UNC Asheville women beat Liberty in Big South championship
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) Chatori Major had 21 points and assisted Bronaza Fitzgerald on the winning basket in UNC Asheville's 64-62 double-overtime victory over Liberty in the Big South Conference Tournament championship on Sunday for a NCAA Tournament bid.
Major stopped her drive under the basket and was trapped by three Liberty defenders. But she managed to find the open Fitzgerald, whose lay-in capped the scoring with 8.6 seconds left.
UNC Asheville's Paige Love scored the first basket 21 seconds into the second overtime and both teams went scoreless until Catherine Kearney tied it for Liberty on a putback with 19.7 seconds left.
As tournament host, top-seeded UNC Asheville (26-6) celebrated its second NCAA berth with its home crowd. The Bulldogs' first appearance in the NCAAs was in 2007.
Major, the conference player of the year, was also named the tournament MVP. Joining her on the all-tournament team were UNC-Asheville's Tianna Knuckles and Liberty's Kearney and Sadalia Ellis.
Ashley Rininger had 22 points and Kearney added 10 for No. 2 seed Liberty (20-12). The Flames scored 16 straight to lead 23-12 and stayed ahead until the Bulldogs pulled back in front at 40-39, the first of seven fourth-quarter lead changes.
Jessica Wall helped UNC Asheville close the gap in the third quarter with a couple of 3-pointers late in the shot clock.
Both teams struggled to make shots, especially UNC Asheville which finished just 26.6 percent from the field.
But the Bulldogs made up for it with 25 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points. On one sequence late in the fourth quarter, UNC Asheville gathered offensive rebounds on two consecutive close-range misses and rotated it back out to the perimeter for Love's 3-pointer that tied it at 51-all with 3:35 left in regulation.
The score stayed tied until Major made both free throws with 1:02 left and Rininger answered with a layup with 47.2 seconds left that forced the first overtime.
Wall hit her third triple and Rininger scored five of Liberty's seven points in the first overtime. Neither team led by more than three after the end of regulation.
Liberty: The Flames entered the game as not only the defending Big South champs, but winners 16 of the last 19 conference tournaments. ... All-tournament selection Ellis left the game three minutes in after an injury suffered while battling for a loose ball.
UNC Asheville: The 2016 conference championship capped a dramatic turnaround for the program, which was projected by the Big South coaches to finish eighth in the conference at the beginning of the season. The Bulldogs went 9-22 last year and won only two games in the 2012-13 season. ... Asheville becomes just the third school to win both the men's and women's basketball championship in the same season, joining Liberty (2004 and 2013).
Liberty: Women's NIT.
UNC Asheville: NCAA Tournament.