Women’s basketball advances in NAIA tournament

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The No. 12 Baker University women’s basketball team advanced to the Sweet 16 during its NAIA national tournament debut with a 74-61 victory over the 23-ranked University of Cumberlands on Wednesday in Frankfort, Ky.

The Wildcats consider themselves a second-half team and BU proved that during the 8:30 a.m. game, outscoring Cumberlands 39-28 after the break.

“That type of game and that type of morning atmosphere is tough to play, but our kids responded really well,” head coach Ben Lister said in a post-game press conference. “… I thought the last seven minutes of the second half we really played well. We played with a lot of poise and made critical plays.”

Senior point guard BriAnna Garza had her first 20-point outing since Feb. 8, leading all scorers with 24 points. The Heart of America Athletic Conference Player of the Year hit three 3-pointers and went 7-8 from the free-throw line. Garza was also key in utilizing the Wildcats’ quickness and transition game to outlast their physically larger opponent.

“We took advantage of what we thought we could,” Lister said. “We gutted it out there in the last seven minutes … That’s been our calling card – That’s how we got here was playing great defense, and we showed that in the last eight minutes of the second half.”

Sophomore Macy Wallisch, the HAAC Defensive Player of the Year, made her 6-foot-3-inch presence known, pulling down 14 rebounds. BU outplayed the ninth-ranked defensive rebounding team on the glass, pulling down 18 more boards than the Patriots. Cumberlands averages more than 33 defensive rebounds per game, but BU limited the team to just 23 during the opening-round contest.

“I thought we played with a lot of energy and toughness in the second half around the rim, and that was the difference for us,” Lister said.

While Baker shot 45 percent from the field, the Wildcats committed 22 turnovers. BU relied on its defense, though, limiting a team that averages more than 74 points per game to 4-20 from behind the arc.

The Wildcats will continue their post-season run at 9 a.m. EST Friday in Frankfort against No. 23 Bethel University. Bethel upset seventh-ranked the Master’s College (Calif.) 82-67 during the opening round to advance to the Sweet 16.

Bethel has a 21-10 record and brings a strong perimeter presence. It ranks seventh in the NAIA in total 3-point field goals, averaging eight buckets beyond the arc each game. Junior forward Tayla Foster leads Bethel offensively, averaging more than 18 points per contest. Baker will also have to worry about senior guard Katie VanDyke, who ranks seventh in the NAIA in 3-pointers made per game.

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