Mar 24, 2009

Women's Basketball

by Daniel Heffner

The Lady Flames basketball team, making its 12th appearance in 13 years in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, traveled to Baton Rouge, La. for a first round matchup with Big East runner-up Louisville on Sunday night. The Lady Flames, who finished their season 24-8, 15-1 in the Big South, were seeded 14th, while the Cardinals were seeded third. The Cardinals entered the game with a Big East record of 14-2 and an overall record of 29-4, with two of their four losses coming at the hands of undefeated University of Connecticut (UConn). The Lady Flames were coming off of their 12th Big South Conference title, while Louisville finished as the runner-up in the Big East behind UConn. These teams have clashed before, however, as Louisville defeated the Lady Flames in the 1996 Seelbach Classic.

This game also matched up two excellent coaches, with Liberty’s five-time Big South Coach of the year Carey Green paired up against second-year Louisville head coach Jeff Walz. Green, who has a 237-76 career record, is also the wins leader at Liberty and in the Big South. Walz currently has a 54-14 record in his first two seasons and was voted the WBCA/Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year in 2008. He also helped the Maryland Terrapins win their first National Championship in 2006 as an assistant.

The game, which was held in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, did not go well for the Lady Flames. The sheer athleticism of the Cardinals combined with a stifling full-court press forced 27 Libertyturnovers on the evening.
Liberty held a slim 4-1 advantage early on, but the Cardinals pumped up the defensive pressure and raced out to a 29-12 lead at one point. They closed the half on a 19-5 run, leading 35-17 at the break.

Louisville’s defense held a usually potent Liberty offense to a season-low 17 points in the first half, forcing 18 turnovers, mostly from bad passes that were picked off by Big East Defensive Player of the Year Angel McCaughtry or her partner in crime, Candyce Bingham. Each finished with four steals on the night.

“That was a part of the game plan. We knew going into the game that they were averaging about 20 turnovers a game, and we knew that they had never seen any kind of pressure like us, so we decided to come out and pressure them, and I think we did a very good job of that,” Bingham said after the game.

The Lady Flames failed to mount any sort of comeback in the second half, as the defensive pressure put on by the Cardinals continued to disrupt the offense. Louisville cruised through the second half on its way to a 62-42 win and a second round matchup with No. 6 LSU.
Green acknowledged the Louisville defense is what pushed them ahead midway through the first half.

“They have long athletes that move very well, and consequently we were not able to find the right combination. I felt like all in all I probably did not prepare them properly for that, and I knew that was their strength, the half-court trapping defense,” Green said. “It is very difficult to simulate that, and they do a tremendous job because it disrupts your offense. That is a good strategy, and we felt like if we could handle that and make it a half-court game, we could be successful.”
Senior guard Megan Frazee led the way for the Liberty starters with eight points (3-of-14 shooting) and eight rebounds, bringing an end to a stellar career for the Ohio native. The Cardinal defense zoned in on the Big South Player of the Year, limiting her touches and open looks at the basket.

“They did do a good job on defense and it’s one of those things where I would have liked more of my shots to fall, but they don’t always do that,” Frazee said. “Basketball is definitely a team sport so other people get involved, but they definitely played good defense tonight.”

The Lady Cardinals were paced by seniors McCoughtry and Bingham with 12 points apiece, with freshman Becky Burke coming off the bench to add in 11 points of her own. The Lady Cardinals were slightly more efficient on the boards (37-30) with McCoughtry and sophomore Keshia Hines leading the way with six each. The Cardinals recorded 16 steals on the evening.

Junior Amber Mays came off the bench and led the Lady Flames with 3-for-8 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free throw line for 11 points. Redshirt freshman Avery Warley led all rebounders with nine.

“I want to thank God for the opportunity I had to coach such a wonderful group of young ladies and future leaders,” Green said. “ I am one of the luckiest coaches in the country. These young ladies have character and values, and they will be very successful beyond the game of basketball.”

Contact Daniel Heffner at
dpheffner@liberty.edu.

 


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