In a battle between Big South co-leaders Tuesday at the Vines Center, Liberty scorched the nets during a 30-point first quarter and never looked back on the way to their fourth straight win. Reigning Big South Player of the Week Catherine Kearney (19 points, 11 rebounds) excelled once again in a 73-51 victory for the Lady Flames over Gardner-Webb.
Liberty shot 65 percent (13-of-20) from the field, while jumping out to a 30-16 lead after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames nullified any chance of a Gardner-Webb comeback by holding the Runnin' Bulldogs to 26.8 percent (19-of-71) field goal shooting on the night.
The Lady Flames, who also saw Brooke Alexander (career-high 11 points) and Sadalia Ellis (11 points) score in double figures, improve to 11-8 overall and 8-2 in Big South play. Liberty is now tied with UNC Asheville for first place in the conference standings after recording its 18th straight home win over a Big South opponent.
Gardner-Webb (13-7, 7-3 Big South), which posted a 61-57 home win over Liberty on Dec. 2 and entered the Vines Center on a six-game winning streak, failed to put a player in double figures in the scoring column. The Runnin' Bulldogs' four leading scorers on the season (Olivia Parker, Candace Brown, Alexus Hill and Tierra Huntsman) shot a combined 7-of-33 on the night.
Liberty set the tone early, sinking each of its first seven field goal attempts during a 16-6 game-opening run. Three-pointers by Alexander and Ellis during the final minute of the first quarter closed out the Lady Flames' second highest-scoring quarter of the season with the home team on top, 30-16.
Mickayla Sanders and Jaymee Fisher-Davis connected from three-point range to kick-start a 14-2 Liberty surge to start the second quarter. Kearney's layup at the 4:51 mark gave the Lady Flames what proved to be their largest lead of the night, 44-18. However, Gardner-Webb held Liberty without a made field goal for the remainder of the half, trimming its deficit to 47-29 by the intermission.
Led by Alexander's 11 points, Liberty's 47-point first half was its highest-scoring half this season. The Lady Flames shot 52.9 percent (18-of-34) during the first 20 minutes, as compared with 27 percent (10-of-37) for Gardner-Webb.
Liberty shot just 28.6 percent (6-of-21) during the third quarter, but Gardner-Webb was only able to trim a point off of the Lady Flames' lead. Ky'Asia Stanford's steal and jump shot at the third-quarter buzzer made the score 59-42 in favor of Liberty.
Freshman post players KK Barbour and Molly Reagan combined to score 11 of Liberty's 14 fourth-quarter points, closing out the Lady Flames' 22-point win
Buoyed by 46 points in the paint, the Lady Flames finished the game at 42.6 percent (29-of-68) from the field. They also shot 29.4 percent (5-of-17) from beyond the arc and 66.7 percent (10-of-15) from the foul line.
Gardner-Webb's field goal percentage was pulled down by a 16 percent (4-of-25) mark from behind the three-point line. The Runnin' Bulldogs connected on 9-of-13 free throws for 69.2 percent.
Liberty won the rebounding battle for the sixth straight game, 56-38. They also committed a season-low 12 turnovers, after committing a season-high 31 miscues during its first matchup with Gardner-Webb this season.
Kearney, who led all players in both points and rebounds, recorded her fourth double-double of the season and the seventh of her career. She also become the 27th Lady Flame to pull down 500 career rebounds, finishing the contest with 509 boards.
Alexander's first career double-digit scoring effort was accompanied by a career high-tying five rebounds.
Ellis complemented her scoring output with by recording a game-high six of Liberty's 18 assists.
Katelyn Adams grabbed 10 rebounds for her third straight double-digit effort on the boards.
Reagan finished with eight points and a matching number of rebounds, including six offensive caroms. Classmate Barbour tallied a career-high seven points for the second straight game and collected a career-best five rebounds.
Parker and Brown paced Gardner-Webb with eight points each, while Parker nabbed a team-leading seven rebounds before leaving with an injury midway through the second quarter.
Liberty will play host to High Point (7-12, 6-4 Big South) on Saturday afternoon for a rematch of the 2015 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game. The first matchup between the Lady Flames and Panthers this season will tip off at 2 p.m. inside the Vines Center.