The old saying, “offense wins games, defense win dhampionships” has held true to this point in the NAIA National Tournament. Defense which prevailed in the Elite Eight as all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds squared off continued to dominate in the NAIA Fab Four. In the bottom half of the bracket both No. 2 seeds knocked off the favorite with Cumberland taking down Lubbock Christian and Lee overcoming the defending National champs, Oklahoma City. The two Tennessee schools squared off first in a defensive struggle in which feature the second lowest scoring game in tournament history (84 total points). In the nightcap the third Tennessee school, Freed-Hardeman took on the lone West Coast Fab Four entry, Westmont. That game was the 6th lowest scoring game of all time, making for the lowest scoring Fab Four in NAIA history. (192 total points).
No. 2 Lee (TN) 43, No. 2 Cumberland (TN) 41
And then there were for -- the NAIA Fab Four started off with a defensive classic. In a back-and-forth first half, Lee was able to hold Cumberland scoreless for the last 2:04 of the first half which gave the Lady Flames a 26-20 advantage at halftime. In the second half there were seven ties, one lead change, and only once was the lead greater than 2. The Bulldogs held Lee to just 13.6 percent shooting in the second, but the Lady Flames didn’t let Cumberland get anything going either, shooting 28 percent after halftime. Cumberland jumped out in front for its only lead after halftime at 41-40 with 1:57 to go, however Hollie German knocked down three free throws in the last 1:36 to ensure Lee’s first ever appearance in the NAIA Championship game. Jenna Adams led the Lady Flames in points and rebounds with 16 and 12 respectively; Hollie German tacked on 13 points. Briannica Tye and London Elie lead the Bulldogs in scoring with nine points each.
“This team trusts each other, adversity has been a part of what we have handled all year, and when we weren’t getting what we wanted we didn’t panic,” said Rowe. He added that these teams were, “probably the best two half court defensive man-to-man teams in the country.”
No. 1 Westmont (CA) 59, No. 1 Freed-Hardeman (TN) 49
The No. 1 ranked school in NAIA -- Freed-Hardeman -- squared off against the best player in the NAIA -- Tugce Canitez -- and the best player was able to lead her team to the win. Canitez had more firepower on this night than her counterpart Natalie Shumpert who uncharacteristically struggled putting the ball in the bucket. Despite Shumpert's offensive struggles, her team pounded the boards providing multiple second chance opportunities that allowed Freed to stay in the game. A timely steal by Ashley Tate which led to a Shumpert basket cut the Westmont lead to 39-37 with 13:42 to play. Then with 10:24 a Maria Bagwell basket cut the lead to two again. Then, Freed hit a draught led by the stingy Westmont defense which held them without a basket for over four minutes. It was then that star power took over and Canitez went to work. She scored the first six points of an 8-0 run which stretched the lead to 51-41. Canitez finished with 19 points and a game high 9 rebounds. Esther Lee led Westmont, shooting 7-9 for the game and 4-6 from three point range finishing with 19 points.
No. 2 Lee (TN) and No. 1 Westmont (CA) will face off in the NAIA National Championship game which will be televised on CBS Sports at 6:30 PM est., Tuesday March 19.
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
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