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SEMIFINAL RECAP: Two First-Time Finalists To Vie For NAIA Championship

March 24, 2008
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March 24, 2008

JACKSON, Tenn. - Vanguard (Calif.) University defeated the lone remaining No. 1 seed of the 28th Annual NAIA Division I Women's Basketball National Championship, advancing to the national finals for the first time in program history, where they will meet sixth-seeded Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University, which is also making its first-ever appearance in the title game.

 

It will be the second consecutive national championship game featuring a pair of first-time participants, following 18 consecutive seasons in which at least one finalist for the national crown entered with title game experience. For the third straight season, the national championship will not feature any of the tournament's four No. 1 seeds, and the eventual 2008 champion will be the fourth straight program that entered the tournament as a non-No. 1 seed.

 

Tuesday's contest will be the second all-time between Trevecca Nazarene and Vanguard. Last year, Vanguard posted an 82-56 quarterfinal victory over the Trojans to advance to the semifinals. In 2006, both programs were No. 1 seeds that would have met in the semifinals, but sixth-seeded Lubbock Christian prevented the matchup that year with a 62-51 quarterfinal upset over Trevecca Nazarene. Vanguard is the first program from the state of California to reach the finals in the tournament's 28-year history.

 

The semifinals doubleheader drew an attendance of 3,515, bringing the tournament's total attendance to 18,766 after five days and 30 games of action. Tuesday's NAIA championship will tip off at 6:30 p.m. (Central time), and the contest will be televised live on College Sports Television (CSTV), with Ann Schatz and Tammy Blackburn calling the action for the cable network.

 

Game 29:  Sixth-seeded Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University extended its deepest national tournament run all the way to the program's first-ever NAIA title game with a 69-59 victory over TranSouth Athletic Conference rival Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University. Two sets of back-to-back three-pointers helped lift the Trojans of Trevecca Nazarene to the victory. Freshman forward K.C. Van Atta and sophomore guard Christian Gibson hit from long distance on consecutive possessions, part of a 16-0 run that spanned less than four minutes to give the Trojans a 26-10 lead with 9:42 to play. With Freed-Hardeman trailing by just four points at 44-40, Van Atta hit another pair of three-pointers on back-to-back Trojan possessions in the midst of a 10-2 run that pushed the lead back to double-digits at 54-42 with 9:35 remaining. Senior guard Mariska Reed sank a three-pointer with 4:45 left after Freed-Hardeman cut the lead to 55-48 with 5:23 left, and Van Atta's fifth trey of the contest gave Trevecca Nazarene its largest lead of the second half at 64-50 with 2:08 to play.

 

Van Atta finished with a team-high 16 points, going five-of-nine from three-point range, and the Trojans shot 45 percent (nine-for-20) from beyond the arc for the game. Freed-Hardeman made its 12th consecutive NAIA Tournament appearance with this year's Final Four run, and the semifinal defeat drops the Lady Lions to a final 29-8 overall mark. Trevecca Nazarene, which had never before been a Final Four participant but had been to each of the past three quarterfinals, improves to 23-11 on the season heading into Tuesday's title game.

 

Game 30:  The No. 2 seeded Vanguard (Calif.) University Lions advanced to play in their first NAIA National Title game after a 74-72 win over No. 1 seed, and previously unbeaten Union (Tenn.) University.  Vanguard's Melissa Cook recorded the game-winner on a driving lay-up six seconds left to break a 72-72 tie.   Vanguard's appearance in the title game also marks the first time a team from the state of California has ever played for an NAIA title. 

 

Vanguard opened the game with six straight points on back-to-back three pointers from Lauren Gregory.  Union responded with three straight field goals to tie the game at 6-6.  However, Vanguard controlled the lead for the remainder of the half.  The Lions stretched the lead to up to 10 points on three different occasions, with the latest coming 34-24 with 8:09 left in the first half.  The second half started with a Union three pointer from senior guard Crystal Eason, continuing their run started just before the half.  The Union Lady Bulldogs completed an 8-0 run, five straight points to start the second half, to take their first lead of the game 43-42.  The lead was short-lived as the Lions scored four straight to regain advantage, 46-43.  Union tied the game again at 49-49 with 15:23 left, but once again was unable to hold on.  Vanguard posted a 15-6 run to go back up by nine points, 64-55 with 9:37 left to play.  The Lions led by nine again at the 5:58 mark, 71-62.  Over the next five minutes and 30 seconds, Union posted a 10-1 run to tie the game at 72-72 following two made free throws from Josephine Owino with 20 seconds remaining. Owino posted 30 points and 10 rebounds in the game.  Vanguard handed the ball to Cook who drove to the basket for the most important two of her six points on the night to give her Lions the lead.  Union's perfect season, and a chance for a third title in four years, ended with a final shot coming after the buzzer.

 

Vanguard out-rebounded Union 38-to-26, including 14-3 on the offensive glass.   Union won the field-goal battle 54-percent to 45-percent, but posted the lowest three-point percentage (31%) since the team shot 29% back on January 7.  Vanguard was led by Jessica Richter and Gregory with 24 points each.  The two went for 15 and 19 points respectively in the first half on a combined 6-for-9 from three-point-range in the first half.