Liz Flowers tied a career-high with 40 points and the No. 17-ranked West Liberty women took control early in rolling to an 85-70 victory against Shaw (N.C.) in an NCAA Division II Atlantic Region quarterfinal Friday afternoon at tiny Barco-Stephens Hall on the campus of Virginia Union University.
The win set up a rematch of last season’s Atlantic Region semifinal with defending national champion California (Pa.). The No. 2-seeded Vulcans (25-5) rallied past No. 7 seed Chowan (N.C.), 80-70, in Friday’s other afternoon quarterfinal.
Coach Lynn Ullom’s No. 3-seeded Hilltoppers (28-4), who set a school record with their 28th win of the season, broke open their quarterfinal contest late in the first quarter with a 3-point barrage.
Clinging to a 12-11 lead after the first media timeout, Flowers got the ball rolling with a 3-point bomb off an assist from Kailee Howe to make it 15-11 with 3:34 on the first quarter clock.
Karen Bellamy answered with a quick hoop for the Bears (24-8) but after Howe fed Emily Bucon and Jasmin Kiley in transition for a pair of quick 3-pointers and then drained a trey of her own, the WLU lead had ballooned from 12-11 to 24-13 in a span of less than 90 seconds.
Shaw managed to close the gap to 24-17 at the end of the first quarter but never really recovered.
Flowers opened the second quarter with her third 3-pointer of the game, sparking a 9-0 West Liberty run that pushed the count to 33-17 with 7:28 left in the first half, and the issue had been all but decided.
“I thought we moved the ball well on offense and got a lot of good looks today,” Ullom said, “but we know we’re facing a much different challenge tomorrow. We played (California) at their place in last year’s tournament and at our place earlier this year so we know how good they are defensively. We’ll have to do a better job with our screens and we’ll need to take better care of the basketball.”
The margin never dropped below double-figures again. West Liberty coasted to a 48-35 lead at the half, extended it to 70-51 after three quarters and led by as many as 22 points during the final 10 minutes.
Flowers’ 40 points tied her own career-high set two years ago on the road against Cedarville (Ohio). It was also the most points ever scored by a Lady Hilltopper in an NCAA Tournament game but the prolific shooting guard wasn’t the only West Liberty player to enter the record books.
Howe finished with a game-high 12 assists, putting her nation’s-best total at 308 for the season. Not only did that make her the first NCAA Division II woman to post back-to-back 300-assist seasons, it also broke Kelly West’s single-season school record of 302 assists, set during the 2002-03 season.
The senior point guard is one assist away from tying the 24-year-old NCAA Division II single-season record of 309 assists, which was set by Selina Bynum of Albany State (Ga.) during the 1991-92 season.
Flowers hit 14-of-24 shots from the floor – including a 5-of-11 showing from the 3-point arc – on the afternoon. West Liberty was 28-of-58 (48 percent) from the floor as a team and 14-of-29 (48 percent) from the 3-point arc. The Hilltoppers were guilty of 19 turnovers but more than overcame that by assisting on 20 of their 28 field goals.
“I thought we really had good spacing on offense today,” Flowers said, “and everybody passed the ball so well. Kailee and my teammates got me so many open looks. All I had to do was make them.”
Howe never left the court and finished with a double-double, 11 points to go along with her 12 assists. Kiki Simpson worked the boards for 8 points and 16 rebounds while Kiley went 4-for-5 from the 3-point arc to join Flowers and Howe in double-figures with 12 points. Bucon finished with 9 points on a trio of 3-pointers.
Eboni Ross paced Shaw with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Michelle Wright was the Bears’ only other double-figure scorer with 11 markers.
X The regional was moved from Richmond’s Arthur Ashe Center to Virginia Union’s on-campus gym when the NCAA ruled the Ashe Center failed to meet regional standards
X West Liberty’s previous school record for points in an NCAA Tournament game was held by Tori Hansen, who had 30 points in a 2011 Atlantic Region semifinal loss to Johnson C. Smith (N.C.)
X Flowers also tied Hansen’s school record by playing in her 125th game
X California (Pa.) edged the Hilltoppers, 69-64, in last year’s regional semifinal but WLU returned the favor earlier this season with an 85-63 rout at the ASRC in November’s MEC/PSAC Challenge
X The Vulcans are riding a 14-game winning streak. West Liberty has won 12 of its last 13
X After last year’s national championship run, California is 29-11 all-time in NCAA Tournament play. Head coach Jess Strom is 9-1 in her third NCAA Tournament