INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - A furious second-half rally fell short for the sixth-seeded University of Pikeville women’s basketball team, losing 78-70 to second-seeded MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) in the NAIA National Tournament semifinals on Monday in Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
UPIKE trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half before cutting it down to four at 64-60 with four minutes left to play. But like they had done throughout the game, the Pioneers were there with an answer as Megan Balcom drilled a three on the next possession.
The Bears got within five twice the rest of the way, on a basket by Kandice Porter and deep jumper from Devin Conley, but came up empty down the stretch as MidAmerica Nazarene hit 9 of 11 free throws in the final minute to stay in front.
Kelah Eldridge led UPIKE with 19 points, hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers, while Porter and Aundrea Matchen joined her in double figures with 17 and 12 points, respectively.
All five Pioneer starters scored in double figures, including Tristin Wicks and Kyleesha Weston leading the way with 16 points each.
After trailing 38-22 at halftime, the Bears had a second half to remember, scoring 48 points while going from 19 percent first-half shooting to a 54-percent showing in the final 20 minutes. In the second half alone, the Bears led the Pioneers 48-42.
But a slow start ended up being too much to overcome for UPIKE as it couldn’t buy a basket early in the contest.
It took over six minutes for the Bears to score their first points as a corner three from Rachel Lee made it 12-3 with 3:39 left in the first quarter. Prisha Rogers followed that immediately with a steal and layup to get within seven, but that’s as close the Bears would get the rest of the half.
The Pioneers led by as many as 19 points in the half as Weston’s layup midway through the second quarter made it 30-11. MNU was still up by 14 late in the third quarter, but a 9-4 UPIKE run got it back within single digits at 54-45 before continuing to claw back within four twice in the final quarter.
Former Magoffin County High School standout Jade Howard is a graduate assistant coach on the UPIKE coaching staff.
Another former Lady Hornet - Jamie Castle - is a sophomore guard for the Bears. Castle was sidelined with an injury throughout the 2015-16 season.
UPIKE ends the season with a 26-9 overall record, which is a program record for wins, while MidAmerica Nazarene improves to 31-5.