McNeese Cowgirls advance to Saturday's WBI Championship game
VERMILLION, S.D. — McNeese State’s women’s basketball team overcame a 12-point deficit with 12:57 left in the game to defeat South Dakota, 71-63, in the semifinals of the WBI tournament Thursday night.
McNeese (21-14) advances to the championship game at Detroit Saturday. Game time is set for 2 p.m.
“This was by far the toughest place we have played in during postseason play, and I think it bothered us early,” McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams said in a university release. “The crowd and fan base was amazing, but that is what it’s all about, going on the road and playing in front of a big crowd.”
McNeese picked up its defensive intensity in the second half to cut into the Coyote lead. McNeese’s run began with a free throw by Ashlyn Baggett. Two more free throws by Catilyn Baggett then two layups by Cecilia Okoye and a put back by NeTanya Jones cut the lead to four. Two more free throws by Caitlyn Baggett cut the lead to 45-43 with 10:35 to play. A three-pointer by Ashlyn Baggett gave McNeese a 46-45 lead.
Both teams traded baskets for the next three minutes before the Cowgirls went on a 12-0 run to take a 60-50 lead with 5:01 left. McNeese would hold the lead and sealed the win at the free throw line. McNeese scored five of their final six points at the free throw line.
McNeese had three players score in double figures, with Ashlyn Baggett leading all players with a game-high 26 points and a team-high nine rebounds. She was 7 of 19 from the field, including three 3-pointers, giving her 303 in her career. She needs four more to break the Southland Conference record of 306. She was also 9 of 13 from the free throw line.
Caitlyn Baggett scored 19 points and dished out a game-high six assists. Baggett was 7 of 13 from the field. Okoye scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds.
For the third consecutive game in postseason play, Jones came off the bench to provide excellent defense and made a presence on the glass. Jones ended the game with eight rebounds, seven on the defensive end.
McNeese ran into a hot shooting South Dakota team in the first half but used a stiff defense in the second half to come away with the victory. South Dakota ended the game shooting 35.7 percent from the field after shooting 50 percent in the first half.
McNeese, on the other hand, struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 30.6 percent from the field. The Cowgirls also were outrebounded 26-14 in the half.
The Cowgirls improved on their shooting in the second half and shot 55.6 from the field, making 15 of 27 of their shots. McNeese ended the game, shooting 41.3 percent from the field and 73.7 from the free throw line.
South Dakota took the lead early in the half and extended it to as much as 10 points at 34-24 with 4:43 left following two free throws off a technical called on the Cowgirl bench.
For the next four minutes of the half, both teams traded baskets, with the Cowgirls making the last basket of the half on a Caitlyn Baggett jumper with eight seconds that would send the Cowgirls into the locker room trailing 36-28.