Jana Cross posted game-highs with 29 points and 11 rebounds
Jana Cross posted game-highs with 29 points and 11 rebounds
Mon, Mar. 8, 2010 - [Women's Basketball]
JACKSON, Tenn. - Statistically speaking, it wasn't the best game of Jana Cross's career at Freed-Hardeman.  But in every other way, it was.

Cross scored a game-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the No. 13 Lady Lions to a TranSouth Conference championship and a 75-62 win over No. 1 Union (Tenn.) University on Monday night at Fred Delay Gymnasium.

The win was huge in a variety of ways for Freed-Hardeman.

It brings the first conference title to Henderson since 2006, when the Lady Lions (26-6) capped off a string of three straight championships.  It also ended the 60-game home winning streak of the Lady Bulldogs (31-2) and marked the first time that FHU defeated the No. 1 ranked team in the NAIA.

It was also the first time in the 14 year history of the TranSouth Conference that the regular season champion did not win the tournament championship, also meaning it was the first win by a road team in the title game.  Finally, FHU became the first conference team to hand Union a loss since 2007, when then-conference member Lambuth (Tenn.) University beat them in the NAIA Final Four.

And Cross, the senior who had never beaten Union until tonight, did plenty to make sure those firsts finally happened.  She was consistent from start to finish, scoring 14 in the first half and 15 in the second and playing tough defense on whichever Union guard with whom she was matched.

"It feels like a long time coming," she said.  "[Beating Union] was one of the goals I had personally when I got here and one our team always has.  It says a lot about Union and about us that we can beat a team of that caliber."

Fellow senior Tara Deatheridge, who scored seven points and pulled down a season-high nine rebounds, shared in the sentiment.

"It was awesome.  It's like a dream," she said.  "It's been our goal since we got here as freshmen.  To end up this way and to go into nationals with this confidence and momentum is great."

"I'll remember it forever."

After battling a series of injuries for the last two seasons, Cross looked like her old self tonight, getting separation in the post from every defender Union put on her and converting on shots from all around the basket.  She finished with 12-of-18 shooting from the field and was named the tournament MVP.

"When you've got Jana going like that with Meribeth [Boehler] complimenting her, that's two pretty tough post players," said FHU head coach Dale Neal, "and you can't stop them one-on-one."

Union focused more of its defensive attention initially on Boehler, who had been FHU's leading scorer since the beginning of February at over 18 points per game.  The junior was limited to six points on 2-of-8 shooting, but was big on the boards with 10 rebounds.  She also scored the 1000th point of her career in the second half.

That allowed Cross room to work solo in the post, and the Lady Bulldogs had no answer for her.

The turning point of the game came early in the form of a 17-0 run by Freed-Hardeman that saw the Lady Lions take a 20 point lead (37-17) with 3:56 left in the first half.  FHU made 8-of-10 shots over that stretch while Union missed seven straight from the floor.

The Lady Bulldogs stopped the bleeding with an 8-2 run heading into halftime, but every time they would start to make a push to trim the lead, Freed-Hardeman had a response.

Union went on a 7-0 run early in the second half to pull within 10 points, but FHU answered with six straight points to widen the gap.

The Lady Lions did it again several minutes later after Union cut the lead down to 58-47, rolling off six straight points highlighted by a big steal by Maria Bagwell near mid-court that turned into a layup on FHU's end.

Union then made another push and got within 10 points at 66-56 with 1:45 left.  But Freed-Hardeman, which entered the game ranked fifth in the country in free throw percentage, converted on 9-of-12 free throws afterward to make sure the Lady Bulldogs couldn't make it any less than a three-possession game.

"We did what we knew we had to do," Neal said.  "We did a nice job of stopping their dribble penetration and we got on the offensive boards.  You could tell that our girls wanted it all the way through the game."

The Lady Lions made the most of their size advantage against Union's four-guard lineup, dominating the boards by a margin of 47-31.  Freed-Hardeman had as many defensive rebounds as the Lady Bulldogs had total rebounds.  

After shooting 56.3 percent in the first half, FHU cooled off after halftime making only 9-of-27 shots but hit 18-of-22 from the foul line to make up for it.  Union, meanwhile, struggled from the field the entire game and shot 33.8 percent, tying its lowest output of the season.

Whitney Johnson and Natalie Shumpert scored 13 and 12 points respectively for Freed-Hardeman, with Johnson finishing a run of three straight double-digit scoring games during the conference tournament.

Union was led by Kaitlin Dudley's 18 points but the Lady Bulldogs had just one other player reach double figures with Kayla Hudson scoring 11.  Lavanda Ross, who averaged 21.5 points per game against FHU in the regular season, was limited to just nine points before fouling out.

Freed-Hardeman now awaits its seeding and opening round matchup for the national tournament which begins on March 17 in Jackson's Oman Arena.  Brackets are set to be released by the NAIA on Wednesday, March 10.

All photos by Kirk Dauksch