Liberty, UNC-Asheville to play for Big South Women's Title Sunday
LYNCHBURG, Va. (WSET/Liberty Flames) - During its matchup with High Point in last Saturday's regular-season finale, Liberty had to rally from 17 points down to win. One week later, the No. 1 seed Lady Flames jumped out to a 32-9 lead to begin its Big South Women's Basketball Championship semifinal clash with No. 4 seed High Point at the Vines Center and never looked back. Liberty's 78-54 triumph earned the Lady Flames' 19th championship game appearance in tournament history.
Big South Freshman of the Year Ashtyn Baker helped to fuel Liberty's fast start with 10 of her 14 points and three of her four steals coming before halftime. Big South Player of the Year Keyen Green then played the role of closer, scoring 16 of her team-high 18 points after the intermission. They were joined in double figures by teammates KK Barbour (15 points) and Bridgette Rettstatt (11 points).
The Lady Flames improve to 23-9 with their seventh consecutive victory overall and their 14th straight home win. Liberty is now 10-0 all-time against High Point in the Big South Championship, shooting 48.1 percent (25-of-52) for the afternoon and racking up 36 points in the paint.
Liberty will meet two-time defending champion No. 3 seed UNC Asheville in the title tilt, Sunday at 2 p.m. inside the Vines Center. The Lady Flames will be aiming to win their 17th Big South title but their first since 2015.
Despite a game-high 20 points from Emma Bockrath, High Point's season ends at 17-14. The Panthers became the 16th consecutive opponent Liberty has held below 60 points, shooting 29.5 percent (18-of-61) from the floor, 21.1 percent (4-of-19) from long range and 53.8 percent (14-of-26) at the line.
Liberty raced out of the gates to start the game, fueled by an aggressive defense. The Lady Flames came up with six steals in the first quarter, leading to eight points. Offensively, Baker (8 points) and Ola Makurat (7 points) led the charge, with Makurat's buzzer-beating three-pointer giving Liberty a 25-9 advantage after 10 minutes of play. The Lady Flames shot 56.9 percent (9-of-16) from the field in the first quarter, including 4-of-8 from three-point range.
Barbour scored the second period's first seven points, including a pair of free throws which finished off a 10-0 Liberty run with the home team on top, 32-9, with 6:15 remaining in the half. The Lady Flames later took three separate 24-point leads before closing out the half with a 21-point advantage (38-17).
Led by Baker (10 points), Liberty shot 42.9 percent (12-of-28) from the field and 38.5 percent (5-of-13) from three-point range prior to halftime. The Lady Flames also got 16 first-half bench points, paced by Makurat's seven. That production helped Liberty survive Green's early foul trouble. The sophomore standout was limited to two points in two minutes during the opening half.
Conversely, High Point struggled to 22.2 percent (6-of-27) from the field, 0-of-8 from beyond the arc and 35.7 percent (5-of-14) at the foul line prior to the intermission.
Bockrath got the Panthers off to a strong start in the second half, scoring the visitors' first seven third-quarter points. High Point battled back to within 15 (48-33) on a Shea Morgan three-point play with 1:46 on the clock, during Liberty's drought of 6:42 between made field goals.
Rettstatt helped Liberty steady the ship with three points in six seconds, and the Lady Flames' lead stood at 17 (52-35) heading to the fourth quarter. Liberty shot only 3-of-10 from the field during the third period but knocked down 8-of-12 free throws. Meanwhile, the Panthers scored more points during the third stanza (18) than they had during the entire first half (17).
Bockrath hit a pair of three-pointers during the fourth quarter's first 1:24, but fouled out with 6:48 remaining. However, her team continued whittling away at Liberty's lead. Camryn Brown, who hit High Point's game-winning three-pointer in Friday's win over Presbyterian, made a deep triple with 4:48 left for her only made field goal on Saturday. The trifecta pulled the Panthers to within 62-50, but that's as close as High Point got.
Barbour and Green combined to score Liberty's next six points, initiating a 16-4 game-closing surge by the Lady Flames over the final 3:37. In total, Green (11 points) and Barbour (5 points) tallied the Lady Flames' first 16 markers of the fourth quarter.
Liberty ended up shooting 71.4 percent (10-of-14) from the field and 66.7 percent (6-of-9) from the charity stripe during their 26-point final period. The Lady Flames have now posted 20+-point victories in the Big South Championship quarterfinals and semifinals for the first time since 2012.
The Lady Flames won the rebounding battle, 43-35, with four different players (Lela Sellers, Green, Makurat and Rettstatt) sharing team-high honors with five boards apiece.
Green, who needed only 16 minutes to score her 18 points, is now averaging 19.4 ppg in five career matchups with the Panthers.
Rettstatt was also efficient, reaching double figures for the second time in her career (11 points) despite playing just 13 minutes.
Barbour's 15 points give the junior a career-long streak of six straight games scoring in double digits.
In addition to her 14 points, Baker contributed four rebounds and three assists, while matching her career high of four steals.
Makurat also equaled her career high for steals (3), to go along with seven points and five caroms.
Sellers did not score a point in 34 minutes, but tied her career high of six assists to pace the Lady Flames in that category.
In addition to Bockrath, High Point also got solid production from Morgan (nine rebounds), Kennedy Currie (nine points) and Lindsey Edwards (four steals).