BILLINGS, Mont. – (Box Score) Both offenses were clicking in the final game of Round 2, but No. 2 Vanguard (Calif.) had a little more muscle against No. 3 Montana State-Northern, 71-65, becoming the final team to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2017 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by Wells Fargo.
"It was a great win, but bittersweet," said Vanguard Head Coach Russ Davis. "I'm happy four out team that we are moving on to the quarterfinals."
Scoring started at a blistering pace in the first quarter, with Vanguard hitting on 7-of-11 shot attempts and Montana State-Northern hitting the same number on one more attempt. The two teams combined to hit seven 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of play – four for the Skylights and three for the Lions, who were a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc.
Shots went down with a little less regularity in the second quarter, but the lead continued to bounce back and forth. The first half featured five ties and 12 lead changes, the last of which gave Vanguard a 39-34 lead heading into the half.
Lion center Tania Uluhea provided a post presence the Skylights just could not handle. She led all scorers through the first 20 minutes of play with 10 points, one point shy of her career high.
Montana State-Northern neutralized the bigger Uluhea in the third quarter by spreading out its offense and forcing her to defend on the perimeter. Her teammates Maya Kennedy and Victoria Chea, however, combined to score eight of the team’s 12 third quarter points maintain a slim lead for Vanguard throughout the period.
Led by senior Natalee Faupel’s 12 fourth quarter points, the Skylights pulled with 60-58 with 3:15 left in the game and seemed to hold the momentum, but the Lions scored the next six points while running off over two minutes of clock to essentially close the game.
Chea led the Lions with 15 points - one shy of her career high – on 5-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 effort from the charity stripe. Off the strength of her first half performance, Uluhea scored a career high 14 points and was a big reason the Lion’s outscored the Skylight’s 22-2 in the paint and 31-11 from the bench. The two helped lead Vanguard to its tenth trip to the national quarterfinals.
Faupel ended her collegiate career with a game leading 21 points, 12 of which came in the final 10 minutes. She shot 7-of-15 including 4-for-6 from three. Molly Kreycik played the full 40 minutes for the second-straight day and nearly had a double-double, finishing with 13 points and eight assists.
The Vanguard Lions are now 10-3 all-time in second round contests and 29-3 on the season. The team’s next challenge will be the tournament’s Cinderella, William Woods (Mo.) who has already knocked off a No. 1-seed and a No. 5-seed in dramatic fashion.
Montana State-Northern ends the season with a record of 24-9 after making the tournament for the 14th time and fourth-consecutive year. The Skylights are 2-7 all-time in the second round.