WINONA LAKE, Ind. Ė Capping an outstanding four-year run, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University womenís basketball team took third place in the country at the NCCAA Nationals with a 57-46 triumph over Emmanuel College on Saturday.
Seniors Rachel Harris, Stephanie Hawkins, Heather Jefferson and Chelsea Jones scored all but 10 of the Lady Lionsí points as SAGU led from start to finish in the consolation of the National Christian College Athletic Associationís eight-team field. The event was held at the Orthopedic Capital Center on the campus of Grace College.
It was the final game and victory for the senior foursome who led the most productive four-year run in the history of Southwestern basketball. They were 6-24 as freshmen, then rolled to 24-8, 25-8 and 23-13 in their final three seasons for a 78-53 mark that included the only berth in the NAIA national tourney in 2010, a pair of second place finishes in the Red River Athletic Conference and this yearís third place finale.
With dual memberships in both the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the NCCAA, Southwestern is able to compete in two large, respected organizations. Each alliance represents standards that SAGU athletics embody. Together with inclusion in the Red River Athletic Conference, the Lions have multiple options for the post-season.
Following a 30-game regular season the Lady Lions were able to play in two RRAC tournament games and four in the NCCAA. Athletes also are eligible in each for individual honors.
After losing on Friday as the No. 1 seed, the Lady Lions were eager to leave their mark before departing the Hoosier State. They did. Going up against the school that head coach Arlon Beadles served prior to SAGU, the Purple Pride ďtook care of business,Ē as Harris said they would.
Flying out of the blocks like sprinters, Southwestern grabbed a 15-5 lead after seven minutes of play. Jones hit her first two shots, each of them from beyond the arc, and then Hawkins and Gabby Bruner made baskets before Hawkins set up a Harris triple. A deuce by Jones allowed the squad to set the pace of the game, which they controlled until the final horn.
Team Lioness pushed its lead to 14 on two occasions, the first coming at 21-7. The closest Emmanuel came to catching up was at 25-21, before SAGU took a 29-22 advantage at the interlude. Jones scored and Harris converted a pair of foul shots to secure the lead.
SAGUís constrictor-like zone defense squeezed the EC Lions throughout the second half. They made 8-of-27 in the first half, they could do no better when they desperately needed offense. Southwestern stifled their attack, forcing 21 misses in their 30 tries to hold them to .298 for the game. Traps from their zone packages helped coerce 24 giveaways that kept the visitors from establishing offensive rhythm.
Unable to consistently get in the paint for high percentage shots, Emmanuel was left to trying its luck beyond the arc. Ranking 95th in the nation in three-point accuracy, they were not beaming with confidence. Making only 5-of-29 didnít help much. Neither did connecting on just 7-of-15 attempts.
What kept Emmanuel in the game was a stellar performance on the boards, where it held a solid 39-28, including a 16-3 stranglehold on the offensive glass. Second chance baskets permitted them to stay within striking distance.
A scary moment for Southwestern came midway through the second half when Jones landed badly on her right ankle. She sat out almost 10 minutes in a game that was still within reach for EC. Not to worry, SAGUís Harris was more than up to the task. She didnít miss a shot or a foul shot in 24 minutes.
Emmanuel rallied from a 45-33 deficit with a 7-0 run over the next 5:48. Emmanuelís defense blanked SAGU while drawing to within five points. Southwestern missed five shots and made four turnovers during that stretch of the game. EC failed to fully capitalize during that golden opportunity, sinking only three-of-nine shots.
Jefferson chose a wonderful time to put the wraps on her career. After Harris snared a defensive rebound, she got the outlet pass to the Starship, who drained a pull-up three-pointer for a 48-40 margin at the 3:40 mark. Hawkins added a layup to push the lead to 51-42 at 2:08, and Southwestern iced the game by swishing 6-of-6 free throws (two apiece by Harris, Rodriguez and Hawkins) in the closing minute to ensure the happy ending.
Southwestern shot 41 percent for the game, as well as seven three-point baskets and a 14-of-17 free throw effort. Losing the battle of the boards and committing 20 turnovers prevented it from breaking away from Emmanuel.
Jones was good on 7-of-11 shots and 3-of-5 from downtown in leading the Lady Lions with a game-high 19 points. She had four more steals, giving her 15 in the three games. Harris made all three of her field goal attempts, including two treys and all five free throws to finish with 13 points. She registered four rebounds and collected three steals. It was her fifth double-figure game this season.
Hawkins, who was the teamís lone rep on the All-Tournament Team, tossed in 11 points and dished out a game-high five assists.