THE TURNING POINT: After West Texas A&M cut its deficit to 49-47 with 6:01 left in the third quarter, Ashland went on a 15-6 run for the rest of the stanza.
COLUMBUS – On Tuesday (March 21) night, the No. 1-ranked Ashland University women's basketball team played – and won – in a home away from home.
The Eagles moved to 35-0 and on to the NCAA Division II national semifinals following a 82-67 win over West Texas A&M (26-9) on Tuesday at what was supposed to be a neutral site in the form of Alumni Hall on the campus of Ohio Dominican University.
Thanks to the flowing sea of hundreds and hundreds of purple-and-gold-clad fans, it was anything but.
"What an unbelievable game," said Ashland head coach Robyn Fralick, now 66-2 as a head coach. "An absolutely championship atmosphere. Both teams played really hard. Our support was unbelievable.
"I thought our team played really hard. Our effort was excellent, and I'm really proud of my team."
Ashland has two first-team Women's Basketball Coaches' Association (WBCA) All-Americans, and they played like it on Tuesday. Junior forward Laina Snyder scored 26 points and added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals, while Andi Daugherty added 24 points, four boards and four assists. Snyder was 13-of-18 from the field, and Daugherty hit 12-of-13 from the free-throw line.
"They played all 2-3 zone, and they're good at it," Fralick said of West Texas A&M. "And they're really big. They're probably the biggest team we've played all year."
"Laina and I are both undersized post players, a little bit," said Daugherty. "West Texas has some bigger girls, and we're versatile enough that we kind of have guard skills, so we used our speed and athleticism."
Snyder added, "Use what you have to your advantage. We had speed, they had size, and we were able to out-work them in that area."
Snyder moved into third place on Ashland's all-time scoring list at 1,528 career points, and the Snyder/Daugherty combo became just the second set of classmates in program history to combine for 3,000 points (3,008).
Freshman point guard Renee Stimpert finished the night with a career-high 11 points, to go with five boards and five assists.
The Eagles shot 50.8 percent from the floor - their highest single-game output since March 5 at home against Grand Valley State (55.9). Ashland also was 19-for-21 from the free-throw line for 90.5 percent, a season high.
On defense, AU forced 25 turnovers, leading to 32 points.
Ashland is 19-5 all-time in the Division II postseason, and that .792 winning percentage is a D-II record for programs with at least 20 games played.
For WTAM, Alie Decker and Lilley Vander Zee each scored 18 points.
A predictable feeling-out process started the game, then the Buffs scored five straight points to take a 9-4 lead. Ashland kept the defense tight early, and it took its first lead of the game at 10-9 on a layup by junior forward Julie Worley just inside of the first media timeout.
The Eagles forced a shot-clock violation with 2:56 to go in the opening quarter, part of a swarming defensive effort which turned a five-point deficit into a 12-point lead thanks to a 17-0 run. A Worley layup following a steal and assist from Stimpert nded the barrage.
After the game's first 10 minutes, Ashland led 23-11, and it was a two-sided advantage. The Eagles hit 10-of-16 shots from the floor on offense, while forcing nine turnovers and keeping WTAM to 5-of-15 from the field on defense.
Starting the second quarter, the Buffs began to counter by scoring the period's first six points. Ashland kept West Texas A&M at arm's length, however, and when senior guard Alex Henning turned her own steal into a breakaway layup, the Eagles had a 41-32 lead at the half.
The first-half formula for Ashland was a familiar one – 60-percent shooting from the field, 12 assists on 18 made field goals and a defense which forced a dozen Buffs turnovers and allowed 43.3 percent from the floor.
West Texas A&M cut its deficit to 49-47 with 6:01 left in the third thanks to three consecutive triples by Decker. Snyder answered with a layup, then Stimpert did the same after her own steal, to put the Eagle lead back to six points at 53-47.
With 2:07 to go in the third, senior guard Kelsey Peare hit her second trey of the game to put Ashland up by 11 at 60-49. The Eagles went into the game's final 10 minutes boasting a 64-53 lead.
Daugherty's layup early in the fourth put AU up 68-53, and the Eagles went on to victory from there.
Ashland remains the only undefeated women's or men's basketball team in Division II, and one of only three undefeated teams period at all NCAA levels. The Eagles are 6-1 all-time at the Elite Eight and 3-0 all-time in national quarterfinals.
Tuesday's victory also extended Ashland's current school-record winning streaks of 35 to start a season, 35 overall and 16 road/neutral-site games.
In Tuesday's earlier quarterfinals, No. 6 seed Virginia Union defeated No. 3 seed Columbus State, 78-73, and No. 2 seed California Baptist topped No. 7 seed West Florida, 77-69. Virginia Union (27-4) and Cal Baptist (35-2) will play Wednesday's first semifinal at 6 p.m. at ODU.
UP NEXT: A national semifinal on Wednesday (March 22) at 8:30 p.m. against No. 10-ranked Harding (31-3), a 73-69 winner on Tuesday night against Queens.