INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – (Box Score) Defending national champion Oklahoma City continued its quest for a second-straight national title Monday night with a 77-57 win against No. 4 Westmont (Calif.) in the Fab Four of the 2015 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship, presented by Susan G. Komen Greater Kansas City. The event is being played out at the Independence Events Center.
“It’s unbelievable, especially when you have six new players and only five returners,” said Oklahoma City head coach Latricia Trammell. “The toughness that they’ve shown through adversity – I’m really proud of this team.”
With the win, the Stars (29-2) improve to 11-2 all-time in the championship semifinals and will have a date with either No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) or No. 1 Campbellsville (Ky.) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CDT. Oklahoma City is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since former member Union (Tenn.) accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s a blessing,” said Oklahoma City guard Yvonte Neal. “Whoever we have, we’re going to be ready to play, and I hope they’re ready to play us. We’re going to come out and bring the heat.”
The Stars own an NAIA-best seven national titles.
“Coaches that were here (Oklahoma City) prior to me set our tradition,” said Trammell. “We’re just proud of these girls. Whatever happens, we’re playing in the championship game. That was our ultimate goal this season and we’re here. I’m anxious to get back on the court tomorrow.”
The first half was even for the opening 15 minutes, until a 6-0 mini-run, which included back-to-back buckets by Neal, gave Oklahoma City a 31-22 lead with 3:25 remaining. A Kristin Karr 3-pointer quickly cut the deficit back to six, however Oklahoma City answered the call, outscoring Westmont 7-3 over the final two minutes of the period to take a 38-28 lead into the break.
The Stars connected on seven of their final nine shots in the frame en route to a 47.2 percent (17-for-36) effort from the field. Typical to Westmont’s style of offense at this year’s tournament, the Warriors shot 33.3 percent from long range in the first half. This performance helped overcome a 33.3 percent (11-for-33) first half field goal percentage.
Karr led all first half scorers with 14 points – four points shy of her 18-point average at this year’s championship. Oklahoma City’s Neal was the only other player in double-digits with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
It appeared that Oklahoma City was ready to roll to the championship for the third time in the last four years after the Stars opened the half with eight-straight points, including a pair of 3-point plays from Rateska Brown and Marisha Wallace, to make it 46-28 advantage.
Westmont, which is appearing in the Fab Four for the second time in the last three seasons, made a run at it midway through the second half, pulling within four (54-50) by virtue of a 17-4 run. A pair of free throws by Lauren McCoy and a steal-and-score 3-pointer by Esther Lee sparked the stretch, which spanned nearly six minutes of the half.
Oklahoma City, which had surrendered 20-plus point leads twice in the early rounds of the championship, seemed unfazed by the Westmont surge. The Stars went on to outscore the Warriors 23-7 over the course of the final 9:53 en route to the 20-point victory.
“In our mind, it’s about defense,” said Neal. “We knew we had to get stops to get the lead back up.”
The Stars finished the game shooting 39.2 percent (29-of-74) from the field, while its defense held Westmont to a dismal 27.7 percent effort and forced 14 turnovers.
Wallace paced four Stars in double figures with 18 points, while Rateska Brown added 16 points, Neal 14 points and Ouleymatou Coulibaly chipped in 12, respectively.
“She (Wallace) really dominated inside today,” Trammell said. “Her play really opened the floor for our guards.”
Karr ended the game with a game-high 24 points for the Warriors. She also had Westmont’s only two steals.
The loss ends Westmont’s season at 27-7.
Oklahoma City is now 3-0 all-time against Westmont, including a 2-0 mark at the national championship.