The Harding Lady Bisons defeated Central Missouri 66-58 on Saturday despite senior point guard A'ndrea Haney fouling out in the final minutes. The Lady Bisons will face Emporia State in the Central Regional final at 7 p.m. on Monday night.
By Bruce Guthrie
For Harding Lady Bisons' fans, it was one of the most horrible, gut-wrenching sounds they could have imagined. With it came anxiety, fear and dread.
It was the sound of a whistle with 1:35 to play in Saturday night's 66-58 win over Central Missouri in the semifinal of the Central Regional. That whistle followed by the arm motion of a referee confirmed that Harding senior guard A'ndrea Haney had just been called for her fifth foul and therefore had fouled out with nine points.
While the call was contentious, Haney could have dropped her head and went to the bench in fear that it would be the final game of her career even though the Lady Bisons had just finished a 7-0 run and were leading 60-56.
What she did was go straight to the middle of the floor into the team huddle and begin urging, imploring and encouraging her teammates with the vigor and energy that she has been as known for as she had been for her aggressive play and penchant for foul trouble.
Her Harding teammates heeded their senior leader and held off Central Missouri to move on to Monday's regional title game. Caroline Hogue led the Lady Bisons with 18 points. She and Sydnie Jones finished with double-doubles. Jones scored 13 points and both snagged 10 boards each.
What did Haney say in that brief stoppage of play?
"I couldn't be more proud," Haney said. "You are going to make me cry if I think about it too much. I just wanted to get to them and let them know, 'Hey, you got this. You don't need me to win.'"
Even though the Lady Bisons didn't have Haney's presence on the floor, they had her spirit in the final minute and 35 seconds.
"A'ndi is a great leader for this team," Hogue said. "When she fouled out we were so motivated to win because we wanted her to play more games. We wanted to play more games, but we just came out there and played hard all four quarters."
Foul shots were what kept the Lady Bisons on the winning track. Central Missouri's Ashley Duffy hit a jumper just four seconds after Haney fouled out, but that would be all the Jennies would get.
Free throws by Riley Rose, Falan Miller and the final foul shot from Sydney Layrock with 11 seconds remaining propelled the Lady Bisons into the Sweet 16. Both Miller and Layrock played significant minutes with four fouls of their own.
The game was close throughout.
The opening period saw three lead changes and a furious pace as UCM held a 22-19 edge after one quarter.
After falling behind 25-20 midway through the second quarter, a 12-2 Harding run keyed by seven Jones points helped the Lady Bisons move out a 32-29 lead at the break.
A Megan Skaggs 3-pointer just before the third quarter horn capped a 14-4 Central Missouri burst that wiped out a 39-31 Harding lead and put the Jennies on top 45-43.
While the Jennies forced 20 turnovers to Harding's nine, the Lady Bisons outrebounded Central Missouri 45-28.
In all of the chaos of the final minute and 35 seconds, did Haney ever doubt?
"I had faith in them," Haney said. "I wanted them to stay composed even though the refs weren't going the way we wanted them to. It was our job to go out and keep our composure."
"A'ndi is valuable to us even after she fouls out," Harding head coach Tim Kirby said. That's obvious. The things they get from each other, they are able to overcome things like that...it speaks to the character of our team. We have got a bunch of tough, good girls that are fighting for each other."
The fight continues Monday night against top-seeded Emporia State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.