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Red Flash women escape with win

November 19, 2012
By Nate Foreman ( , The Altoona Mirror

LORETTO - St. Francis coach Joe Haigh has gone through his fair share of in-game adversity already this season.

The first game was his debut, and last week he coached around major foul trouble.

But in both instances, his team emerged as winners.

He faced a new challenge Sunday afternoon at DeGol Arena, but the result was the same - barely.

The Red Flash overcame blowing a 16-point, second-half lead to hold on to beat Akron, 74-73, to remain undefeated.

"It's a good win," Haigh said. "I think Akron is a very good team. It's something to build on.

"We've got to keep our composure a little bit better, make better decisions in the last couple of minutes. But when it came down to it, the last couple of possessions, we defended well and held things together."

With 6:35 left in the second half, Kia Gibbs hit a pair of free-throws to give St. Francis (3-0) a comfortable 65-49 advantage.

But the Zips didn't go away.

Kacie Cassell, Hanna Luburgh and Rachel Tecca each had four points during a 12-2 spurt to get Akron within six with 4:02 to play.

Gibbs scored on a jumper out of a Red Flash timeout, but Tecca and Sina King made it 69-65 less than two minutes later.

Gibbs once again gave St. Francis a six-point cushion before Luburgh cut it to three with 1:54 remaining. After Gibbs made 1-of-2 from the free-throw line, Luburgh connected from long range again, and King completed the comeback with a pair of free throws to give the Zips a 73-72 lead with 48 seconds left.

With 31 seconds left, Alli Williams found Shene Fleming for an open layup for the game-winner.

"I was proud of our kids," Akron coach Jodi Kest said. "They never gave up. But you've got to give credit to St. Francis. They came ready to play form the very beginning and we didn't. We showed some resiliency today, but it was a little bit too late.

"At the end, they made the shot. We helped of off [Williams] a little too early and [Fleming] made the shot."

Fleming had a chance to give St. Francis a little breathing room with 9 seconds to go, but the front-end of her 1-and-1 missed everything.

Cassell took the ensuing inbound play across half-court and heaved a shot that never came close.

"They did a pretty good job of putting a wrap on Kacie the whole game," Kest said. "We were supposed to set one more screen at the end for Kacie, but unfortunately, we probably didn't execute that as well as we would have liked."

Prior to their collapse, though, St. Francis played extremely well in the second-half. The Flash ran their offense to near perfection to help build their double-digit lead.

"When we built the lead, we were running our base offense, making easy passes and shots started opening up and things were going real well," Haigh said. "We really were at a point where I was hoping to get two scores and get some of these ladies some rest. But credit Akron, they played their hearts out."

Luburgh lit up St. Francis for 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds. King had 16 points and 11 boards, and Tecca - Akron's leading scorer who sat much of the first half because of foul trouble - had 14 points. Cassell finished with 10 assists.

"Akron is a very, very good offensive team," Haigh said. "They really are a transition offense team. They're very good at pushing the basketball up the floor. They tend to leak out their shooters. They want to push the ball and score a lot of points."

But one shooter in particular had an off night for the Zips.

Taylor Ruper's 1-for-14 effort from behind the arc was a surprise to everyone.

"You lose by one point and you have the best 3-point shooter in the history of Akron basketball and she's 1-for-14," Kest said. "We might not get 30 from Hanna every night, but Taylor's shooting is always something that we could count on."

Alli Williams picked up her third double-double of the season with 22 points and 13 rebounds. She was 3 assists shy of a triple-double.

"It was a really tough game," Williams said. "It was so tiring. We were tired. We just had to keep our metal focus as best we could. Sometimes that was hard and that's when we had our defensive breakdowns."

Gibbs finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, Fleming had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Rebecca Keegan scored 11.

The 24 points from the Flash post players were key to St. Francis' survival.

"We're tough to guard if we're just running our base offense, making good decisions and just waiting for things," Haigh said. "We have a lot of [threats]. It's tough to guard Alli, it's tough to guard Kia [Gibbs] off the edge. When they move side-to-side, that opens things up underneath. They did a great job finding each other.

"We hope to it have [that kind of performance] a lot from the whole group [of forwards] - Rebecca, Shene and Hope [Phillips] when she plays. We did feel like we had a mismatch with whoever was trying to guard Alli on the drive. When she drives from the wing to the middle of the paint, they step up and Rebecca and Shene did a nice job of finding the gap underneath when someone steps up to help."

It was fairly textbook for Keegan, who rimmed out two other chances.

"They were playing behind, which makes it easier to get the ball into me," Keegan said. "Then I could just make a move on them."

"When you look back, that probably won the game for them because we didn't expect her to score 11 points," Kest said of Keegan. "If you had to have MVP for their team today, I would say it was her."

Akron travels to Providence on Saturday, where former Flash coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl took over this spring.

"We have four days to get ready for a really good Providence team that was coached by the former coach [at St. Francis]," Kest said. "They'll probably run a lot of the same things."

St. Francis will look to tie the program's best start on Tuesday, but will have to upset No. 20 Ohio State (2-1) to do so.

For now, the Red Flash will gladly go on the road unbeaten.

"We played well," Williams said. "We were really inconsistent, but we saw a lot of good things when we were playing well and things were going well. We got the win. It wasn't pretty, but I think we can learn a lot from this game."

AKRON (3-1): Tecca 6-10 2-4 14, King 6-8 3-3 16, Cassell 1-3 4-4 6, Luburgh 12-22 3-4 30, Ruper 1-15 0-0 3, Brown 0-2 0-2 0, Nunan 1-1 0-0 2, Young 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 28-66 12-17 73.

ST. FRANCIS (3-0): Fleming 6-9 1-3 13, Williams 8-22 4-6 22, Gibbs 5-12 5-6 15, Lilley 2-3 0-0 5, Hayward 1-7 0-0 3, Carangelo 2-6 0-2 5, Brock 0-2 0-0 0, Sparks 0-2 0-0 0, Keegan 5-7 1-2 11, Watts 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-71 11-19 74.

Halftime-St. Francis 34-30. 3-point goals-Akron 5-26 (Luburgh 3-8, King 1-1, Ruper 1-14, Cassell 0-1, Young 0-2), St. Francis 5-15 (Williams 2-3, Lilley 1-2, Carangelo 1-2, Hayward 1-5, Sparks 0-1, Brock 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Akron 41 (King 11), St. Francis 45 (Williams 13). Assists-Akron 16 (Cassell 10), St. Francis 18 (Williams 7). Total fouls-Akron 16, St. Francis 18. A-731.

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