FRANKFORT, KY -- Most of the time when teams fail to put points on the board in basketball, the outcome is considered ugly. This was not the case as the top eight teams in the NAIA squared off for a chance to go the prestigious “Fab Four”, the NAIA version of the Final Four. No team managed more than 63 points which happened when Cumberland (TN) barely edged Lubbock Christian (TX) 63-61. Earlier in the day Westminster (UT) and Westmont (CA) combined for 75 (39-36) points in what was the lowest scoring game in NAIA tournament history. These were great games though, games that any basketball junkie would have enjoyed because the defense on display was a close to perfect as possible.
The NAIA Fab Four will take place on Monday with the National Championship to be televised on CBS Sports at 6:30 PM est., Tuesday March 19.
No. 2 Cumberland (TN) 63, No. 1 Lubbock Christian (TX) 61
In what many are considering the best game of the tournament to date, was the highest scoring game of the Elite Eight match-ups. There were four lead changes in the final 2:05 of the game. Kelsey Canavan was dominant all night long for the Chaparrals finishing with 24 points, however she just didn’t get much help offensively. With Cumberland leading for the majority of the game, Lubbock would occasionally jump in front but they never stayed there for long. Canavan gave the Chaps a 56-55 lead with 2:05 remaining, then Briannica Tye struck back 31 seconds later for the Bulldogs to regain the lead. Kelsey Hoppel connected for two to give the Chaps a 58-57 lead, and then Josette Campbell would drain a trey from the top of the key to give Cumberland a 60-58 lead with 59.4 to go, which proved to be the final go ahead basket. Jessica Pace led CU in points and rebounds with 16 and 10 respectively, Josette Campbell also had 16, and London Elie finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. Haley Burton added 12 to Canavan’s 24 to help lead the Chaparrals in scoring. Cumberland Coach Jeremy Lewis claimed that this was the greatest game he has ever been apart of and said, “Our kids bled for us, they left everything out on the floor, Lubbock’s kids did the same thing, just an unbelievable battle.”
Holly Germain of Lee drives to the basket on Ravven Brown of Oklahoma City. (Photo courtesy of the NAIA)
No. 2 Lee (TN) 59, No. 1 Oklahoma City (OK) 48
Lee came out hot against the defending National Champions and fended off numerous comeback attempts by the Stars, who never looked in sync offensively and didn’t hit key free throws down the stretch when they had a chance to get over the hump. Ultimately it was the free throws that did the Stars in as they shot just 13-28 for the game. Lee’s three marquee players paved the way for their Fab Four birth. Hollie German made three clutch threes, Jenna Adams, who was in early foul trouble added 18 points in just 16 minutes of game action, and University of Memphis transfer Mary Jackson scored six points and pulled down a game high 11 rebounds. OCU was led by Katie Hall who had 24 points. Lee Sophomore Jenna Adams talked about her performance after the game, in reference to playing just 16 minutes while providing 18 points; “Focus, I was frustrated with some of my fouls but the coaching staff did a great job of settling me down and I was able to just be really focused during my time out there.”
No. 1 Westmont (CA) 39, No. 2 Westminster (UT) 36
What appears on paper to be a terribly ugly game was quite the opposite in fact. Neither team trailed by more than seven points during the game and the lead changed hands numerous times including four times in the second half. The defense in this game would have made Mike D’Antoni cringe. Brooke Larsen and Cyndey Tibbitts locked down Westmont’s star post players Kelsie Sampson and Turkish Olympian Tugce Canitez for most of the game. Thankfully for Westmont, University of Colorado transfer Esther Lee came to play. Lee hit three huge three pointers in the first half, two of which were assisted by Cantinez but it was two floaters on baseline drives that ultimately did in the Griffins. The first came with 9:20 to go and pulled Westmont within three (30-27), and the second came minutes later on a play that Westminster defender Tibbitts went down with a turned ankle. Without Tibbitts to lock down Canitez, the California school was able to surge ahead one last time and clung to the lead despite an attempt by Westminster’s Nicole Yazzie at the buzzer that looked on point. After the game Kirsten Moore Head Coach of Westmont had this to say about the game; “It was a defensive battle, they are the number one scoring defense in the nation for a reason.-- I was really proud of the “stick-to-it-tiveness” my team had and their relentlessness to compete defensively (with Westminster).”
Natalie Shumpert brings the ball up the court for Freed-Hardeman who advanced to the Fab Four. (Photo courtesty of the NAIA)
No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (TN) 60, No. 2 Vanguard (CA) 49
The Freed-Hardeman Lions showed exactly why they are the top team in the nation in this game. The Lions jumped out on an 11-3 run and never looked back, their defense was stifling as they held the powerful Vanguard Lions to 49 points in the game. VU’s Chelsea Alfafara missed quite a bit of time in the first half with a laceration just above her right eye; her time off the court could definitely be a big part of the Lions struggling in the midst of the first half. Vanguard was able to cut the Freed lead down to six with about a minute left but FHU knocked down free throws down the stretch to put it away. Freed-Hardeman outrebounded Vanguard 21-7 on the offensive boards. Natalie Shumpert was phenomenal as always, showing exactly why she is a three-time All-American, she finished with 19 points and was 6-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch. Nicole Ballestero led Vanguard with 23 points, Alfafara added on 14. Freed-Hardeman is headed to their fourth Fab Four in school history.
John McGraw is the coach at Fisk University and the founder of Insider Exposure, a circuit of NCAACertified Events. The Insider Exposure website is located at insiderexposure.wordpress.com. You can follow McGraw on twitter @CoachJohnMcGraw
Trevor Goodson assists McGraw at Fisk and is the director of operations for Insider Exposure. You can follow Goodson on Twitter, @CousinTrevvv