Information provided by Wayland Baptist University Athletics
COSTA MESA, Calif. – Maybe California isn’t so bad after all!
Two days after dropping their first game of the season in Santa Clarita, the third-ranked Wayland Baptist Flying Queens logged a huge victory over top-ranked Vanguard University here Wednesday night, rallying from 12 points down to win, 60-58.
“This kinda takes the sting out of Monday,” Wayland coach Alesha Ellis said. “The kids did a good job. I’m proud of them.”
Much like in Monday’s 64-49 setback to No. 11 The Master’s, Wayland (10-1) didn’t particularly shoot that well against Vanguard, but coming away with a win over the previously-unbeaten Lions (11-1) more than made up for that.
“Knowing your players didn’t shoot like they’re used to and still coming out with a win – on their home floor – says a lot,” Ellis said. “They did what they had to (in order) to get it done.
“It’s a big, big win for us.”
In a rematch of last year’s national quarterfinals won by then No. 15 Wayland over then No. 7 Vanguard, 68-44, the Flying Queens trailed most of the way as Vanguard scored the first seven points of the game on the way to taking a 20-8 lead.
“Vanguard has some returners from last year and they came out with fire today because they remembered last year,” Ellis said. “They are very solid on the offensive end.”
After the Lions’ big push early, the Flying Queens answered with 13 straight points to take a 21-20 lead.
The lead didn’t last long, though, and Vanguard was up 28-25 at halftime. Except for a short time early in the third quarter, the Lions held the upper hand until late in the fourth.
Wayland’s largest second-half deficit was six points, the last time at 52-46 midway through the fourth quarter. The Flying Queens got a bucket by Payton Brown and a big 3-pointer by Maci Merket before back-to-back layups by Morgan Bennett and Kambrey Blakey put Wayland up 57-56 with 1:31 to go.
Merket, who led all scorers with 19 points, nailed a pair of free throws to make it a 3-point game, then after Vanguard’s Victoria Chea scored and Wayland turned it over, the Lions had the ball with a chance to take the lead with 22 seconds left.
But Chea missed a jumper that was partially blocked by Bennett, and Brown rebounded and was fouled. The freshman missed her first free throw but made the second to make it a 2-point spread.
A Vanguard timeout give the Lions the ball near midcourt, and they put the game in the hands of leading-scorer Chea. The senior guard drove the lane but her layup didn’t fall right before the final buzzer.
In addition to her 19 points, Merket also led Wayland with 10 rebounds and four assists. Kaylee Edgemon added 11 points off the bench, while Deborah VanDijk finished with nine, Bennett eight and Brown seven.
The Flying Queens attempted 16 more field goals than Vanguard, hitting 23-of-68 (34 percent) overall and 5-of-24 (21 percent) from 3-point range compared to the Lions’ 19-of-52 (37 percent) and 8-of-17 (47 percent) from long range.
“Once again our shooting percentages weren’t what we’re used to, but we came out with a win,” Ellis said. “These kids are used to scoring, so when (their shooting is off) sometimes they don’t know how to respond. The last game I don’t think we handled that adversity very well, but today we did.”
They did it, she said, by playing excellent defense and by hitting free throws (9-of-11, 82 percent).
“We played really good defense again. We had a few possessions late where we let down, but other than that I thought we played a solid game,” Ellis said.
The Flying Queens also did it by living up to their billing as the NAIA’s top-rebounding team, coming up with 45 boards, nine more than the Lions. Wayland also turned it over a dozen times, three fewer than the home team.
“On the road you tend to not shoot as well, so it’s good we have this opportunity so we can learn to fight through that adversity. We’ll continue to figure out how to overcome things like that,” Ellis said.
Chea’s 17 points led the Lions, who on Monday escaped Texas Wesleyan, 83-77 in overtime. Sierra Vaglica added 12 points, and Tristen Rollon and Vanessa Murphy 10 each. Michaelle Elad pulled down 16 rebounds while scoring five points.
Wayland now turns its attention to Friday’s 4 p.m. matchup against No. 11 Westmont (8-4) in Santa Barbara. Westmont fell Wednesday at home to Lewis-Clark State, Idaho, ranked the equivalent of 26th, 58-49. On Dec. 8, Westmont fell to Vanguard in a Golden State Athletic Conference contest, 63-47.
Friday’s game will be a rematch of last year’s national semifinals when then No. 4 Westmont defeated Wayland, 56-54. The Warriors went on to fall to Freed-Hardeman, Tenn., in the championship, 76-64.
Freed-Hardeman, with a 12-0 record, is ranked No. 2 this season, and if Wayland can win Friday it likely will be either the Flying Queens or Freed-Hardeman atop the Top 25 when the next poll is released Jan. 2.