WL streaks into Freedom Hall
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Liberty seeks a spot in the NCAA Division II Final Four today when it plays Winona State (Minn.) in a quarterfinal game at 18,865-seat Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m. EDT.
The game can be viewed online at NCAA.com.
The Hilltoppers (33-1), riding a 19-game winning streak, are playing in their third straight NCAA Elite Eight after capturing the regular-season and tournament championships in the West Virginia Conference.
A win tonight can match their furthest advance in the tournament, as they played in the 2011 national semifinals in Springfield, Mass., before losing to BYU-Hawaii 110-101.
It's the first meeting between West Liberty, the nation's top-ranked Division II team, and Winona State (27-7) from the Northern Sun Conference. The Warriors won national titles under current coach Mike Leaf in 2006 and 2008 and were runners-up in 2007.
The game matches up a pair of first-team Daktronics All-America selections in West Liberty's Alex Falk, a 6-foot-4 senior guard (20.8 points per game) and Winona State's Clayton Vette, a 6-9 senior center (20.7 points, 7.9 rebounds).
The Warriors will try to slow West Liberty's relentless offense, which tops the nation in points per game at 103.4. Five different Hilltoppers average double figures in points, with Falk followed by Cedric Harris (16.7), C.J. Hester (12.4), Shawn Dyer (11.2) and Chris Morrow (10.7).
Winona State leans on its defense, which allows an average of only 65.4 points. Just four opponents have scored 80 or more points on the Warriors, and none more than 89.
The Hilltoppers own a 123-3 record over the past four seasons when holding teams under 100 points and also lead the country in shooting percentage this season at 52.4. Warriors' opponents shoot only 40.2 percent on the season.
"Across the board they're a little different than most teams,'' West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said to The Intelligencer. "They're kind of like us except they don't shoot it quite as well as we do percentage-wise, because they have a lot of guys that shoot 3s. To control their All-American inside 1-on-1 will be very difficult to do.
"All the way across the board, even their bigs are good ballhandlers and good passers. I was watching how comfortable they are in a half-court set, because they didn't get pressed a lot. That's something that I am looking for, how good is this guy going to be with the ball? We played Bowie State, similar size, but watching on tapes I could see they had some guys that weren't very comfortable with the ball. These guys are. They're good with the ball.''
The survivor between the Hilltoppers and Warriors takes on the winner between No. 3-ranked Metro State (30-2) and Franklin Pierce (24-8) in the national semifinals at noon Saturday in Freedom Hall. The title game is set for Sunday, April 7, in Atlanta.
The other quarterfinal games today in Louisville find No. 4 Western Washington (30-2) against No. 8 Florida Southern (27-5) at 6 p.m., followed by No. 7 Drury (28-4) and No. 20 South Carolina-Aiken (25-7) at 8:30.
West Liberty's only blemish this season was a 101-96 loss at the University of Charleston on Jan. 14. Winona State dropped four of its final eight games in the regular season, but avenged one of its regular-season setbacks in the Central Region finals with a 76-73 overtime victory against Minnesota State-Mankato.
The Hilltoppers downed No. 10 Indiana (Pa.) 86-63 in the Atlantic Regional championship game held March 19 on their home floor. Neither team has played in nine days.