Westmont downs Freed-Hardeman to Reach Finals
FRANKFORT, Ky. - And then there were two. Westmont (Calif.) closed the most defensive Fab Four in NAIA Division I Women's Basketball Championships history with a 59-49 upset of top-ranked Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) to advance to its first NAIA title game in program history.
The Warriors (29-4) will meet fellow newcomer Lee (Tenn.) in the championship game Tuesday night at the Frankfort Convention Center. The game is schedule to tip off at 6:35 p.m. EDT and will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network, with Jason Knapp and Brenda VanLengen providing the call.
The 108-point (combined) game is the sixth lowest scoring game in Fab Four history and came on the heels of an 84-point game to start the night, which Lee won, 43-41. Combined, the 192 points is the best scoring defense performance by Fab Four teams, besting a 200 point total from 2011.
Westmont (Calif.) held the Lions to their worst shooting performance (.304) of the tournament, while putting together its best 3-point shooting performance of the season (.538), hitting 7-of-13 3-pointers.
Senior Tugce Canitez and sophomore guard Esther Lee each scored 19 points to lead the Warriors, while holding Freed-Hardeman leading scorer Natalie Shumpert to 13 points. Ashley Tate and Maria Bagwell each scored 10 for the Lions.
Freed-Hardeman took a 4-0 lead to open the game, but Canitez had her first of several individual mini-runs for the Warriors, evening the score, 4-4. Shumpert quickly answered with a 3 to regain the Lions' lead with 14:13 to play. FHU maintained a 2-to-5-point lead for the next 10 minutes before Celina Gougis hit her first of two big shots in the game, a 3 to pull within a point, 21-20.
While Freed-Hardeman managed to hold off Westmont temporarily, Kelsie Sampson knocked down a free throw with 2:31 remaining to spark a 9-0 run. Lee scored the last eight of the run to give Westmont the lead, 29-23. Ashley Tate hit a 3 to cut the score to 29-26 at halftime.
Westmont maintained a 3-to-6-point lead for the first six minutes of the second half until Shumpert cut it to two, 39-37, with 13:36 left. Bagwell followed with a key defensive stop, intercepting Canitez's pass out of the paint, but the Lady Lions were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Bagwell later cut it to two again, 43-41, with 10:24 to play, but Canitez responded with six points as part of an 8-0 Westmont lead to break the game open. Gougis hit a basket to make it a 10-point game, 51-41.
The closest Freed-Hardeman came to a comeback attempt was Shumpert cutting it to six, 51-45, with 5:23 to play. Two minutes later, Gougis threw a dagger from the top of the key to Sampson in the paint for a quick layup. The quick strike made it 55-45 with 2:51 to play, and Freed-Hardeman was unable to respond, shooting only 2-of-5 down the stretch.
Gougis finished with nine points and eight rebounds for Westmont, while Sampson finished with seven points and seven rebounds. Canitez led all players with nine rebounds. Bagwell had eight for Freed-Hardeman, while Amber Alexander and Hayley Newby each had seven.
The FHU loss snaps a 21-game win streak since December, while Westmont is the only Fab Four team to enter the tournament coming off a loss. The Warriors are now on a four-game win streak after previously winning 17 straight before the Golden State Athletic Conference championship.
Freed-Hardeman (34-2) finished the year with its best season in program history, sweeping through TranSouth Athletic Conference play to win its fifth TSAC title and winning a program best 34 wins. The Fab Four appearance was FHU's fourth in program history.