March 7, 2008
When the Lipscomb Lady Bisons were trailing arch-rival Belmont by 11 points in the second half senior point guard Catie Woods tried not to dwell on the thought that could be playing her last game.
"I thought about it when we got down," Woods said. "But as a team we have done everything together. I knew we were going to be able to do it again."
But the Lady Bisons refused to bow out in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Thursday night on their home court in Allen Arena. They rallied and used a shot by Woods with 11 seconds left to play to seal a 73-72 win.
"We wanted to push the ball and see what we could create," said Lipscomb coach Frank Bennett. "If we needed a three we would look for a three. If we needed a two or a one we would look for that. We made a nice job of making decisions on that.
"Jill drove it in and gave Catie a good look and she knocked it down."
The reward for the Lady Bisons is a 2 p.m. game Friday afternoon in the semifinals against first-seed ETSU. The Lady Bisons have lost both games with ETSU this season, falling 77-55 at Allen Arena Jan. 19 and 89-65 in Johnson City Feb. 16.
"ETSU is long, athletic and talented. They have shot the ball very well against us. We haven't been as competitive as we would like to have been in those games. We think we can pick it up a little bit.
"They are obviously the best team in the league. We have to handle their press and find a way to scramble for rebounds. It will be a tough match-up, but we are playing our best basketball right now."
This is the second time the Lady Bisons have advanced to the semifinals of the A-Sun Tournament. The last time they did it was in 2004 when they went on and won the A-Sun Tournament championship.
The Lady Bisons win over Belmont is their fourth in a row, a string that started with a 68-52 win at Belmont Feb. 23. They have shown a resiliency that has enabled them to weather many challenges thrown at them by opponents.
"I'm very proud of my players," Bennett said. "More than anything else our players made plays and refused to fold. They got the stops they had to have and made the play they needed to make at the end."
Those three wins to end the regular season at Belmont and at home against Gardner-Webb and Campbell gave the Lady Bisons confidence when they needed it against Belmont.
"Winning those three gave us a confidence base," Bennett said. "We were really fighting to keep from getting blown out of the game at a couple of points against Belmont."
The Lady Bisons have shown a new level of toughness this season with junior forward Jilian Partin, freshman forward Valerie Bronson and freshman guard Jenna Bartsokas providing a new dimension to the offense with their ability to drive to the basket.
"This year, as opposed to our teams in the past, we have some driving options," Bennett said. "Jilian has been very good going to the basket along with Valerie and Jenna.
"We don't just have a 3-point game and a post game. We have that driving game to go with it and that opens up things for everybody."
The resiliency of the Lady Bisons was tested in the second half. After trailing by 11 twice in the second half, the last time with 10:27 left to play, they started chipping away at Belmont's lead. With 8:04 remaining they pulled within two points, 60-58, on a lay-up and free throw by Bronson. At 7:47 Bronson hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 60-60.
The Lady Bisons fell behind by four before tying the game for the fourth time at 66-66 on a jumper by Bartsokas with 4:41 left to play. The Lady Bisons continued to chip away at the lead, but trailed until Woods connected on her 16-foot jump shot from the side.
"Getting over the hump is a big thing," Bennett said. "Many times we got close to even and slipped back. We expended so much energy, but we kept pushing. It looked kind of bad in that last minute. They had the advantage. They fortunately missed a free throw or two and gave us a chance."
One player not missing free throws was Partin who hit three-of-four free throw attempts in the final two minutes and nine-of-12 for the game.
"I have been a better free throw shooter this year than in the past," Partin said. "We needed those baskets at the end. I had to knock them down,
"In the second half we refused to lose. I was upset I didn't get the last shot. I was glad Catie hit it. I would have felt bad if I had ended our season."
Belmont coach Tony Cross, whose team lost two-of-three games to the Lady Bisons this season, praised the way they refused to fold up and accept defeat.
"Lipscomb had several chances to let up a little bit, but they just kept playing," said Cross. "In a tournament situation there is a fine line between winning and losing. We came up a little bit short.
"When we were ahead by 11 it was time for us to knock them down. But Lipscomb was a team that would not give up."
Partin led the Lady Bisons in scoring with 18 points. Junior center Katie Rollins added 17. Bronson scored 13 and Woods tossed in 11.
Belmont center Jessica Bobbitt scored a game-high 25 points. Amber Rockwell added 14. Guards Shaunda Strayhorn and Brittany Myers each pitched in with 10.
The Lady Bisons held a slight 31-30 rebounding edge. Partin led the Lady Bisons with eight. Bobbitt grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
The Lady Bisons are 10-21. Belmont fell to 14-16.