March 8, 2011
For more information, contact Bob Luder at 816.501.2434.
KANSAS CITY, Mo - - The never-say-die Avila University women's basketball team dug itself out of a nine-point hole midway through the second half and defeated Graceland, 74-70, to win its first-ever Heart of America Athletic Conference post-season tournament Monday at Mabee Fieldhouse.
Even more important, the third-seeded Eagles, 20-12, earned an automatic qualifying berth to the NAIA Division I national tournament, scheduled for March 16-22 in Jackson, Tenn.
“It's just one of those seasons, kind of like the Miracle on Ice,” said Avila head coach Larry Williams. “We shouldn't have been here, but things have just fallen into place.
“It's the best feeling I've ever had in my coaching career. It's a dream come true.”
Avila was led by junior shooting guard Brittany Townsend's game-high 26 points, coming on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor, and 23 points from senior center Alyson Young. But what Young will undoubtedly remember most is the steal she made with 8 seconds left on the clock and the Eagles holding a tenuous 72-70 lead. She was quickly fouled by a Graceland defender and calmly canned both free throws with 4.8 ticks left, icing the biggest victory in Avila women's basketball history.
Despite shooting 52 percent from the floor in the first half, Avila had trouble keeping up with Graceland's lightning-quick guard tandem of Jamie Whitfield and Josilyn Wilkes. Graceland scored the first seven points of the game and made that hold up all the way to halftime, leading 37-30.
But Avila has been a strong second-half team all season. It took a while, but the Eagles eventually chipped into the lead and took a 47-46 lead, their first of the game, on a two-pointer by Jessica James from the baseline. Graceland showed poise in rushing back to a four-point lead, but the Eagles simply had too much down the stretch. They finished the game shooting an incredible 57 percent from the floor.
“We always have a game plan to start the first half,” Williams said, “Sometimes, things don't work. But we've been able to make adjustments in what we do. Sometimes, it just takes us a while to see what the other team is doing.”
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.