Billings, Mont. – [BOX SCORE] One-seed Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) defeated four-seed Montana Western 61-50 in the semifinals of the 2018 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball Championships presented by Wells Fargo to advance to the championship game for just the second time in school history.
Freed-Hardeman used a fast start offensively and stingy defense to defeat the Montana Western Bulldogs. The Lady Lions held the Bulldogs to just six points and forced eight turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of play.
The Bulldogs answered with a strong second quarter. They started to make shots and take care of the ball. Point guard Brianna King hit her stride in the quarter and finished with 16 first half points to help UMW cut into the Lion lead and trail by just four entering the break.
“We jumped out to a good lead and they came right back at us,” FHU Head Coach Dale Neal said. “We knew they would, they’ve very capable of that. We knew we had to keep them off the right-hand drive and that we needed to keep them off the three-pointers. We knew they’d come back, and our girls stayed in there, came back, and took the lead back, so that was good.”
Not only did FHU let King get in a rhythm in the second quarter, they started fouling.
“We sent them to the line for 10 free throws. Every time there was a reach, they called a foul. They were very consistent with that, and we just kept reaching in.” Neal said.
Freed-Hardmann’s defense came out of the locker room and played a much cleaner game defensively. The Lions once again held the Bulldogs to just six points in the third quarter.
“The message was keep them in front of you and to don’t let (King) to the right.” Said Neal, “She’s just too good going to the right. She’s good no matter where she goes, but she’s really good going to the right, so we were trying to stop that."
Sandrea Sylman paced the Lions with 24 points, four steals, and three assists. She made key baskets every time Montana Western tried to make a push to get back into the game. She hit the clinching three-point shot with just under four minutes remaining to give the Lions a 12 point lead and put the game away.
Montana Western guard Brianna King came off of a 40 point performance and did her best to keep the Bulldogs close. King scored 22 points and dished out four assists.
Freed-Hardeman’s defense forced the Bulldogs into many ill-advised shots and forced 17 turnovers. The Lions finished the game with 12 steals.
The Lady Lions last championship game appearance was in 2014 when they lost to Oklahoma City 80-76. The Lady Lions will face the winner of four-seed Wayland Baptist and one-seed Westmont on Tuesday at 7 p.m. for the National Title.