PHOTO GALLERYBOX SCORE | WAC CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL 

LAS VEGAS (March 10) – Kaylee Best made two free throws with 9.8 seconds left and the Seattle University women’s basketball made a defensive stand to lift the Redhawks to a dramatic, 61-60 win over Utah Valley in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament semifinals Friday. Seattle U (15-16) advances to the WAC Championship game for the first time since 2014 and will play top-seeded New Mexico State on Saturday in the Orleans Arena.

"It was a gutsy, gritty win," Coach Suzy Barcomb. "I'm incredibly proud to have helped Seattle University back into the finals."

A tense match throughout, the game featured nine ties and eight lead changes. Best scored 14 points in the third quarter to allow the Redhawks to take a lead, but UVU (8-22) continued to be a thorn. With 1:40 left in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines scored to take a 58-57 edge. Out of a timeout, SU missed, but Wilma Afunugo was there for an offensive rebound and putback for a one-point Redhawk lead at the 1:25 mark.

Best grabbed a steal on the other end, but Seattle U couldn’t score on its possession. Britta Hall was fouled and hit 2-3 free throws to give Utah Valley a 60-59 lead with 21 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Best drove right and earned a foul call with 9.8 seconds to go. The senior calmly converted both free throws, putting the Redhawks ahead, 61-60. UVU called timeout to draw up a final play. Seattle U harassed the Wolverines into a deep, contested three-point try that went wayward, sending the Redhawks into pandemonium at center court.

Barcomb’s squad will advance to the WAC Championship tomorrow afternoon. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. on ESPN3.

Afunugo recorded 19 points and 15 rebounds, including 11 offensive boards, for her first career double-double. She shot 6-9 from the field and made all seven of her foul shots. SU outscored its foe, 25-5, on second-chance points, as Afunugo tallied 13 points off her offensive rebounds. Seattle U outrebounded UVU, 37-30, overall, including a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass.

Best put up 18 points, including four three-pointers, along with 4-4 free throw shooting in 39 minutes. She now has 192 career treys, second-most in SU’s Division I history. Elle Kerfoot holds the record with 193.

Montgomery added 11 points, 8 boards, and 3 steals, while Lewey hit two triples on her way to eight points.

The Redhawks looked to establish a post presence early in the game, as Afunugo was key to keep a stagnant SU attack afloat. Afunugo made Seattle U’s first field goal at the 7:19 mark, tying the contest at 4. A Montgomery jumper got SU within a point after 5:19.

Lewey came off the bench to drain a three-pointer with 3:15 left, but the Wolverines answered with two straight hoops. Afunugo earned a foul and connected on both free throws with 1:43 remaining. UVU closed the period with a foul shot, taking a 15-11 difference into the second quarter.

Montgomery sank a jump shot to start second-quarter scoring. A Claire Metoyer jumper was SU’s lone respite in the middle portion of the frame, as Utah Valley took a 26-19 advantage at the 5:20 mark. Two more Afunugo free throws trimmed the deficit briefly. In the final minute, Afunugo grabbed an offensive rebound and scored while being fouled. She hit the ensuing foul shot to get the Redhawks with 28-24. After UVU bucket, Afunugo wrapped her strong half with another offensive board and putback with two seconds showing on the clock, sending Seattle U into the half trailing, 30-26.

Best had a fantastic third quarter to ignite an SU rally. Afunugo scored off a stellar dish from Montgomery and then Best made a steal and scored at the other end, tying the game at 30 and forcing a UVU timeout. The Wolverines hit a three, but Best replied with a trey of her own at the 6:05 mark. The senior knocked down another triple for a 36-35 margin with 4:59 to play in the third.

Seattle U earned another stop and Best kept her hot shooting rolling with a three on the next Redhawk trip. Utah Valley eventually tied the game at 40, but Afunugo took a charge, and the officials determined the play to be flagrant, allowing Afunugo to convert two free throws for a 42-40 lead. SU kept possession and Best made it count, nailing her fourth trey of the period for a five-point difference. UVU closed the frame with six straight points, though, holding a 46-45 edge through three.

Montgomery made a steal and then finished a three-point play to put SU ahead, 48-46,  to open the fourth. UVU tied it and then Montgomery one-timed a putback for another two-point advantage. Afunugo came up with a steal, which led to a Lewey three and a 53-48 difference. The Wolverines answered with a layup, but Montgomery found Lewey open for a layup at the 5:52 mark.

Sam Lubcke got UVU closer, but another Afunugo board-and-bucket gave Seattle U a 57-54 margin with 3:23 left. Utah Valley scored on two straight trips to gain the lead, setting up the thrilling finish.

On Saturday, Seattle University Alumni Association will host a pre-game rally outside the Orleans Arena. Redhawk fans are welcome to join.

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