STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Two free throws by senior Nikki Preston with 4.1 seconds left gave Illinois Wesleyan its only lead of the game after trailing by as many as 23 in the first half and sent the Titan women, for the first time ever, into the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Final Four after a 61-60 come-from-behind win against George Fox on Saturday.
Illinois Wesleyan (27-4) will meet defending national champion Washington U. (24-5) in one semifinal game while Amherst (30-1), who was also a Final Four participant in 2010, will play Christopher Newport (29-3) in the other semifinal game. The games will be at 5 and 7 p.m. on Friday, March 18, and it will be announced later in which order they will be played.
The third place game will be at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 19 with the title game at 7 p.m.
In the sectional championship win against George Fox, the Titans were trailing 16-0 and missed their first 14 shots from the field before scoring for the first time with 11:41 to play in the first half on an Olivia Lett basket.
IWU trailed by a 27-4 score with 5:04 to go in the first period before closing the half on a 17-6 run to close to 33-21 behind at intermission. Two 3-pointers in the final minute by sophomore Melissa Gardner fueled the comeback.
The Titans, who outscored George Fox by a 40-27 score in the second half, closed to within four points at 60-56 on a layup basket by Preston with 1:13 to go and, after a turnover, Preston knocked in a 3-pointer with 45 seconds to play got IWU within one point at 60-59.
IWU was 24 of 60 (40.0) from the field, made seven of 26 3-point efforts (26.9) and hit six of 10 free throws (60.0).
Preston and Gardner led IWU with 10 points each while the Titans got eight points each from Lett, senior Hope Schulte, junior Brittany Hasselbring and freshman Shelby Jackson, who also led the team with five rebounds.
The Bruins, who shot 51.1 percent (23 of 45) from the field for the game, were led by the 19 points and nine rebounds of 6-foot-5 center Hannah Munger. George Fox was two of seven from the 3-point zone and made 12 of 17 free throws.
Swarming defense helped Illinois Wesleyan force 24 Bruin turnovers while IWU committed 15 turnovers. The Titans were outrebounded, 35-27.