No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) Headed To First-Ever National Championship Final
By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern
FRANKFORT, Ky. – (Box Score) The Lady Lions of No. 1-seeded Freed-Hardeman are headed to their first-ever NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship after besting No. 3-seeded Wiley (Texas), 88-86, in overtime in the second Fab Four game Monday.
After appearing in 18-straight national championships and five Fab Fours under head coach Dale Neal, the Lady Lions are finally headed to the national title game.
In a back and forth first half, Wiley shot 50.0 percent from the field (17-of-34), while Freed-Hardeman exploited a 25-16 rebounding advantage to score 15 second chance points. Junior guard Grace Alonso de Armino, the Lady Lions second-leading scorer, was sidelined for much of the first half with two fouls and was held scoreless. American Midwest Conference Player of the Year, junior forward Hayley Newby, made up for Alonso de Armino’s absence, scoring a game-high 18 points in the period. Senior guard Kyniddia Purdy led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 12 points in the first half. The Lady Wildcats of Wiley took a 41-38 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Wiley started second half with a 9-4 run to extend its lead to a game-high eight with 17:12 remaining. From there, Freed-Hardeman kicked off a 14-4 run to get back in the game, taking its first lead of the second half, 56-54, with 11:07 to play. The Lady Lions grabbed a game-high nine point margin on an Alonso de Armino free throw with 8:57 remaining. Wiley would cap a 15-4 run on a Purdy field goal with three seconds left on the clock to take a 71-69 lead.
After two timeouts, the Lady Lions executed a perfect baseball pass to Alonso de Armino at three-quarters court and the junior guard fired a 3-pointer. The ball bounced off the rim, but Newby was waiting alone on the block to put the rebound home and send the Lady Lions to overtime.
Newby had a similar putback opportunity to send the Lady Lions into triple-overtime of her first-ever national championship game during her freshman year, but missed. For her, this shot certainly made up for it.
“After it happened, Brittany and Cynthia both were like that makes up for it. Being able to put that back, I don't know how that happened. That was a God thing. That was a blessing. For me, it makes up for it, because that's kind of haunted me since my freshman year. Being able to do that for my team and my seniors to carry us on to the championship game, makes me feel good,” said Newby.
The teams continued to battle in overtime, with the Lady Lions taking the largest lead of the extra period at seven points, 85-78, with 33 seconds remaining. Wiley would get back in it after a 3-pointer from junior guard Kayla Brown and a Purdy steal and field goal, bringing the score to 85-83. Wiley cut Freed-Hardeman’s lead to one after two free throws from Lady Lions senior guard Brittany Montgomery and a Purdy old-fashioned three-point play, 87-86. After an intentional foul, Montgomery hit 1-of-2 foul shots to give Freed-Hardeman an 88-86 lead that would hold, as Kayla Brown missed a half-court shot at the buzzer that would have sent Wiley to the national championship final.
“We've had a few that have come down to the wire, but I think we made some mistakes that I hope we don't make, and I hope we got those out of our system. We weren't spacing very well, and we fouled there at the end after we'd just talked about it coming out of the huddle. We did some things mentally that we'd rather not do, but they did get after it. I can't question how hard they work. They really did a great job, I was proud of them,” said Freed-Hardeman head coach Neal.
Freed-Hardeman, which had shot 44.2 percent from 3-point range in the national championship, was just 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) from beyond the arc in the Fab Four. Newby had a game-high 32 points for the Lady Lions, one shy of her career-high, and Alonso de Armino came alive in the second half and overtime, scoring 15 points after being shut out in the first period. American Midwest Conference Freshman of the Year, Taleeah Cross, and Montgomery also chipped in with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Wiley shot well from 3-point range, making 6-of-13 (46.2 percent), and from the free throw line, hitting 10-of-11 (90.9 percent), in the loss. The Lady Wildcats, who had averaged 21.3 points per game off turnovers in the national championship, had just eight points off 11 turnovers Monday night. Purdy led the Lady Wildcats with 27 points, while Danisha Shaw and Brown each added 18.
With the win, Freed-Hardeman (36-1) advances to its first-ever national championship where it will face Oklahoma City at 6:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
Wiley (30-5), which had not advanced past the second round in its two prior national championship appearances, falls in its first-ever Fab Four appearance.