Gardner-Webb wins Big South
HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Monique Hudson scored 23 points and this time Gardner-Webb made the big plays down the stretch in a 67-66 victory against Liberty on Sunday to end the Flames' Big South dominance and give the Runnin' Bulldogs their first NCAA tournament berth.
After missing potential tying and winning shots at the buzzer in the previous two title games against Liberty, Gardner-Webb (23-10) built an 11-point lead then hung on in a frantic finish to hand Liberty its first loss in 14 conference title games.
Dominique Hudson added 16 points and six assists for third-seeded Gardner-Webb in a sweet victory for coach Rick Reeves, who guided Liberty to its first three Big South titles.
Jelena Antic scored 19 points and Avery Warley added 13 points and 16 rebounds for the top-seeded Flames (22-10), who had won 13 of the past 14 Big South championships and were 38-0 when playing as the higher seed.
After seeing its big lead evaporate, LaTroya Pope's floater in the lane with 30 seconds left extended Gardner-Webb's lead to 67-64. Then facing a trapping defense, Devon Brown's pass across the floor landed out of bounds at midcourt with 14.1 seconds left for her eighth turnover.
Brianna Dillard's missed front end of a 1-and-1 gave Liberty an opening and Antic decided to take it to the basket for a layup with 3.4 seconds left instead of attempting a 3-pointer.
The inbounds pass then went to Hudson and she outran Liberty's attempts to foul as the clock expired and Gardner-Webb's players piled on each other under the basket.
Brown, who hit the game-winning shot in last year's title game, slumped her shoulders and was consoled at midcourt.
Hudson's twin sister, Dominique Hudson, added 16 points and six assists for the Bulldogs, who shot 47 percent to offset allowing 19 offensive rebounds as Reeves celebrated.
Reeves is credited with creating Liberty's league dominance when he led the Flames to three consecutive titles from 1997-99. Reeves left after the third title for Southern Mississippi, where he lasted five seasons with a losing record before landing at Gardner-Webb.
The Runnin' Bulldogs were early in their transition to Division I and then moved from the Atlantic Sun to the Big South in the 2008-09 season.
They've been in every Big South final since - and left with heartache each of the last two years.
Monique Hudson missed a tying shot at the buzzer last season. A year earlier, Dominique Hudson missed a game-winning shot as time expired.
Liberty, which swept the two regular-season meetings and in one had a 65-34 rebounding advantage, was no match for Gardner-Webb inside. But the speedy Hudson twins neutralized that on the perimeter.
After a tight first half, Monique Hudson had two 3-pointers and a three-point play in a 10-0 run that put Gardner-Webb ahead 46-35 with 16:08 left.
But Liberty slowly got closer thanks to numerous extra shots by its superiority on the boards as foul trouble piled up for the Bulldogs. Dymond Morgan's layup with 1:01 left cut Gardner-Webb's lead to 65-64.