Kortni Barenberg 17, Brooke Barker 6, Lauren Rogers 12, Sierra Shipley 23, Morgan Ankrom 5, Abbie Warren 2.