Twenty-two days before the Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game, Liberty took down two-time defending conference champion UNC Asheville, 53-48, Saturday evening at the Vines Center.
Big games by the inside-outside duo of Keyen Green (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Ashtyn Baker (12 points) helped the Lady Flames snap a five-game losing streak in the head-to-head series with the Bulldogs. Baker and Tatyana Crowder each hit two big free throws in the final 41 seconds to keep Asheville at bay.
Liberty improves to 17-9 overall, 12-2 in the Big South and 10-0 at home this season. The Lady Flames, who held their 10th straight opponent below the 60-point mark, remain atop the Big South standings by one game over Radford (11-3).
Despite a double-double from Bronaza Fitzgerald (16 points, 10 rebounds), Asheville drops to 13-11 overall and 10-4 in Big South play. The Bulldogs, who had defeated Liberty by a 48-41 count at Kimmel Arena on Jan. 16, saw a seven-game road winning streak halted. Asheville had also had posted a won its last five games in the Vines Center, including four during its 2017 Big South Championship title run.
Green scored eight straight Liberty points, helping the Lady Flames take a 12-5 lead on a driving layup with 3:14 to play in the first quarter. Liberty owned a 14-9 advantage at the end of the period after holding Asheville to 36.4 percent (4-of-11) shooting and pulling down nine rebounds to the Bulldogs' five during the stanza.
The Lady Flames took their largest lead of the first half when Nene Johnson's layup at 5:47 capped a 7-2 surge and put Liberty on top, 21-13. Ali Trani's three-pointer on the Bulldogs' next possession initiated a 7-0 Asheville run, which trimmed the visitors' deficit to 21-20, 3:11 before halftime.
Liberty retained the advantage for the remainder of the half, taking a 26-22 lead into the locker room at the intermission. Green was a big reason why, tallying 10 points and six rebounds during the opening 20 minutes.
Asheville stayed close by grabbing 10 offensive rebounds prior to halftime, leading to seven second-chance points.
The Bulldogs were within three points (30-27) before going scoreless for 4:59. The Lady Flames tallied six points during that span, extending the advantage to 36-27 on Ola Makurat's fast break layup at the 3:11 mark. Asheville then got back within 38-33 by the end of the period, thanks to two late hoops by Fitzgerald.
Two more Fitzgerald baskets early in the fourth quarter helped the Bulldogs cut their deficit to a single point (42-41) with 6:32 remaining. However, Asheville missed its next five shot attempts as Liberty scored seven of the next eight points. Baker finished off the surge with a layup, giving the Lady Flames a 49-42 cushion with just 1:42 left.
Jumpers by Khaila Webb and Jessica Wall had it back to a one-possession game (49-46) with 43 seconds on the clock. However, Crowder and Baker nailed the aforementioned key free throws to help seal the Lady Flames' victory.
Liberty's first win over Asheville since Jan. 4, 2016 gives the Lady Flames their 11th home winning streak of 10 games or longer in program history.
The Lady Flames shot 55.6 percent (10-of-18) from the field after halftime, aided by 18 points in the paint. For the game, Liberty made 46.3 percent (19-of-41) of its field goals, compared with 35.7 percent (20-of-56) for the Bulldogs.
The two teams combined to make just 3-of-19 three-pointers on the night.
Liberty finished at 72.2 percent (13-of-18) from the foul line, while Asheville shot 7-of-10 for 70 percent.
The Lady Flames ended up with the upper hand in rebounding (33-30) and points in the paint (30-22).
Green's fifth double-double of the season and the 14th of her career was especially satisfying, after she shot just 3-of-13 at Asheville on Jan. 16. Since that night, Green has scored in double figures in nine straight games, helping Liberty win eight of those outings.
Baker scored five of her 12 points during the fourth quarter and also committed only one turnover in a career-high 38 minutes played.
Crowder tallied eight points, including a 4-of-4 showing at the foul line.
KK Barbour scored only four points, but all of them came in the fourth quarter to go along with six rebounds and two blocked shots. In the process, the junior became one of the top 50 rebounders in program history. Barbour is now tied with Rebecca Lightfoot for 48th place all-time with 351 career boards.
After scoring a career-high 23 points during the Jan. 16 matchup with Liberty, Webb was limited to 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting on Saturday. However, she notched her 1,000th career point during the first quarter. Saturday's contest marked the 600th game Carey Green has coached at Liberty, including his 300th Big South regular-season contest. His record improves to 433-167 overall and 260-40 in Big South play.
Up Next Liberty will take to the road for the next two games, beginning Tuesday at Winthrop (2-23, 1-13 Big South). Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Winthrop Coliseum.
The Lady Flames have won six consecutive meetings with the Eagles, including a 63-37 triumph at the Vines Center on Jan. 9.