SIOUX CITY, Iowa – (Box Score) Behind star senior guard Pazia Speed, fifth-seeded Huntington (Ind.) came all the way back from a 23-6 deficit to pull out a 77-72 victory over fourth-seeded Menlo (Calif.) in the first round of the 2014 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships, presented by State Farm, on Thursday. Forester 28th-year head coach Lori Culler will take her team to the second round for the first time since 2009.
While Speed led all scorers with 24 points, freshman Miranda Palmer came through with big buckets down the stretch. Under the spotlight of the national stage, Palmer broke a 69-all tie in the last minute with a jumper that gave Huntington a lead it would not relinquish. Palmer added two crucial free throws in the final seconds to salt the game away.
The Foresters (24-8) chopped down the Oaks despite allowing Menlo to shoot 53.9 (28-for-52) percent from the field. A key to Huntington’s success came at the free throw line, where it converted more free throws (23) than the Oaks attempted (15). The Foresters also turned it over only 12 times while forcing 20 miscues.
The third national tournament win in school history appeared unlikely for Huntington when Menlo raced out to a double-digit lead less than six minutes after the opening tip. Two-time California Pacific Conference Player of the Year Jolise Limcaco dominated during that stretch. She piled up nine of her team high 18 points in fewer than five-and-a-half minutes.
Menlo still led 39-29 at the break, but an 18-4 Huntington run that ended midway through the second half put the Foresters in the lead. Sophomore Kelsey Hubble capped the spurt with a trey that made it 53-50 with 11:10 remaining. The game seesawed the rest of the way until Speed and company took control in the final minute.
Head coach Shannon Osborne’s Oaks, who entered the tournament with 15 wins in their past 16 games, were held without a field goal in the final three minutes. They were led by the 18 points from Limcaco. Junior Laurel Donnenwirth had a double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Palmer posted 20 points to compliment Speed’s 24. They combined with Amelia Recker (19 points) on 63 of the Huntington’s 77 points.
Huntington will play at 1:45 p.m. on Friday versus the winner between top-seeded Northwestern (Iowa) (27-4) and No. 8 seed Tabor (Kan.) (21-10).
Menlo, champion of the California Pacific Conference, completes its season at 25-6 overall. The Oaks have fallen in the first round of the national tournament three years in a row.