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Rocky's Markaela Francis

Rocky's Markaela Francis looks for an opening to shoot on Wednesday at the NAIA D1 Women's Basketball Championship at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.

Wednesday's highlights

• Fueled by a dominant effort in the fourth quarter, sixth-seeded Montana Western kept its national title hopes alive with a 63-53 upset win over No. 3 Columbia (Mo.) Wednesday night at the 2017 NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings.

Trailing 45-37 with only a few seconds left in the third quarter, Montana Western rallied with an 8-0 run to tie the game. The stretch was capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Aniese Palmore.

An offensive foul by Columbia on its next possession, opened the floodgates as the Bulldogs outscored the Cougars 16-3 to push their lead to 63-50 with less than a minute remaining in the game.

“I challenged them at halftime and we talked a lot about what we have to do to score,” said Montana Western coach Lindsay Woolley. “They’ve done this all year. When you get the confidence of winning some close games, I think it just carries over.”

All five starters for Montana Western (24-8) ended the night with double-digit scoring, led by a 17-point effort by Palmore. Kaye Bignell posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Columbia (26-7) was led in scoring by Raegan Wieser, who ended the night with a game-high 18 points.

With the win, Montana Western advances to the second round for the first time since 2006. The Bulldogs move on to play No. 2 Oklahoma City Friday at 10:45 a.m. MDT.

• Top-seeded and top-ranked Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) ran its season record to 34-0 by beating host Rocky Mountain College 62-52. The Lions led by 17 points in the first quarter before ousting the Battlin' Bears.

Kim Mallory scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Carrie Hatchel also scored 18 points for Freed-Hardeman. Rocky's Hailee Farstveet was game's top scorer with 21 points, including three 3-pointers.

With the victory, the Lions improved to 33-20 all-time at the national championship. Freed-Hardeman has reached at least the semifinals in four of the last six years.

“I thought we started off pretty well,” said Freed-Hardeman coach Dale Neal. “We had trouble keeping them off the free throw line. It could’ve been a 20-point game instead of a 10-point game if we had gotten to the line. We didn’t do as well at that as we would have liked, but when you get to this point in the year it doesn’t matter if you win by 2 or by 20.”

Rocky, which trailed 30-22 at halftime, was making its first appearance at nationals since 1988. The Bears finished their season with a 13-19 record.

• Top-seeded Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) improved its national tournament record to 6-12 after a 63-52 opening-round victory over eighth-seeded Martin Methodist (Tenn.) in the first game of the day.

“I was really pleased with our defense today,” said Lindsey Wilson coach John B. Wethington. “I thought we were active and defended the interior particularly well. Our defense is the reason we are advancing in this tournament.”

Kayla Styles led the winning Blue Raiders (31-2) with 21 points and 12 rebounds. It was her 17th double-double in 33 games this season. Three players scored in double figures for the RedHawks (21-11), led by Brooklyn Blanchard with 16.

• Central Methodist University (Mo.) outlasted Biola (Calif.), 52-49, behind a balanced attack spurred by DaJonee Hale's 13 points.

“I felt like we had a really great start to the game,” said Central Methodist coach Mike Davis. “I thought our kids fought very hard. To get behind like that at the end, but battle back showed a lot of character.”

With 18.6 seconds left in the game, Hale hit a floater that gave CMU a 50-49 lead and that basket proved to be the game winner.

The Eagles (24-9) hit 7-of-17 from 3-point land compared to only 5-of-30 for Biola (23-8).

• No. 2 Oklahoma City won its 67th national tournament game with a 73-63 victory over reigning champion MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.).  It’s the second year in-a-row the defending national champion lost in the first round.

"Just like any tournament that you go to, you've got to get by that first one," said Oklahoma City coach Bo Overton. "I thought our players were a little out of sync in the first half, but a lot of that had to do with their team (MNU). I think we adjusted in the second half and played a lot smarter."

Okahoma City, in its 23rd national championship and 19th consecutive, improved to 30-2.

Two free throws by OCU’s Daniela Wallen broke a 53-53 fourth-quarter tie to give the Stars the lead they would not lose. Wallen, the nation’s scoring leader, led OCU with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her 16th double-double of the season.

Whitney Moia led MidAmerican Nazarene (18-14) with a career-high 18 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.

• Four players scored in double figures to lead No. 3 Campbellsville (Ky.) to an 84-75 victory over No. 6 Talladega (Ala.). Campbellsville is making its 25th national tournament appearance, which is the NAIA record for most championship appearances.

"I thought we did a good job offensively today," said Campbellsville (Ky.) coach Ginger Colvin. "Defensively, through the third quarter I was not very pleased. Talladega has a lot of weapons, and they stepped out and hit some shots against us."

Campbellsville, with a 27-24 record at nationals, turned a nine-point halftime lead into a 12 point lead at the 1:52 mark of the third quarter. That was the largest lead of the game by either team.

Madison Stewart led Campbellsville (26-6) with 17 points, followed by 15 points from Emily Fox. Fox nearly matched her season average in the first half on the strength of going 4 of 5 from 3-point territory.

Tasheba Henry led Talladega (22-9) with a career-high 35 points and six assists.

• Baker (Kan.) outscored Mobile (Ala.) 31-11 in the fourth quarter en route to a 72-56 victory.

“That was a tough victory against a good team,” said Baker coach Ben Lister. “Mobile is very good defensively and has been playing very well through the end of the season, including winning their conference tournament. We found our rhythm in the fourth quarter and played well down the stretch.”

Kelsey Larsen led Baker (30-4) with 26 points. This will be the second time in program history that the Wildcats have reached the round of 16.

Starla Daggan led Mobile (22-11) with 31 points.

Top scorers

35: Tasheba Henry, Talladega

31: Starla Daggan, Mobile

28: Bianca Cubello, The Master's

26: Kelsey Larson, Baker

21: Hailee Farstveet, Rocky Mountain

21: Kayla Styles, Lindsay Wilson

20: Daniela Wallen, Oklahoma City


Statewide 406 Sports Editor

Jeff Welsch is executive sports editor for 406 Sports and The Billings Gazette.