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Lady Mountaineers Lose in NAIA Tourney

After ascending two steep summits -- the KIAC regular season championship and the KIAC tournament championship -- the Lady Mountaineers of Berea College found a higher peak looming, one that would prove insurmountable. Berea succumbed to the Saints of Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) 84-53 in the opening round of the NAIA Div-II tournament Thursday morning in Sioux City, Iowa.

The Lady Mountaineers won the KIAC Championship to advance to the NAIA tournament.

At the team's final practice Wednesday, Berea coach Bunky Harkleroad asked his team to spread the floor, get their primary shooters open, and share the basketball. They did all of these things, but when their shots didn't fall, Berea wasn't able to rebound their misses often enough to produce more than 53 points, almost 50 below their per-game average and 19 below their previous low effort against Olivet Nazarene in November.

First half action was so furious that statisticians' frantic efforts to keep up blew a transformer, plunging Sioux City's entire downtown business district into darkness for 30 minutes. Berea trailed 21-12 at this unintended break and wasn't able to regroup. Aquinas pushed their lead to 34-20 at the half, then outplayed Berea again in the second stanza. The Saints' star center, Jackie Braspenninx, rose to the occasion with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 30 minutes. On defense, Braspenninx shut down Berea's inside game while her teammates defended the perimeter tenaciously. Berea got shots off (87 total, 46 from behind the arc), but not many of them were open looks. The Lady Mountaineers shot just 24% overall and sank only 9 threes. The cold seeping up from beneath the floor (which is laid atop the Sioux City Musketeers hockey team's perpetual ice) seemed to affect Berea's shooting from every distance and angle. The Lady Mountaineers made only 2 of the 8 free throws they attempted.

After a record-breaking season that produced 26 victories, Berea's bubble burst with a loud pop. "So much of our game is offense," noted guard Jenna Lowe, "and our offense just wasn't working for us. Aquinas did a good job covering our primary shooters."

"Aquinas is big and physical," Harkleroad said after the game. "We had a hard time getting to the glass. That might not have mattered so much if we hadn't had such a hard time hitting the basket."

"Tournament experience is so valuable, " Harkleroad added. "We need to look at this game as a learning opportunity. We have to look at the difference between us and the players who'll be playing in the second round. What are those teams doing that we're not? We'll figure that out, and when we do we'll learn and get better."

For a team that prizes balanced scoring, forward LaShondra Gray was Berea's only hot hand. With 17 points, Gray was the only Lady Mountaineer in double figures. Senior point guard Crystal Davis finished the season with 168 assists, a new school record. Her 9 rebounds brought her career total to 508, to accompany her school record 556 career assists.

*Article submitted by Tom Chase
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Following is a report from the NAIA:

The Aquinas College Saints overpowered Berea College 84-53 in Thursday’s first round of the 15th annual NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship. The 2006 event is being held at the Tyson Events Center/Gateway Arena in Sioux.

A power outage interrupted the game midway through the first half. Play resumed after a delay of almost 30 minutes. The entire Sioux City downtown area was without power.

When play resumes the Saints increased their nine-point advantage to a 34-20 cushion at halftime.

Aquina’s Claire Hogan was three rebounds shy of a triple double. She scored 15 points, had seven rebounds and 10 assists. Jackie Braspenninx led the team in scoring with 20 points and 14 rebounds. The Saints held the edge in rebounding, 60-53, in a games that had 156 total shot attempts between the teams.

Berea brought their unconventional style to the national tournament for the first time this year. The team commonly substituted five new players every 60 seconds and set a goal of attempting at least 100 shots per game.

The Lady Mountaineers attempted 87 shots, 46 of them from beyond the arc, in Thursday’s game but connected only 24 percent. LaShondra Gray led the team with 17 points and seven rebounds. Sarah Hughes led Berea on the boards with 10.

Aquinas advances to the second-round on Friday at 4:00 p.m. were they will play the winner of Webber International and College of the Ozarks who play later today.

For more information on the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship log on to www.naia.org.

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