by Kevin Buczek
GAFFNEY, S.C.-Sophomore guard Nyeshea Willie scored a game-high 28 points for East No. 1 seed Barton College but host and West No. 1 seed Limestone College took an early lead and then held off a late rally with 21 extra free throw attempts to win the 2012 Conference Carolinas Women's Basketball Tournament Championship by a final score of 74-61 in the Timken Center Saturday night.
The No. 8 Southeast Region ranked Saints (25-6 Overall) secured the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament by winning the league tourney title. The No. 6 ranked Lady Bulldogs (21-8) will wait for the NCAA to announce the 64-team field Sunday at 10 p.m. on NCAA.com to see if Barton has secured its second consecutive trip to the big dance with one of the regions five at-large selections.
Willie, who was named to the All-Conference Carolinas Second Team on Friday, poured in her 28 points on 10-of-15 field goal and 6-of-8 free throw shooting. Senior Third Team All-Conference selection Jannetta Robinson was the only other Lady Bulldog in double figures with 13 points.
A Willie layup after the under-10 minute media timeout gave Barton its last lead at 14-13 but a three-pointer by Maria Young just 20 seconds later propelled the Saints into the lead for the final 29 minutes.
A three-point play by Willie got the Lady Bulldogs to within one at 22-21 with 5:52 left but Limestone's fourth 3-pointer of the opening period by Lauren Pace kept the hosts in front. The Saints scored the final five points of the period over the last 90 seconds to take the momentum into the halftime locker room with a 34-25 lead.
Limestone maintained control after the intermission starting the second half on a 15-4 run that was capped by a Young trey that extended the hosts advantage to 20. Another Saints trifecta by Tia Williams at the 10:43 mark pushed LC's largest lead to 21 at 54-33 before Barton made a late rally.
The Lady Bulldogs fought back with runs of 13-3 and 9-2 over the next six plus minutes to pull within two possessions at 61-55. A layup by Willie with 2:33 on the clock got Barton to within five at 66-61 but it proved to be the visitor's last points. Barton missed its last four shots and committed three turnovers in the final two minutes and Limestone nailed six of eight free throws to spread the final margin of victory to 11.
Five Saints reached the 10-plus points plateau including a team-high 18 point Young. Kaileigh West bucket 15 points and finished off a double-double with a game-high 16 rebounds as Limestone finished with a 48-46 edge on the backboards.
The Lady Bulldogs were held to 31.6% from the floor. Barton made its only three-point attempt in the first half but was just 2-of-13 in the second half 21.4% for the game. Limestone was just slightly better shooting 35.7% from the field but the Saints canned 7-of-21 three-pointers (33.3%).
Limestone converted on 27 of its 36 free throw attempts for 75-percent accuracy. Barton took 21 less attempts from the charity stripe making 10-of-15 (66.7%).