Last Modified: Monday, April 01, 2013 2:16 PM
VERMILLION, S.D.— It’s a wild spring break minus the beaches.
Rallying from 12 points down in the final 13 minutes, the McNeese State women’s basketball team lived to play another day.
The Cowgirls advanced to the finals of the Women’s Basketball Invitation with a 71-63 victory over South Dakota Thursday night in the DakotaDome.
McNeese (21-14) will play in the championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Detroit Mercy.
“This was by far the toughest place we have played in during postseason play and I think it bothered us early,” said Cowgirls head coach Brooks Donald Williams. “The crowd and fan base was amazing, but that is what its all about, going on the road and playing in front of a big crowd.”
The Cowgirls, an eight seed, was one of the last two teams invited to the WBI but are making the most of their postseason run.
After losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years, the Cowgirls have picked up the first three postseason victories in the program’s history, all coming on the road.
Thursday night was the toughest.
Using a stronger defensive effort in the second half, the Cowgirls began to cut into the Coyotes lead. McNeese took the lead 46-45 on an Ashlyn Baggett 3-pointer with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Still, the Cowgirls were down 50-48 before they made their big push. A 12-0 run gave them a 10-point lead with 5:01 remaining. From there McNeese was able to put the game away at the free-throw line, hitting on five of its final six tries.
“We knew we had to make a run, and make a quick run,” said Cowgirls point guard Caitlyn Baggett. “We got a few stops and we were back into the game before we knew it. When we cut their lead four, we just had to make a few more buckets. It was the turning point for us.”
McNeese finished with three players in double figures. Ashlyn Baggett lead the way with a game-high 26 points and a team-high nine rebounds. She hit three 3-pointers, giving her 303 in her career. She needs four more to break the Southland Conference record of 306.
Ashlyn Baggett made up for her cold shooting from the floor by hitting nine of her 13 foul shots.
Caitlyn Baggett scored 19 points and dished out a game-high six assists while going 7 of 13 from the field. Cecilia Okoye scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds.
For the third consecutive NeTanya Jones came off the bench to provide a spark on both defense and the glass. Jones ended the game with eight rebounds, seven of which came on the defensive end.
“I was kind of excited about our seed,” Donald Williams said. “We have always been the underdog since I’ve been to McNeese and the seeding doesn’t really bother us.”
The Cowgirls will be the underdogs at Detroit. The Titans, a No. 1 seed in the tournament, are 20-13 out of the Horizon League.
Detroit has played all its WBI games at home, where the Titans will take a 15-1 record into the game.
McNeese has won six of its last seven games, all away from Burton Coliseum.