JACKSON, Tenn. - 3/24/2008 - The No. 2 seeded Vanguard (Calif.) University Lions advanced to play in their first NAIA National Title game after a 74-72 win over No. 1 seed, and previously unbeaten Union (Tenn.) University. Vanguard's Melissa Cook recorded the game-winner on a driving lay-up with six seconds left to break a 72-72 tie.
Vanguard opened the game with six straight points on back-to-back three pointers from Lauren Gregory. Union responded with three straight field goals to tie the game at 6-6. However, Vanguard controlled the lead for the remainder of the half. The Lions stretched the lead to up to 10 points on three different occasions, with the latest coming 34-24 with 8:09 left in the first half. Union rallied to cut the Vanguard lead down to five points, 40-35, but failed to score on three straight possessions with a chance to get closer. Vanguard went back up by seven points, but a three pointer from Union's Jessica Graves with 17 seconds left in the half got Union to within four points at the half, 42-38.
The second half started with a Union three pointer from senior guard Crystal Eason, continuing their run started just before the half. The Union Lady Bulldogs completed an 8-0 run, five straight points to start the second half, to take their first lead of the game 43-42. The lead was short-lived as the Lions scored four straight to regain advantage, 46-43. Union tied the game again at 49-49 with 15:23 left, but once again was unable to hold on. Vanguard posted a 15-6 run to go back up by nine points, 64-55 with 9:37 left to play. The Lions led by nine again at the 5:58 mark, 71-62.
Over the next five minutes and 30 seconds, Union posted a 10-1 run to tie the game at 72-72 following two made free throws from Josephine Owino with 20 seconds remaining. Owino posted 30 points and 10 rebounds in the game. Vanguard handed the ball to Cook who drove to the basket for the most important two of her six points on the night to give her Lions the lead. Union's perfect season, and a chance for a third title in four years, ended with a final shot coming after the buzzer.
Vanguard out-rebounded Union 38-to-26, including 14-3 on the offensive glass. Union won the field-goal battle 54-percent to 45-percent, but posted the lowest three-point percentage (31%) since the team shot 29% back on January 7. Vanguard was led by Jessica Richter and Gregory with 24 points each. The two went for 15 and 19 points respectively in the first half on a combined 6-for-9 from three-point-range in the first half.
Union's Owino scored 18 of her 30 points in the second half. Jessica Graves added 12 points while Kayla Hudson dished out 11 assists.
Union ends the season with a 35-1 record. Union captured the TranSouth Regular Season and Tournament Titles while also competing in their fourth straight NAIA semifinal round, winning national titles in 2005 and 2006.
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