Liberty women earn NCAA bid with 17th Big South title

Flames heading back to the NCAA tournament

By Eric Johnson - Sports Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - Courtesy of Liberty Athletics:

No. 1 seed Liberty utilized rebounding and a stifling defense to overcome an early deficit and top No. 3 seed and two-time defending champion UNC Asheville, 60-42, in the 2018 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game at the Vines Center, Sunday afternoon.

Liberty (24-9) dominated the rebounding (44-30), points in the paint (28-12) and second-chance points (19-9) categories, led by tournament MVP KK Barbour (10 points, six rebounds), who scored in double figures for the third straight game this weekend.

The Lady Flames' win amounted to their 17th Big South Championship title in 22 years, but their first since 2015.  They limited Asheville (17-15) to 29.8 percent (14-of-47) shooting and Liberty held its 17th straight opponent below the 60-point mark.

Point guards Ashtyn Baker (all 12 of her points came after halftime) and Nene Johnson (10 points, career-high eight rebounds, game-high three assists) also stepped up, with freshman Baker joining Barbour on the all-tournament team. The all-tournament squad was rounded out by Asheville's senior duo of Khaila Webb (game-high 13 points) and Bronaza Fitzgerald (four points, six rebounds), along with High Point's Emma Bockrath.

The Lady Flames posted their eighth consecutive victory overall and closed out their first unbeaten home season since 2007-08 with a 15-0 record at the Vines Center. Liberty got to cut down the nets on its home court for the first time since 2006, and the seventh time in program history.

The Lady Flames will learn their destination and first-round opponent for their 17th NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Liberty's first-round game will be played on either Friday or Saturday.

The Lady Flames' 18-point margin of victory was the largest by any team in the Big South Championship title game since Liberty's 88-41 triumph over Asheville in 2005 at the Vines Center. Liberty won its three tournament games by an average of 23.0 ppg this weekend.

Liberty took good care of the basketball (season-low nine turnovers), shot 41.2 percent (7-of-17) from three-point range and hit 83.3 percent (10-of-12) of its second-half free throw attempts.

Barbour, the only current Lady Flame who appeared in Liberty's 64-62 double overtime loss during the 2016 title game at Asheville, scored in double digits for the seventh straight outing while hitting three of her five attempts from three-point range. The junior averaged 14.3 ppg and 6.3 rpg for the tournament.

Big South Freshman of the Year Baker and Johnson combined for 21 second-half points, matching Asheville's total output during the final 20 minutes.

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