Seattle University women’s basketball (15-15) built a big first half lead and, despite a second half Kansas City (11-19) run, the Redhawks made key free throws down the stretch to come away with the 81-76 in the Western Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinals.

“This was a hard fought battle,” said head coach Joan Bonvicini, “but I thought the difference in this game as opposed to our last two meetings with Kansas City was our defense. They made a run but I want to compliment our players for hitting their free throws.”

Seattle U earned the tip and Kacie Sowell (Ventura, Calif.) scored the first points on a layup at 19:36. Fellow senior Eilise O’Connor tied the game with a jumper nearly a minute later but Seattle U would lead by as many as seven, 11-4, at the first media timeout.

O’Connor went 2-for-2 from the line and Calli White capped off the run with a three to tie the game at 11 nearly a minute and a half later before the teams traded the lead three times over the next two minutes.

Back-to-back buckets by Sylvia Shephard (Alta Loma, Calif.) gave Seattle U a four point lead, 19-15 before O’Connor and Kim Nezianya tied it at 19 at 8:56, combining to go 4-for-4 from the line.

The lead changed two more times before SU finished the half on a 20-8 run to take their biggest lead of the half, 42-30, at the halftime buzzer.

Kaylee Best (Seattle, Wash.) capped off the first half and began the second with a pair of clutch three’s to lead by 15 just a minute into the half and the Redhawks built a 19 point lead, 55-36, just three minutes later.

Four straight points by O’Connor and a layup by Nezianya cut the lead to 13, 55-42, at 14:21 and again at 12:26 on a jumper by Taylor Leathers. Back-to-back Ashley Ward (Irvine, Calif.) jumpers would give SU a 17 point lead at 8:25 before the ‘Roos went on a 15-0 run to trail by just two, 61-59, at 4:36. Lauren Dudding scored eight straight points to start the run while O’Connor and Nezianya combined for the final five points.

A three by White cut the Redhawk lead to just one, but this would be as close as Kansas City would come. Ward drove in back-to-back layups with just over a minute remaining to put SU ahead by six, 72-66. Four straight three-pointers by UMKC gave them a chance to win but the Redhawks combined to go 10-for-11 from the free throw line over the last minute and a half to seal the victory.

Seattle U outrebounded UMKC, 36-27, while the ‘Roos shot 50.9 percent (27-for-53) from the field to SU’s 45.9 percent (28-for-61). The Redhawks led from the free-throw line, shooting a season-high 91.3 percent (21-for-23) from the field.

Shephard led the Redhawks with 24 points, one shy of her career high, while Ward scored a season high 20 points, and Best added 11 points. Sowell also tied her career high with four assists.

Nezianya led the ‘Roos with 25 points while O’Connor (22 pts) and White (10 pts) also scored in double figures.

Seattle U advances to face No. 2 Bakersfield in the tournament semifinals on Friday, Mar. 14 at 2:30 p.m. Stay tuned to and @su_athletics on Twitter for updates on Friday’s matchup.

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