SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Huntington coach Lori Culler was glad to see her team was trailing at halftime.
Huntington has been a second half team all season, the coach said, and that was on display again as the Foresters overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to down Menlo (Calif.) 77-72 at the NAIA Division II women’s basketball national championships Thursday.
All season long we have been a second-half team, and if you look at our stats we have scored way more points in the second half than we have the first half, said Culler, whose team had scored 998 first-half points and 1,208 in the second coming into nationals. At halftime I told them, I wanted us to be down at halftime.’ I told them, I know we are going to fight and they think they have got us because we are down 10, and I just know who we are.’
The win snapped a three-game skid for the Foresters at the national tournament dating to 2009. Huntington plays Northwestern (Iowa) (28-4) at 2:45 p.m. today.
The Foresters (24-8) were able to seal the win at the free-throw line where they went 14 of 14 in the second half after shooting 9 of 15 in the first 20 minutes.
We have shot the ball at the foul line really well all year, Culler said. The first half seemed kind of like an anomaly for us ... but we talked about that at halftime and told them they had to get the jitters out because we are a pretty young team.
The Foresters tied the game for the first time at 50-all on a Pazia Speed basket with 11:30 to go in the game. Menlo retook the lead 62-59 on a Vanessa D’Amico three, and the game was tied for the last time at 69 before Huntington pulled away.
Miranda Palmer hit a layup and Courtney Baker and Palmer combined to hit six free throws in the final 23 seconds to secure the win.
I honestly wasn’t worried at all, I knew we would get the job done, Speed said. Free throws were a big part at the end, and we are a good free-throw shooting team so I wasn’t worried. We knew our offense would come eventually.
The Foresters played just seven players but got strong balance as Speed finished with 24, Palmer added 20 and Ameilia Recker had 19.
Menlo (25-6) began the game hitting 10 of its first 12 shots to race out to a 23-6 lead before Huntington regrouped to cut the lead to 29-27 with less than five minutes to play in the first half.
D’Amico responded for the Oaks with a pair of 3-pointers as they stretched the advantage back to 10 points at the break.
Donnenwirth was a rebound shy of a double-double in the first half as she poured in 10 points and grabbed nine defensive rebounds. The Oaks ended the first 20 minutes shooting 65 percent from the floor.
Offensive rebounds and free throws were definitely the difference because we did not do a good job on the boards, Menlo coach Shannon Osborne said. We turned the ball over too much.
Jolise Limcaco led the Oaks with 18 points and Donnenwirth finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds for a team without a senior on its roster.