WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Stephanie Hawkins scored 29 points to lead Southwestern Assemblies of God University to a 74-63 triumph against King College in the NCCAA Nationals.
The Lady Lions jumped to an 8-0 lead on two quick Heather Jefferson baskets, one following a steal by Gabby Bruner and Jirah Rodriguez scored a second-chance layup. SAGU never trailed.
Hawkins didn’t register a single basket for the first 10 minutes of the game. Her fuse was lit on a driving layup at the 10:11 mark, giving SAGU a 13-7 lead. Moments later she torched the Lady Tornados with a pull-up three-ball and a pace-setting 16-7 advantage.
King, from Bristol, Tenn., made several runs in the game, though it never drew closer than six points the rest of the way.
Each surge was countered by one from the Lady Lions, who led by as many as 13 in the first half and 19 in the second stanza.
Southwestern, now 22-12 on the season, advances to Friday’s semi-finals of the National Christian College Athletic Association tourney. SAGU will meet Roberts Wesleyan College, 20-11, at 7 p.m. local time (EST) for a chance to play for the national championship at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Raiders topped the host Grace College Lady Lancers in overtime, 67-60, on Thursday night.
Rodriguez said following the game that the Lady Lions played like a team.
“We played like we know how,” she added.
Melissa Giles, with a season under her belt, pointed out that her teammates “played SAGU basketball.”
That means they played a quick 2-3 zone defense that befuddled the Tornados. Switching to a 1-3-1 zone and adding effective traps, the Lady Lions effectively limited passing lanes inside, forcing King to shoot from beyond. It worked to near perfection. SAGU held the Twisters to 31 percent shooting for the game, including just 27 percent after intermission.
The Tornados connected on only 6-of-27 three-point attempts (22 percent), though they did make five in the second frame to keep them within striking distance. King was good on 19-of-22 free throws, but 20 turnovers were costly.
The area that revealed how focused the top-seeded Lady Lions were on Thursday was their 35-31 edge in rebounds. King, clearly taller and deeper, usually owns the boards. Normally on the short end, SAGU appeared hungrier and fresher in spite of having four starters strapped with four fouls apiece with nine minutes to play.
Senior NAIA All-American forward Chelsea Jones scored 15 points, made 6-of-12 shots, two triples, two assists and a game high six steals. That was all while playing sick as she gave it everything she had to help the team.