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Liberty (20-12, 15-5 Big South) will open its second Postseason WNIT appearance Thursday, when the Lady Flames travel to Villanova (19-11, 12-6 BIG EAST). Tipoff for the first-ever meeting between Liberty and Villanova is set for 7 p.m. at The Pavilion. Thursday's winner will move on to face the winner of Thursday's Harvard at Hofstra contest.
The "Starting Five" - Liberty's Top Storylines
1) Liberty is making its 18th postseason appearance in the last 20 years (16 NCAA, 2 WNIT), while Villanova is playing in the postseason for the 14th time in 17 years (5 NCAA, 9 WNIT). The Wildcats advanced to the 2015 WNIT quarterfinals, while the Lady Flames are seeking their first postseason victory since reaching the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.
2) Both Liberty and Villanova were seeded No. 2 at their respective conference tournaments. The Lady Flames fell to UNC Asheville in the Big South title game, while Villanova lost to Creighton in the BIG EAST quarterfinals.
3) Villanova Head Coach Harry Perretta won career game No. 700 on Feb. 21, six days before Liberty Head Coach Carey Green recorded win No. 400.
4) Liberty's strength lies in its size, as the Lady Flames rank No. 10 nationally with a +10.9 rebound margin. Conversely, Villanova relies on ball control (7.8 turnovers/game) and outside shooting (8.6 three-pointers/game).
5) Liberty senior Catherine Kearney, who averaged 12.3 ppg and 11.7 rpg for the Big South Championship, grew up near Villanova in Monroeville, N.J.
Liberty vs. Villanova at a Glance
Series Record: First Meeting
Liberty Head Coach: Carey Green
Overall Record (Seasons): 403-140 (17th Season)
Record at Liberty (Seasons): Same
Record vs. Villanova: 0-0
Villanova Head Coach: Harry Perretta
Overall Record (Seasons): 702-438 (38th Season)
Record at Villanova (Seasons): Same
Record vs. Liberty: 0-0
Notes and Anecdotes
• Liberty and Villanova have never squared off in women's basketball, but both teams have rich traditions of success. The Lady Flames are making their 18th postseason appearance in 20 years (16 NCAA, 2 WNIT), while the Wildcats are appearing in the postseason for the 14th time in 17 years (5 NCAA, 9 WNIT). Last season, Villanova reached the WNIT quarterfinals.
• Harry Perretta is in his 38th season as Villanova's head coach. He coached against Kate (McPeak) Kearney when she played at Saint Joseph's from 1979-80 through 1982-83 and will coach against her daughter, Catherine, on Thursday. Perretta won his 700th career game on Feb. 21 against Georgetown, six days before Liberty Head Coach Carey Green picked up win No. 400.
• Thursday's matchup will present a contrast in styles. Villanova ranks No. 1 nationally in turnovers at 7.8 per game, while Liberty ranks No. 319 with 18.9 turnovers per contest. The Wildcats are No. 13 in the nation with 8.6 three-pointers per game, while the post-oriented Lady Flames rank No. 10 nationally for rebound margin at +10.9.
• Both teams earned the No. 2 seed for their respective tournaments, and both squads saw senior guards suffer untimely injuries. First team All-BIG EAST honoree Caroline Coyer, the Wildcats' leading scorer (14.0 ppg), suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Feb. 17. Villanova ended up falling to Creighton in the BIG EAST quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Liberty senior guard Sadalia Ellis left the Big South Championship title game against UNC Asheville with an injury just 2:52 into the first quarter.
• Liberty freshman Molly Reagan and Villanova freshman Bridget Herlihy were teammates at Braintree High School (Braintree, Mass.).
• Liberty's Mikal Johnson played alongside Villanova twin sisters Caroline and Katherine Coyer for the victorious West team in the 2012 VHSCA All-Star Game.
Liberty Versus the BIG EAST
Liberty is facing its second BIG EAST opponent this season. The Lady Flames lost a 92-56 home decision to Seton Hall on Dec. 12.
The Lady Flames are 2-12 all-time against BIG EAST opponents, with both wins coming against West Virginia (Jan. 2, 2000 and Nov. 25, 2000).
Liberty Versus the Big 5
Liberty is 2-1 all-time against Big 5 opposition, including 1-0 versus La Salle and 1-1 against Saint Joseph's.
The Lady Flames' most recent Big 5 matchup resulted in a 76-75 home victory over Saint Joseph's in overtime, Nov. 22, 2014 at the Vines Center. Karly Buer, who scored a team-high 15 points for the Lady Flames, nailed the game-winning free throw with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Liberty in the City of Brotherly Love
Liberty will play in Philadelphia for the second time in three years. The Lady Flames dropped a 77-65 decision at Saint Joseph's on Nov. 23, 2013.
The Lady Flames have played one previous postseason game in Philadelphia. Liberty squared off against Georgia in the opening round of the 2004 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at Temple's Liacouras Center, falling by a 78-53 score.
Homecoming of Sorts
Three Lady Flames and Assistant Coach Alexis Sherard all grew up within an hour and a half of Villanova's campus, in New Jersey. Catherine Kearney hails from Monroeville, Sheana Vega is from Jackson, Jordan Woods is from Mount Holly and Sherard grew up in Lakewood.
Kearney's parents, Steve and Kate (McPeak) Kearney, both played college basketball in Philadelphia, at Saint Joseph's. Additionally, Liberty Head Coach Carey Green first saw Kearney play in person at an AAU tournament at Villanova.
Villanova Versus the Big South
Villanova has never faced a Big South opponent in women's basketball, but both Wildcats hoops teams are opening postseason play against Big South foes this week.
The Villanova men's basketball team will meet Big South champion UNC Asheville in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship Friday at 12:40 p.m. at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Villanova also opened its most recent football postseason run against a Big South opponent. The Wildcats defeated Liberty, 29-22, in the second round of the 2014 FCS Playoffs at Villanova Stadium.
Layoff vs. Layover
Villanova has not played since losing to Creighton in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals, March 6 in Chicago.
Liberty has played three times since then, facing Charleston Southern (Friday), Radford (Saturday) and UNC Asheville (Sunday) in the Big South Women's Basketball Championship in Asheville, N.C. Sunday's championship game went to double overtime.
Liberty's only previous Postseason WNIT appearance came in 2011. The Lady Flames trimmed a 19-point deficit to four before losing a 62-56 decision at Charlotte in the opening round. Devon Brown and Avery Warley each tallied 14 points and six rebounds for Liberty.
Big South in the WNIT
Liberty will try to become the third Big South team ever to win a WNIT game. Radford defeated Richmond and DePaul in 1989, while Winthrop beat Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
Liberty Versus the Field
Liberty is 1-0 versus the 2016 WNIT field, recording a 72-63 home victory over Elon on Nov. 16.
On This Date
Liberty is 0-1 all-time on March 17. The Lady Flames' only previous game on St. Patrick's Day wrapped up Carey Green's first season as head coach. Liberty lost at LSU by a 77-54 count on March 17, 2000 in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.
Hauling in the Hardware
Liberty players have earned a number of awards during the first two weeks of March, including the following:
• Ashley Rininger became the first Lady Flame ever to earn back-to-back CoSIDA Academic All-America first team honors. She also became the first women's basketball player in conference history to win three consecutive Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards. Rininger was additionally named to the honorable mention All-Big South squad and Big South All-Academic team.
• Fellow seniors Catherine Kearney (second team All-Big South) and Sadalia Ellis (honorable mention All-Big South) each garnered their first year-end all-conference honors.
• This is the first season since 1995-96 that Liberty has not had a player make the first team All-Big South squad.
• Kearney and Ellis both represented Liberty on the Big South Championship all-tournament team.
Liberty lost to UNC Asheville, 64-62 in double overtime, in the Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game, Sunday afternoon in Asheville, N.C.
• It marked the first Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game ever to go to overtime and the Lady Flames' first-ever overtime contest in the tournament.
• It was Liberty's first overtime game since a 76-75 home victory over Saint Joseph's on Nov. 22, 2014.
• Sunday's contest equaled the longest game in program history, as it was the Lady Flames' fifth double overtime game and first since Jan. 30, 2014 versus High Point.
• Candice Leatherwood played 49 minutes for the Lady Flames, breaking the program record of 48 minutes played in a game.
This is just the third time in the last 20 seasons that Liberty won neither the Big South Conference regular-season or conference title, along with 2006-07 and 2013-14.
The Lady Flames missed the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship for the fourth time in the last 20 years.
Liberty lost for just the second time in 18 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game appearances, Sunday versus UNC Asheville in double overtime.
A Look Back at the 2016 Big South Championship
No. 2 seed Liberty finished as the runner-up at the 2016 Big South Women's Basketball Championship, played at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, N.C.
March 11, 2016 - Quarterfinal - No. 2 seed Liberty 68, No. 7 seed Charleston So. 53
• Catherine Kearney (17 points, career-high 14 rebounds) helped Liberty outrebound the Buccaneers, 55-22.
March 12, 2016 - Semifinal - No. 2 seed Liberty 51, No. 3 seed Radford 41
• Liberty won a defensive struggle by holding Radford to 11 first-half points and 29.6 percent (16-of-54) shooting for the game.
March 13, 2016 - Final - No. 1 seed UNC Asheville 64, No. 2 seed Liberty 62
• Bronaza Fitzgerald scored from close range with 8.6 seconds remaining in the second overtime, lifting host UNC Asheville to its second Big South title.
• Ashley Rininger led all players with 22 points but could not sink a potential game-winning shot in the closing seconds. Catherine Kearney added 10 points and 12 boards.
20 x 9
Liberty's pair of victories at the Big South Women's Basketball Championship secured its ninth consecutive 20-win season and its 18th 20-win campaign in the last 20 years. The Lady Flames have not won fewer than 18 games since the start of the 1996-97 season.
Salute to Seniors
Prior to tipoff of their March 5 game against Presbyterian, the Lady Flames honored seniors Katelyn Adams, Sadalia Ellis, Jaymee Fisher-Davis, Catherine Kearney and Ashley Rininger. The Lady Flames have won 117 games during the last five seasons, with the five seniors combining for 4,224 points and 2,809 rebounds.
Winning the Battle of the Boards
Liberty has outrebounded 28 of 32 opponents this season, including 19 in a row. The Lady Flames have climbed to No. 10 nationally for rebounding, through March 13.
The Container is Half Full
The Lady Flames are 105-1 under head coach Carey Green when making at least 50 percent of their field goals, including 5-0 this season. Liberty has won the last 32 times it has shot 50 percent or better, since an 83-77 loss to Kentucky in the first round of the 2010 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship (March 20, 2010).
The Container is Half Empty
Liberty had held 69 straight opponents below 50 percent shooting from the field before No. 16/15 California shot 51.9 percent (28-of-54) against the Lady Flames on Nov. 28 in Las Vegas. Most recently, the Lady Flames' last 23 foes have each been held below the 50 percent mark.
#1 Mickayla Sanders
• Played a career-high 38 minutes in Sunday's Big South Championship title game against UNC Asheville, grabbing six rebounds
• Ranks 11th in program history with 102 career three-pointers made and 42nd with 644 points. She needs two triples to pass Elena Kisseleva for 10th place on Liberty's all-time list.
#2 Candice Leatherwood
• Played a program-record 49 of 50 possible minutes during Sunday's Big South Championship title game against UNC Asheville, posting nine points, a career-high seven assists, four rebounds and only two turnovers
• Has started each of the last seven games at point guard, averaging 6.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.0 apg while leading Liberty to a 5-2 record. She posted 10 points and six rebounds during a March 1 victory at Winthrop.
• Leatherwood has gone to the foul line more often than any other Lady Flame during the final 5:00 of games this season, going 26-of-38 for 68.4 percent in those situations.
#3 Sadalia Ellis
• Made the Big South Championship all-tournament team despite leaving the championship game just three minutes into the first quarter due to injury
• 2015-16 honorable mention All-Big South performer
• Has scored in double figures a team-high 16 times this season
#10 Jaymee Fisher-Davis
• Played well during the Big South Championship semifinal and final, averaging 10.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg while shooting 50 percent (6-of-12) from three-point range. She set career highs for minutes played (40) and rebounds (8) during Sunday's championship game.
• 78.3 percent (130 of 166) of her career made field goals have been three-pointers including 34 of her last 36 made field goals. Fisher-Davis ranks seventh in program history with 130 career three-pointers made and needs three more to pass former teammate Reagan Miller for sixth place.
• Younger brother Matthew Fisher-Davis is a sophomore on the Vanderbilt men's basketball team, playing in the NCAA Tournament this week. He has hit a team-leading 79 three-pointers this season, while shooting 45.7 percent from beyond the arc.
#20 Sheana Vega
• Her hometown of Jackson, N.J., is located approximately 65 miles east of Villanova.
#21 Mikal Johnson
• Teammate of Villanova's Caroline Coyer and Katherine Coyer for the victorious West team in the 2012 VHSCA girls' basketball all-star game
#23 Brooke Alexander
• Has helped Liberty go 13-3 since cracking the starting lineup on Jan. 16. Alexander missed the regular-season finale due to illness, but returned to start all three games of the Big South Championship.
#30 KK Barbour
• Equaled her career high of seven points and grabbed six boards during Liberty's Big South Championship quarterfinal victory over Charleston Southern (March 11)
#32 Jordan Woods
• Hails from Mount Holly, N.J., approximately 50 miles east of Villanova
#34 Katelyn Adams
• Recorded three straight double-doubles between Feb. 1-9 and has five in her last 15 games, giving Adams six double-doubles for the season and 15 for her career
• Adams has tallied six or more rebounds in 27 of 32 games in 2015-16, including 13 10+-rebound efforts. She leads the team in rebounding and ranks fourth in the Big South.
• Has appeared in 130 consecutive games to start her collegiate career, putting her in second place on Liberty's career games played list. The Liberty record is 132 career games played, by Avery Warley (2009-12).
#40 Molly Reagan
• Graduated from Braintree High School, where she was a teammate of Villanova freshman Bridget Herlihy
#44 Catherine Kearney
• Made the Big South Championship all-tournament team after averaging 12.3 ppg and 11.7 rpg for the tournament, while posting two double-doubles
• Grew up approximately 35 miles southeast of Villanova in Monroeville, N.J. Both of her parents played college basketball at Saint Joseph's, and her mother Kate (McPeak) Kearney faced Harry Perretta-coached Villanova as a player.
• 2015-16 second team All-Big South honoree
#55 Ashley Rininger
• 2015-16 Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year (third year in a row), honorable mention All-Big South selection and Big South All-Academic Team member (third year in a row)
• Scored a game-high 22 points and collected eight rebounds in a career-high 39 minutes during Sunday's Big South Championship title contest versus UNC Asheville
• First team CoSIDA Academic All-American for the second straight season