The Lady Tigers cut a 21-point second half deficit down to just one with 47 seconds left, but SWOSU held on for an 87-83 victory to advance to the championship game on Sunday. The Lady Dawgs will meet the Harding Lady Bisons, the top seed and No. 2 team in the country.
Against the building ECU momentum in the semifinal, Taryn Sayama did once more in the final seconds to the Lady Tigers what she had done all night, driving to the basket and putting in the layup to extend Southwestern’s advantage back to three at 84-81. Free throws would seal the win for SWOSU.
Taryn had a game high 24 points, picking up where sister Sarina left off the night before in leading her team in scoring and the charge for the win.
“I know my role on the team and that’s attacking and getting to the rim,” Sayama said. “And that’s what I did today.”
And she said when it came down to the end with her team clinging to an 82-81 lead with time winding down that she was ready.
“I knew the ball was going to be in my hands and I knew what I had to do. I was thinking about shooting the three, but I knew that the shot fake and driving to the hole was going to be open so that’s what I did.”
The long range shot was not out of the question for Sayama. She hit two from behind the arc, while shooting 10-19 from the field overall.
But it was her continual pushing toward the basket, over and around defenders for the score, that was the difference on the night.
Michelle Fisher had 18 points including a pair of three-pointers, as well as going 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Sarah Mendoza scored nine points and Jessica Penner notched eight in the hard fought win.
Southwestern coach Kelsi Musick spoke highly of her conference rival that nearly completed the comeback.
“They have a great team,” Musick said. “I kept telling my team that no matter how many you get up by, they’re going to fight back. They’re too good a team. They’re not going to just roll over and let us win.
“They’ve done a great job this year.”
SWOSU was up 57-36 with 16:53 left in the game when the Lady Tigers awakened. Dilan Webster, who had ben saddled with early foul trouble, increased her intensity and her points in the paint started to chip away at the lead.
Webster had a team high 17 points. Alycea Price had 16, Erin Walling put in 15 and Ashley Robison scored 14 and all were instrumental in the ECU surge toward the end.
But the Lady Dawgs did just enough to hold East Central at bay. And their coach spoke about their performance.
“I’m proud of this team for their effort,” Musick said. “I have five seniors and they’ve definitely been resilient. We’ve had some hardships this season, but they have definitely stepped up and rose to the occasion.
“And they deserve every bit of the moment they’re about to get.”
The trip to the title tilt marks the third time in the three years of the conference tournament existence. SWOSU defeated Harding in 2012 and fell to Arkansas Tech in 2013.
Tip time is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Bruin Field House in Bartlesville on Sunday.