Lee University's Hollie German drives against Westmont of California Tuesday during the NAIA Division I tournament championship game in Frankfort, Ky. Contributed photo by Marvin Young
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Lee University women's basketball coach Marty Rowe said his team wanted to make sure its last season in the NAIA was memorable. In totals wins and overall success, the Lady Flames did just that.
Yet that one ultimate goal -- a national championship -- escaped them.
Westmont, out of California, used the play of two 6-foot-2 posts to defeat the Lady Flames 71-65 in the NAIA Division I national championship game Tuesday at the Kentucky Civic Center. Kelsie Sampson and Tugce Canitez each scored 25 points and Canitez added 20 rebounds, including eight offensive.
She was named the NAIA national player of the year afterward.
The Lady Warriors (30-4) had a big 13-2 run late in the second half, breaking a 55-all tie. Lee battled back, cutting the lead to 68-65 after 3-pointers by Jenna Adams and Hollie German, but after a free throw by Canitez, Westmont's Larissa Hensley grabbed a deflection and passed to Canitez for the clinching layup.
The Lady Warriors outrebounded Lee 45-27 and were able to keep the pace to their liking, which led to a lot of shots late in the shot clock. When they did shoot, they were able to corral a lot of misses and eat more time, which was a dire contrast to the Lady Flames' preferred style of getting up and down the court.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on everything but rebounding," said Rowe, who is 259-52 in his ninth year as the Lee coach. "They were a tough matchup for us defensively -- much better than the last two teams we had played."
Lee (34-3) jumped to an early advantage as German and Adams combined for 23 first-half points. They held a 26-19 advantage after a floater by Adams but went on a cold spell and the Lady Warriors battled back with a 15-2 run to take a 34-30 lead into the locker room.
"Lee has two girls in German and Adams that can really score," Westmont coach Kirsten Moore said. "We couldn't give German any daylight, because she was shooting it. They are confident, aggressive scorers.
"We won tonight because of our perseverance. We've been on a journey as a group this year, and because of our trials both on and off the court, I don't think we got rattled."
German finished with 27 points, while Adams had 19 and added seven rebounds. Both were named to the all-tournament team. Karley Miller provided a spark off the bench with eight points and five rebounds -- all offensive.
German, Miller, fellow Lady Flames junior Lauren Browning and senior Julia Zimmerman all were named Monday as NAIA Scholar-Athletes. That requires a minimum 3.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.
Esther Lee provided a perimeter punch Tuesday for the Lady Warriors, with 12 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting. Celina Gougis added nine as only four players scored for Westmont, which was ranked fourth in the final regular-season poll and beat No. 1-ranked Freed-Hardeman in the semifinals.
The seventh-ranked Lady Flames had defeated defending champion and second-ranked Oklahoma City and sixth-ranked Cumberland to advance to their first-ever national championship game. It will be their last, too, as the Cleveland school makes the jump to the NCAA Division II level and the Gulf South Conference this summer.
"I'm extremely proud of our team -- every single player," German said. "It was our goal to play on the last day of the season, and we did that."
Said Rowe: "It would have been great to go out with a win, but it doesn't change us or what we've accomplished.
"We made our mark and will remember this. We're leaving this place exactly how we wanted to, except without the win."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow hi on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.