Lady Flames land spot in NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

More than halfway through the first quarter of the Big South Women’s Basketball Championship, the Lady Flames trailed UNC Asheville 2-10, which was their largest deficit in a tournament game since the 2015 championship vs. High Point.

The Bulldogs fans unapologetically cheered on their team as they held an eight-point lead and looked to be on track to upset the regular season champions. But the young Lady Flames team remained calm in the face of adversity and stayed true to the heart of their team – rebounds, domination of the post, relentless defense and a deep bench.

The No. 1 Lady Flames gradually eliminated the No. 3 Bulldogs lead, until they eventually took a 17-16 lead halfway through the second quarter. UNC Asheville continued to fight back, but the Lady Flames sealed the momentum shift when junior guard Tatyana Crowder dished the ball to junior center Molly Reagan who drilled a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to take a 23-21 lead entering the second half.

With the momentum on their side, the Lady Flames dominated the second half as they outscored the Bulldogs 37-21, to seal a 60-42 victory over UNC Asheville on March 11, 2018. The Lady Flames Championship victory marked their eighth win in a row and solidified a perfect home record of 15-0 this season.

“It’s been such a blessing to work with these young ladies,” Green said. “All I can do is express gratitude. I’ve seen them mature into a championship team right in front of their eyes. They worked very hard for this opportunity, and we had contributions from the entire team throughout the year.”

Liberty’s signature dominance on the boards and in the paint proved to be instrumental in the Championship as the Lady Flames led in rebounds (44-30), points in the paint (28-12), and 2nd chance points (19-9). The Lady Flames championship effort was led by junior forward KK Barbour and the Big South Freshman of the Year, Ashtyn Baker.

Barbour shot 60 percent from behind the arc, as she tallied 10 points and six rebounds. Her third consecutive outing with at least 10 points earned her the 2018 tournament MVP award.

“I was crying like a baby,” Barbour said. “This feeling is amazing. Losing the (championship) game my freshman year was heartbreaking. Last year we didn’t have the chance to redeem ourselves. Then to come back this year and do it on our home floor was the best moment ever.”

Baker totaled 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal, nearly all of which came in the second half.

“It was so rewarding (when the final buzzer sounded) because of how hard we worked this season and how much time and effort we’ve put it,” Baker said. “I am humbled so much by the way God has allowed me to grow this year,” Baker said. “I have to give him all the glory for everything that he’s allowed me to accomplish.”

The game began at a defensive standstill as both teams failed to score a basket within the first two minutes. Then the game shifted when the Bulldogs broke the stalemate and soon took a 2-10 lead with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

But the Lady Flames quickly fought back with a 7-0 run, to bring the game back to 9-10 at the end of the first quarter. At the start of the second quarter, UNC Asheville attempted to strengthen their lead, but the Lady Flames traded baskets with the Bulldogs and eventually took a 23-21 lead going into halftime.

The Bulldogs were able to tie the game on their first possession in the third quarter, but the Lady Flames immediately responded with a 9-2 run that gave them a 32-25 lead with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. UNC Asheville was able to shorten Liberty’s lead to 37-34, with nine seconds remaining in the quarter, but Baker urgently dribbled the ball down the court and made a buzzer-beating layup as the quarter ended.

The fourth quarter belonged to the Lady Flames as they outscored the bulldogs 21-8, to clinch the championship. Liberty’s win marked their 17th Big South Championship in 21 years, but the win was also their first since 2015.

“What a phenomenal tournament,” UNC Asheville head coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick said. “We had a lot of fun here. We were blessed to have the opportunity to come in and compete for our third straight championship. We didn’t win our third straight championship, but I think there’s something to be said for a team that starts out 0-7 versus our division one opponents and really turns that around to finishing third in the conference … and then to come in here and make a final.”

The Lady Flames victory also gives them an automatic qualifier into the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

“As a team it’s another game that we have to buy into each other, it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing … we just have to play Liberty basketball at the end of the day,” Green said.

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