March 9, 2007
Green Bay, Wis. - Freshman Susan Lester hit a clutch go-ahead three-pointer in overtime and senior Jackie Closser went a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the extra period as Butler (16-14) hung on for an 88-83 victory over UIC (19-12) in the Horizon League Championship semifinals at the Phoenix Sports Center on Friday (March 9) evening. With the win, the Bulldogs advance to the championship game of the tournament for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
The Bulldogs will move on to face host UW-Green Bay in the championship game beginning at 12:00 p.m. CT on Sunday (March 11).
The win over the Flames exorcized the demons that haunted the Bulldogs' squads in recent years, ending a seven-game winless streak to UIC dating back to the 2003-04 season.
UIC gave the Bulldogs a fight to the end, erasing an 18-point first-half deficit and forcing overtime on a Jessie Miller game-tying three-pointer with three seconds on the clock before Lester's trey and Closser's charity stripe heroics gave the Bulldogs the decision.
With the two teams deadlocked at 77-77 in overtime, Candace Jones found Lester open at the top of the key who delivered with a tie-breaking triple with 2:28 to go. The Flames cut the lead to one with a pair of free-throws by Krystal Hugelier, but Closser netted her eight attempts from the line to preserve the win.
The game had the makings of a blow-out in the early going, as Butler raced-out to a lightning-fast 14-2 run to begin the game. Ellen Hamilton and Closser netted back-to-back treys to open the scoring before Lade Akande tallied three-straight lay-ups and Lester added another for the early margin.
The Flames cut the lead to just nine with under two minutes left in the half, as Hugelier hit a pair of three-pointers and a lay-up, but a triple from Hamilton and a pair of free throws by Closser helped the Bulldogs into the locker room with a 14-point advantage at 42-28.
UIC came roaring back in the second half, however, using a 19-8 run over a 10-minute span to tie the game for the first time at 56-56 with 6:08 left to play in regulation. The Flames took their first lead of the night just a minute later and carried as much as a four-point advantage at 64-60 with 2:26 left to play.
Closser came to the rescue seconds later, hitting a triple to cut the gap to one before lay-ups by Jones and Closser put the Bulldogs back up by three with 35 seconds to go.
After the Flames cut the lead back to one with 13 seconds left, Lester hit a crucial lay-up to put Butler back in front by three with nine seconds on the clock before Miller forced overtime with her last-second trey.
Butler posted four players in double figures, including three with 20 points or more. Closser led the squad with 25, including 11 in overtime and a 12-for-12 mark from the free throw line. She also notched seven rebounds. Her mark from the stripe ties her career-high for makes and percentage, which she accomplished against Detroit this season on Jan. 18.
Lester recorded her ninth double-double of the year and fourth-straight with 20 points and a career-tying 14 rebounds, including a season-best 10 defensive boards. Akande added 20 points of her own, coming on 10-of-18 shooting from the field, and pulled in eight rebounds.
Jones finished the night with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting and six rebounds.
The Flames also featured four players with double-digit scoring totals, with Holmes leading the way with 20 points.
The win against the Flames moves the Bulldogs to 16-14 on the year, giving Butler its most wins since the 1998-99 squad finished at 17-11.