JACKSON, Tenn. (vstateblazers.com) — Meeting for the second time in one week and for the fourth time this season, the No. 7-seed Valdosta State Lady Blazer women's basketball team posted a commanding 70-44 victory over No. 3-seed Lee in the semifinals of the NCAA South Regional Saturday evening. The Lady Blazers advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2018.
In 2018's Sweet Sixteen the Lady Blazers also were a No. 7-seed and downed a Sunshine State Conference opponent (Florida Southern) in the first round and then defeated Lee in the second rebound before the regional final. VSU fell to host Union that season 74-73 and will be hoping for a different result this Monday at 8 p.m. ET against either top-seeded Union or No. 5-seed Eckerd. The season, VSU defeated No. 2-seed Tampa (59-50) on Friday and Lee on Saturday.
Fans can access links to live stats and audio/video streaming of the game at vstateblazers.com on the women's basketball schedule page. The game also will be broadcast on 92.1 WDDQ FM with Mike Chason having the call.
Saturday's matchup with Lee marked the second-straight season of playing the Lady Flames in the NCAA postseason and third in last four seasons. In addition, the teams have met nine times in the last two years overall and VSU has now won five of the nine meetings. VSU and Lee split the four meetings this season.
VSU improved to 16-13 all-time in the NCAA postseason and are making its fifth trip to the Sweet Sixteen under the current format (1995, 2008, 2012 and 2018) as the Lady Blazers reached the national quarterfinals in 1983 and the national semifinals in 1984.
The Lady Blazers (25-5) marked a 39-point difference in the meeting with Lee last Saturday in the semifinals of the Gulf South Conference Championship – a 74-61 loss (-13), and now the 70-44 victory tonight (+26).
The Lady Blazers shot 44.9 percent for the game on 22 of 49, while they were 5 of 19 from deep and 21 of 26 from the line, including 18 of 22 from the stripe in the second half after opening 3 of 4 from the line in the first half. VSU flustered the Lady Flames from the get go and forced 16 turnovers, leading to a 19-8 lead in points off turnovers and kept Lee's D2CCA First Team All-South Region performer Haley Schubert in check all night, holding her to just four points in the game on 1 of 10 from the field and 2 of 3 from the line. VSU also dominated on the glass, holding a 38-18 lead in rebounding and a 34-18 advantage in points in the paint.
Individually, graduate student Kwajelin Farrar went 8 of 10 from the field, 4 of 6 from the line with six rebounds and 20 points, while graduate student Nicole Heyn played all 40 minutes with 16 points, five rebounds and four steals. Freshman Taylor Searcey added 12 points off the bench.
Lee (25-8) shot 30.6 percent from the field on 15 of 49, while it was 5 of 20 from deep and 9 of 10 from the line. For Lee, Halle Hughes was the only player in double figures with 13 points.
Two early buckets from Farrar gave VSU a 4-3 lead and then on a miss from Lee, VSU scored in transition on a kick out triple from sophomore Lili Long. A steal and layup from graduate student Delaney Bernard swelled the lead to 9-3 with six minutes left in the opening quarter and a 9-0 run by the Lady Blazers as they set the tone early. Another steal and score in transition swelled the lead to 11-3 and a timeout by the Lady Flames with 5:54 left in the frame. VSU forced four early miscues by Lee and leading 4-0 in points off miscues during the spurt.
Heyn scored inside for a 13-3 start, extending the run to 13-0. Schubert drew a foul with 4:04 left in the first, scoring one free throw, marking the first point for the Lady Flames since the second possession of the game at 13-4. Sophomore Tamiya Francis went coast-to-coast off a Lee miss for a 15-4 lead, but Morgan Carbaugh buried a triple for just the second made field goal for Lee of the quarter and a 15-7 VSU lead. Two free throws from Heyn swelled the lead to double-digits at 17-7 as VSU had the final possession of the frame. Searcey scored inside and Farrar blocked Schubert's heave from halfcourt at the buzzer.
VSU opened the game 8 of 16 from the field, while Lee was just 2 of 13. The Lady Blazers outrebounded Lee 11-5 and dominated inside to the tune of 14-0 in points in the paint for the quarter and a 19-7 lead.
A great steal and feed inside from Searcey to Farrar pushed the lead to 23-10 with six minutes left in the half. Out of a media timeout, freshman India Jordan drained a long one for a 28-12 lead and the largest advantage of the game to that point with just over four minutes remaining in the half. Heyn got a great steal on Schubert and then an outlet pass to Searcey for a score and a 30-12 lead with 3:19 left in the half for the second called timeout by Lee.
With just over a minute left in the half, Bernard drained one from deep for a 34-16 lead, then Heyn stole a pass for an open look for Farrar and a 36-16 advantage. Searcey continued her strong play with a big offensive rebound and driving bucket for a 38-16 score at the buzzer. VSU outscored Lee 19-9 in the second quarter and finished on a 13-4 run to end the half.
In one of the best halves of the season for VSU, the Lady Blazers shot 16 of 31 from the field for 51.6 percent, while they were 3 of 11 from deep and 3 of 4 from the line. Like yesterday, the Lady Blazers were stifling on defense, outrebounding Lee 18-9 and forcing ten turnovers leading to a 12-1 lead in points off turnovers. Farrar opened the game with 13 points in the first half and seven rebounds, while Searcey had six points off the bench and Heyn had four steals and three assists.
Lee shot just 6 of 23 from the field for 26.1 percent and was 3 of 12 from deep, while going 1 of 2 from the line. The Lady Flames were led by seven points from Morgan Carbaugh off the bench. Carbaugh scored just two points in the second half.
Two "and ones" for Lee began the second half for a 6-0 spurt for the Lady Flames with 8:13 left in the frame, but the Lady Blazers had the answer as a bucket inside from Farrar and a trey from Long pushed the lead to 43-22 with 5:46 left in the quarter. Heyn later hit two free throws for a 51-27 lead with 2:47 left in the third giving her nine points for the game to that point. VSU led 56-31 through three frames.
Heyn drained a trey for a 59-31 lead early in the fourth quarter. Lee trailed 62-38 before a stoppage for a review on a foul on Lee which was deemed intentional on Schubert as it was her fifth foul. Heyn hit both of the charity tosses for a 64-38 lead and then put it in on a backwards layup for a 66-38 lead with 5:53 left as VSU went on for the 70-44 victory