HUNTINGTON, Ind. – The 3rd-seeded Wildcats of Indiana Wesleyan University (26-6) secured the league’s second automatic bid to the 2014 NAIA National Championships with its 71-60 win over 2nd-seeded Huntington University Friday night at Platt Arena.
IWU will face top-seeded Saint Francis Monday night in the championship game. Since Saint Francis earned the first automatic bid by winning the regular season and advancing to the championship game, IWU is guaranteed the second bid as either the tournament champs or runner-up.
With this loss, Huntington (23-8) now awaits their fate until Tuesday when the final rankings come out. The Foresters, currently ranked 19th, have a good chance of receiving one of the 11 at-large bids to the national tournament.
Playing without starting center Jaclene Bonnema, the Foresters seemed out of sorts to start the game. The problem was compounded when Pazia Speed picked up her second foul within the first two minutes of play as the Wildcats jumped out to a 12-4 lead by the 14:59 mark.
IWU went on to grow the lead to as many as 15 before cruising to a 42-28 lead by intermission. Not much went right for Coach Culler and crew as they shot 36.4 percent for the half (8-for-22) and committed nine turnovers while their visitors sizzled the nets for 55.6 percent and had nearly half the miscues (5).
After a chance to regroup at halftime, Huntington came out great guns by outscoring IWU 8-2 to trim the lead to eight at 44-36. Courtney Baker led the charge by scoring all three of her field goals in the opening two minutes of the final stanza.
The Foresters kept IWU within sight over the next few minutes, closing the gap to seven, 53-46, thanks to a pair of freebies by Baker at the 13:15 mark but their golden opportunity came four minutes later.
Down 58-50 with just over nine minutes remaining, HU held their visitors scoreless for nearly two minutes but missed two free tosses and two lay-ups that could have cut the lead to four.
It was all Indiana Wesleyan after that as they built their lead back to 15 with 2:31 remaining before settling for the 11-point victory.
Miranda Palmer, HU’s only bright spot in the first half, scored 14 of her game-high 18 points in the opening twenty minutes. Baker added 14 points, a game-best seven rebounds and three assists. Speed and Amelia Recker each tossed in ten points. Speed also ripped down six boards and handed out three assists.
Huntington struggled all night from the field, finishing 17-for-48 for 35.4 percent. It was a different story from the charity stripe where they went 22-for-26 for 84.6 percent.
Taylor Goshert and Erika Isham each scored 14 points for the Wildcats.