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Defense Leads Liberty to Championship Game

March 12, 2016  Asheville, N.C.  RSS
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A stifling defensive effort propelled No. 2 seed Liberty past No. 3 seed Radford, 51-41, in a Big South Women's Basketball Championship semifinal contest, Saturday at Kimmel Arena.

The Lady Flames (20-11), who will face host and No. 1 seed UNC Asheville in the championship game Sunday at 2 p.m., held the Highlanders to 29.6 percent (16-of-54) shooting from the field. Radford's 41 points equaled the fewest ever scored in a Big South Championship semifinal game.

Jaymee Fisher-Davis led all scorers with 11 points, while fellow Liberty seniors Catherine Kearney (10 points, nine rebounds), Sadalia Ellis (10 points, four steals) and Katelyn Adams (11 rebounds) all played key roles in Liberty's victory. The Lady Flames will aim for their 17th Big South Championship crown in 20 years on Sunday.

Radford's season ends at 18-13 despite solid efforts by forwards Jayda Worthy (10 points, seven rebounds), Janayla White (nine points, 10 rebounds) and Lydia Rivers (seven points, 11 rebounds).

For the second straight game, Liberty set an early defensive tone, limiting its opponent to one made field goal during the first quarter, as Radford shot 1-of-9 (11.1 percent) from the field. The Lady Flames weren't much better at 4-of-20 (20 percent), but Ellis scored six first-quarter points, including a layup at 1:35 which gave Liberty a 13-4 advantage. White scored all five of Radford's points during the quarter, and her free throw during the final minute cut her team's deficit to 13-5 after one period.

The Highlanders scored six of the second quarter's first seven points, pulling to within 14-11 on Worthy's hoop at the 6:39 mark. Liberty then closed the quarter with a 14-0 run, highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers by Fisher-Davis and five Kearney points. The Lady Flames took a 28-11 halftime lead after holding Radford to 18.2 percent (4-of-22) from the field and winning the rebounding battle, 30-14.

Radford's 11 first-half points tied the tournament record for fewest in a single half and set a new record for the semifinal round.

Just as they did during Friday's quarterfinal victory over High Point, Radford came out of halftime with renewed energy. The Highlanders made as many field goals (4) during the first 3:38 of the third quarter as they did during the entire opening half, including a trio by Worthy.

Radford was outscoring Liberty during the third quarter, 17-6, after Sydney Nunley's three-point play with 6.1 seconds remaining pulled the Highlanders within 34-28. Fisher-Davis then beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer from the right wing, sending Liberty into the final 10 minutes on top, 37-28.

A steal and layup by Ellis extended Liberty's advantage to 41-29 with 6:29 remaining in the fourth quarter. That proved to be the Lady Flames' final made field goal of the day, but Liberty held Radford at bay by making 10-of-12 free throws during the fourth quarter, including a 5-of-6 effort by Candice Leatherwood.

The Lady Flames closed out their third win over the Highlanders this season and their 12th straight victory over Radford overall. Liberty also reached the 20-win mark for the ninth consecutive season and the 18th time in 20 years.

Liberty struggled shooting the basketball itself, finishing at 27.3 percent (15-of-55) from the field for its lowest field goal percentage since a Jan. 9 loss at Presbyterian. The Lady Flames also went 18.8 percent (3-of-16) from three-point range and 64.3 percent (18-of-28) from the foul line.

In a battle between the Big South's top two rebounding teams, Liberty posted a 44-39 edge on the glass. The Lady Flames grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second-chance points.

Liberty was able to convert Radford's 16 turnovers into 22 points and outscored the Highlanders in bench points, 18-7.

Fisher-Davis was the only player in the game to hit a three-pointer, finishing 3-of-6 on the day.

Ellis scored in double figures against Radford for the third time this season and the 16th time overall on the year.

Kearney finished one rebound shy of her second straight double-double, while becoming the 13th Lady Flame ever to grab 600 career boards.

Leatherwood chipped in seven points and a game-high three assists for the Lady Flames.

Destinee Walker came up with five of Radford's 11 steals. However, the Highlanders failed to make a three-pointer on the day, misfiring on all nine of their attempts from behind the arc.