HU women rally back for win in NAIA tourney

Pazia Speed.
Photo provided.

The Huntington University women's basketball team came back from a 23-6 first half deficit to beat Menlo College, 77-72, in the first round of the NAIA Division II Women's Basketball National Championship Tournament at Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, IA, on Thursday, March 13.

Senior Pazia Speed knocked down a game-high 24 points to propel the fifth-seeded Foresters past the fourth-seeded Oaks and into the tournament's second round for the first time since 2009.

Menlo, 25-6, didn't make it easy for Huntington, clicking on 17 of 26 shots in the opening stanza for a sizzling 65.4 percent to put Coach Lori Culler's squad in a 17-point hole, 23-6, eight minutes into the contest. The Foresters, 24-8, were resilient, though, responding with a 12-0 scoring spree to slice a 27-11 advantage for Menlo at 9:33 into a more manageable 27-23 margin by 6:56. Three points by sophomore Amelia Recker and seven points by freshman Miranda Palmer bracketed two of Speed's 12 first half points. The Oaks gave themselves some breathing room by ending the period on a 10-2 run to push their lead back out to 39-29.

Menlo was still up by double-digits, 46-35, four minutes into the second half when Huntington changed the game, reeling off 18 points to the Oaks' four over the next five minutes to claim its first lead of the contest, 53-50, at the 11:10 mark. Recker tossed in six points during the run, and sophomore Kelsey Hubble supplied five.

The next 10 minutes contained four lead changes and six ties as neither squad was willing to yield. A bucket by Palmer broke the last deadlock and gave the Foresters a 71-69 lead with 39 seconds remaining. Palmer and junior Courtney Baker then shot a combined 6 for 6 at the line to ice the game.

Palmed finished with 20 points and Recker topped out at 19, which she paired with a team-best nine rebounds to give the Foresters a 35-32 edge on the glass.

After going 9 for 31 from the field in the first half for 29 percent, Huntington turned things around in the second, connecting on 16 of 29 shots for 55.2 percent to give it a shooting mark of 41.7 percent for the game. The Foresters supplemented that offensive effort with a 23 for 29 effort at the stripe, which included a perfect 14 for 14 showing in the final period to help the team finish shooting 79.3 percent.

Jolise Limcaco paced the Oaks with 18 points. Vanessa D'Amico and Laurel Donnenwirth produced 16 points apiece, with the latter adding a game-high 14 boards, while Aaliyah Sowards chipped in 10 points as Menlo's fourth double-digit scorer.

The Oaks cooled down in the second half, converting 11 of 26 field goals for 42.3 percent to finish shooting 28 of 52 for 53.8 percent. They went 10 for 15 from the line for 66.7 percent.