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Lady Flames Capture BSC Crown in Nail-Biter

March 15, 2009
|  High Point, N.C.
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Liberty celebrates its 12th Big South championship in the last 13 seasons.

Liberty celebrates its 12th Big South championship in the last 13 seasons.

For the second consecutive season, Liberty's appearance in the Advance Auto Parts Big South Women's Basketball Championship title contest came down to a last-second shot which careened around the rim. This time around, No. 6 seed Gardner-Webb's Dominique Hudson missed an attempt from the lane in the closing seconds, enabling the No. 1 seed Lady Flames to hang on for a 51-50 victory and their 12th Big South title in the last 13 seasons. With the win Sunday afternoon at the Millis Center in High Point, N.C., Liberty earns the Big South's automatic bid into the 2009 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.

Liberty, which improves to 24-8 this season and 12-0 all-time in Big South Championship title tilts, owned a 10-point lead with 7:34 remaining, prior to the Bulldogs' furious comeback attempt in the closing minutes. The Lady Flames will learn their NCAA Tournament first-round pairing and destination Monday at 7 p.m., when the bracket is announced on ESPN's Women's Basketball Selection Special.

Gardner-Webb sees its inaugural season in the Big South Conference end at 17-15, despite a career-high 21-point outburst by Courtney Epps.

The Bulldogs nearly posted a dramatic victory, when Hudson drove from the top of the key, down the right side of the lane, with her team trailing by one point and the game clock ticking down to 0.0. Hudson lofted a soft shot from six feet away, up and over the outstretched arms of several Liberty defenders. The sophomore's attempt bounded off the rim several times, before finally bouncing off the cylinder. Amber Mays then snatched away the championship-clinching rebound.

Last season, Liberty won the Big South title when Megan Frazee spun in the game-winning shot from close range with just 0.3 seconds remaining in the championship game against Radford.

Frazee, voted the tournament MVP for the second season in a row, was one of three Lady Flames to score in double digits Saturday, despite being limited to 23 minutes of playing time by foul trouble. The Big South Player of the Year scored nine of her 12 points during the second half and corralled seven rebounds. She finished the three-game tournament with 22.0 ppg and 10.3 rpg averages.

Sister Moriah Frazee joined her on the all-tournament team, after tallying 10 points and nine rebounds on Sunday. However, it was another of Liberty's seven seniors, Rachel Hammond, who paced the Lady Flames with 13 points and five boards in the championship game.

Megan and Moriah Frazee were joined on the all-tournament team by Gardner-Webb's Hudson and Margaret Roundtree, as well as Mackenzie Maier of High Point.

Consecutive fast break layups by Hammond and Megan Frazee staked Liberty to a 4-0 lead out of the gate.

Gardner-Webb answered quickly, evening the score at 4-4 when Meranda Burnett made a finger roll at 16:30.

Both teams saw a pair of starters saddled with two personal fouls during the first 7:24 of play, and scoring came at a premium in the early going. Liberty's lead stood at just 11-8 at the second media timeout, with 11:57 remaining in the opening stanza.

The Lady Flames owned a 15-11 edge, prior to a 10-0 Gardner-Webb burst. Epps and Burnett each scored five points during the run, and Burnett's nifty reverse layup at the 7:31 mark put the Bulldogs on top, 21-15.

Gardner-Webb's advantage reached seven points, 28-21, when Epps swished her fourth triple of the opening half, with 1:48 remaining in the period.

Liberty trimmed its halftime deficit to 28-23, after Moriah Frazee closed the first-half scoring with a pair of free throws. It was the second straight year the Lady Flames trailed at the intermission in the title tilt. Radford owned a 32-23 halftime edge over Liberty in the 2008 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title contest.

Both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first half. Liberty shot 33.3 percent (7-of-21) from the field, while Gardner-Webb checked in at 32.1 percent (9-of-28). The Bulldogs excelled from three-point range, however, making five of their nine attempts from beyond the arc.

Liberty outrebounded the Bulldogs by a 26-14 margin during the first half, but the Lady Flames committed 11 turnovers during the opening 20 minutes. Gardner-Webb converted the Liberty miscues into 10 points.

Hammond sparked the Lady Flames' offense in the first half, tallying nine points and four rebounds. Avery Warley added five points and a half-high six rebounds.

Megan Frazee, who averaged 27.0 ppg in her first two tournament games, only played eight minutes in the opening stanza, due to foul trouble. She contributed three points and a matching number of rebounds.

Epps was the story for the Bulldogs, nailing four triples on her way to a 15-point, four-rebound first half. Burnett added seven markers from the point guard position.

Whatever Big South Coach of the Year Carey Green said during his halftime speech inspired his team to open the second half with a 6-0 run. Megan Frazee canned a three-pointer from the right wing at 17:15, giving Liberty its first lead since 15-14, at 29-28.

It took Gardner-Webb 7:12 to make its first field goal of the second half, a mid-range jumper by LaTroya Pope. The Bulldogs' offensive drought enabled the top-seeded Lady Flames to bolster their lead to 35-31. Moriah Frazee found her shooting touch early in the second half, scoring eight consecutive Liberty points at one juncture.

The Lady Flames used a 10-2 surge to take their first double-digit lead of the game, 47-37. Mays' steal and fast break layup at 7:34 capped the run.

Gardner-Webb, which erased a 10-point deficit in its semifinal win over High Point on Saturday, started chipping away at Liberty's lead. Breynna Winkler, who had not played in the entire game, came off coach Rick Reeves' bench to score back-to-back field goals. A Hudson basket with 3:01 to play finished off the Bulldogs' 6-0 burst, trimming Liberty's edge to 47-43.

Hammond put the Lady Flames back in front by six (49-43) with an off-balance, left-handed bank shot at 2:28. Her two points marked Liberty's final field goal of the game, however.

Hudson cut Gardner-Webb's deficit in half with a three-pointer on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession, before Megan Frazee and Epps took turns going two-for-two from the line. Epps' foul shots with 1:32 on the second-half clock made the score 51-48, Lady Flames.

After a Liberty turnover, Epps brought her team to within a single point, 51-50, canning a layup at the 54.2-second mark. The Bulldogs then forced a shot clock violation by the Lady Flames, giving themselves one final chance to win the game.

The Lady Flames shot slightly better than Gardner-Webb for the contest, making 36.7 percent (18-of-49) of their field goals. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs made 32.7 percent (17-of-52) of their tries.

Liberty more than doubled up its opponent in the rebounding category, finishing the afternoon with a 51-25 edge on the glass. Leading the way was Warley, who equaled Gardner-Webb's second-half rebounding total by herself, collecting 11 of her game-high 17 caroms after the break. The redshirt freshman, who averaged 12.0 rpg for the tournament, also tallied eight points.

Speaking of work under the boards, two of Liberty's seniors climbed the program's all-time rebounding list on Sunday. Moriah Frazee's nine caroms move her into seventh place on Liberty's career rebounding ledger, with 598 boards. Hammond's five rebounds lift her into the Lady Flames' all-time top 50 rebounders list. She is now tied for spot No. 50 with current George Mason head women's basketball coach Jeri (Wiley) Porter, at 284 rebounds apiece.

Mays totaled four points, three rebounds and team-high totals for both assists (3) and steals (2), despite being limited by foul trouble herself.

Epps complemented her 21 points for Gardner-Webb with a team-high six rebounds and a team-best four assists. Hudson joined her in double digits, finishing with 10 points.

2009 Advance Auto Parts Big South Women's Basketball Championship
All-Tournament Team
Megan Frazee, Liberty – MVP
Moriah Frazee, Liberty
Dominique Hudson, Gardner-Webb
Margaret Roundtree, Gardner-Webb
Mackenzie Maier, High Point

Post-game Quotes
Liberty Head Coach Carey Green
"First of all, I'd like to congratulate Gardner-Webb. They had to fight very hard to get into the final. Today, the Bulldogs had a great game plan and executed it well. We were very fortunate to win. We took better control of the game in the second half and held on for the victory. I'm thankful we're in position to continue our season."

Gardner-Webb Head Coach Rick Reeves
"I am so proud of these ladies. We lost attempting to win and I am proud of our kids' resiliency. I thought the last shot was in. Dominique had a great look and she took it, and I am proud of her for that."