BILLINGS, Mont. – The party continues at Rimrock Auto Arena for Vanguard (30-3) as they roll past William Woods (Mo.) (22-12) by a 71-34 count as the Lions earn a berth in the NAIA National Tournament Semifinals for the first time since 2008. Vanguard forced 22 turnovers and held the Owls to only 11 points in the final 20 minutes of play to easily cruise into the next round. Claire Lamunu (SR/Kampala, Uganda) scored a game high 18 points while Maya Kennedy (SR/Huntington Beach, CA) chipped in 14 and Victoria Chea (FR/Murrieta, CA) added 12. The Pride held a 10-0 edge in offensive rebounds and scored 21 points off turnovers.
"This is a great opportunity for us and I'm really excited for our girls," said Vanguard Head Coach Russ Davis. "We did a great job defensively. We gave up zero offensive rebounds, so our defense was on point tonight. Hats off to William Woods. They had a great run at this tournament."
The Owls wasted no time launching their first three-pointer, the tactic that allowed them to pull of the previous two upsets, and drained it. Vanguard was able to hit a few baskets to cut the game to one point and it continued under those same conditions until Kennedy drained a fade away from the far baseline to tie the game 8-8 at the halfway mark of the first frame. Hanna Tabron (SR/Gilroy, CA)'s three-pointer off the rebound from Lamunu gave the Lions their first lead at 10-8. After William Woods had tied the game, Kennedy hit a long bucket to give the Lions a 12-10 lead which would hold for the rest of the period. She ended with a game high eight points in the period as the Lions had the lead despite being outscore 6-0 behind the arc.
In the second quarter, the Blue and Gold began to exert their force and after briefly losing the lead (17-16) would go on a strong spurt to create separation. Lamunu got underway hitting a nifty euro step off the glass to put the Pride back on top. Tabron's defense remained active, creating the opportunity for Kandyce Smith (JR/Monrovia, CA) to hit a fast break runner to put Vanguard on top by three. Lamunu and Chea combined for five points over the next two possessions to put the Lions ahead 26-16. After two free throws from Alyssa Durr (JR/Oregon City, OR), Lamunu and Tania Uluheua (JR/Auckland, New Zealand) would both knock down elbow jumpers from the left side to give the Blue and Gold a 32-23 advantage. The final points of the half were off a three pointer by Chea with just over 20 second left. At the intermission, Kennedy and Lamunu had a team high eight points (Lamunu also had six boards). Christiana Gerostergiou (JR/Thessaloniki, Greece) added five points and Chea with six to bolster the offensive attack. Vanguard held a 5-0 edge in second chance points thanks to seven more offensive rebounds. The Lions also utilized their inside force to hold a 10-2 difference in points score in the paint.
The third quarter was a defensive explosion for the Lions as they only allowed three points in the full 10 minutes of play. Vanguard outscored the Owls by 17 in the frame thanks to guards Chea and Smith. The freshman point guard, Chea, was playing well beyond her years as she was putting the ball in perfect spots for the Pride to be successful. Later into the period, Smith hit back to back buckets from the top of the key. After the third quarter the trio of Lamunu, Chea, and Kennedy has combined for 33 points; the Owls would not have a player in double figures.
Vanguard pushed the lead to 31 points early in the fourth quarter before William Woods was able to get on the board. A short burst from the Owls, scoring four straight points, was stopped on a three pointer by Kennedy. That was backed up by a coast to coast steal and basket from Lamunu. Then she converted other shot while being fouled putting the Pride ahead by 33 points. As the clock ticked below four minutes to play, the result was no more in doubt and the only question was what the final difference would be. Raechelle Davis scored with three minutes left in the contest and Kaitlyn Hawthorne (SO/Reno, NV) was inserted into the game to see her first action as now all 12 players have played in the NAIA National Tournament.
Next Game: Monday, March 20at 8:00 p.m. against Lewis-Clark State College (NAIA National Tournament Semifinals)