JACKSON, Tenn. - 3/19/2007 - by Joe Reinsch, NAIA Women's Media Coordinator
The Union University Lady Bulldogs ended their season with a 66-64 loss to Lambuth University in the semifinals of the 2007 NAIA Women's Basketball National Tournament. Union and Lambuth split the season series 2-2 with Union winning two game by 20 and 23 points respectively, and Lambuth taking their two wins by two points each on shots in the final seconds both times.
The victory marked the first time since the NAIA implemented bracketed quarters in 2003 that no No. 1 or No. 2 seed will participate in the championship, and it sets up the first championship since 1988 in which both participants are taking part in their first-ever NAIA title game. Lambuth’s win completed a night in which the semifinals games were decided by a combined six points, the narrowest margin for a pair of semifinal games since 1993 when Arkansas State and Union advanced to the championship game after winning their respective semifinals by three points combined.
The game’s final three and a half minutes featured five lead changes, the last when Dee Preyer’s long fadeaway from the left wing well behind the three-point line fell through with 2.4 seconds left to give Lambuth a 65-64 lead. Union attempted a long outlet pass into the frontcourt, but it sailed out of bounds, and Union was forced to foul Tara Robinson on the inbounds play, leaving 1.6 seconds in the game. Robinson sank the first free throw, and the second rattled around the rim before dropping into the hands of Union’s D.J. Sissoko, who turned and fired a pass to Kaitlin Dudley at midcourt. However, the final horn blew before Dudley could plant and launch a desperation three, sending Lambuth into the title game.
Union held a 55-49 lead with six and a half minutes remaining in the game, but Reggie Maddox sank a pair of free throws with 5:05 left, then hit a three-pointer from the top of the circle to cut the lead to 55-54 with just under four minutes to play. After a Union turnover, Preyer gave Lambuth its first lead of the second half at 57-55 with a three-pointer that was promptly answered by a Dudley three-pointer on the next possession, returning the lead to Union at 58-57 with 3:01 to play.
LaTorya Fuller extended the lead to 60-57 with a pair of free throws, and Dudley made one-of-two at the line with 2:01 remaining, but Maddox hit another three-pointer from the same spot at the top of the circle and hit a driving layup off the glass to give Lambuth a 62-61 lead with 56 seconds remaining. Dudley answered again for Union, this time with a go-ahead two-point basket that gave Union a 63-62 lead with 46 seconds remaining. Maddox lost possession on a drive to the hoop, and Crystal Eason was fouled with 11 seconds to play. Eason missed the first free throw but made the second to make it a 64-62 ballgame, setting up Preyer’s game-winning three-pointer.
Lambuth scored eight of the game’s first 10 points before Union responded with a 21-7 run to take its largest lead of the game at 23-15 with 6:39 remaining in the opening half. Lambuth scored six straight to trim its deficit to 23-21, but Union took a six-point halftime lead at 30-24 after Eason’s three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining in the half.
Maddox finished with team-highs of 18 points and eight rebounds, while Preyer tallied 17 points, including a trio of three-pointers. Jodi Gunter added 10 points and seven rebounds. Despite shooting 35 percent (23-for-66) from the field, Lambuth committed only 11 turnovers.
Natanya Smith made nine-of-10 from the field for a game-high 20 points, and she notched the double-double with a game-high 10 rebounds. Smith gave Union its largest lead of the second half on the first possession after halftime, giving the Bulldogs a 32-24 lead on a basket in the paint, and her putback of an Ena Daniels miss with gave Union its 55-49 lead with 6:25 to play. Dudley was three-of-four from three-point range, finishing with 15 points, while Eason was Union’s only other player in double figures with 10 points.
Lambuth, which had never before advanced past the second round in four prior NAIA Tournament appearances, improves to 26-9 overall and advances to Tuesday’s NAIA championship game at 6 p.m. against another title game newcomer in TranSouth rival Cumberland (Tenn.), which is also past the second round for the first time in three appearances. Union’s 13-game national tournament win streak was snapped with the loss, ending the chances of Union becoming just the third team in NAIA history to win three straight championships. Union’s season ends with a 30-6 overall record.
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