Valparaiso seniors Ashley Timmerman (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) and Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) made sure their careers in a Valparaiso University uniform did not come to an end on Monday evening, leading the Crusaders to a 47-39 victory over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first round of the Horizon League Championship held at the Klotsche Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
“One of our goals we set was that I wanted our seniors to do something they hadn’t done yet in their careers, and that was win a first round Horizon League Tournament game,” head coach Keith Freeman said after the game. “We didn’t win on Senior Day and I wanted something special to happen for these kids, especially with what we’ve been through as a team this year playing most of the way with just seven kids.”
Timmerman scored a career-high 20 points, making 6-of-9 shots from the floor and all six of her free throws while Varner registered her ninth double-double of the season with 10 points and 13 rebounds, despite sitting most of the final 11 minutes in foul trouble.
The Crusaders, the tournament’s ninth seed, held the eighth-seeded Panthers to just 27.6% shooting for the game, and just 3-of-16 from three-point range after the Panthers went 9-of-16 from long range just two weeks ago against Valpo.
“We made some adjustments to our half-court trap,” Freeman added. “They didn’t get as many open threes as they did last time we were here and we got some deflections today.”
Milwaukee’s defense forced four Valpo turnovers and limited the Crusaders to just two shots over the first four minutes of the game, but the Panthers missed five of their first shots to keep the game knotted at two.
Gina Lange (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) scored six of Valpo’s eight points and ignited a 7-0 Crusader run, which was capped by a Tabitha Gerardot (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury H.S.) three-point play following a Varner steal.
The Crusader defense was stingy throughout the opening half as Milwaukee started just 2-of-14 from the floor in the game’s first 10 minutes.
A Gerardot triple and a Varner put back as the shot clock expired increased the Crusader lead to 10, 18-8 at the 5:33 mark. Valpo held the Panthers without a field goal for nearly five minutes before Shamia Green scored Milwaukee’s fourth field goal of the game at the 4:30 mark.
Timmerman scored Valpo’s final six points of the half as the Crusaders took a 24-13 lead into the locker room, holding Milwaukee to just 5-of-21 (19.2%) shooting in the opening stanza, including 0-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Varner scored on Valpo’s first possession out of the locker room as the Crusaders doubled up the Panthers, 26-13.
Milwaukee made three of its first five shots from the floor though, all by Courtney Lindfors, and after a Sammy Theut triple, the Panthers were within six, 28-22.
Varner hit another jumper to put the Crusaders back in front by eight and Timmerman drained a triple in transition to increase the lead to 33-22 with 13:22 to play.
With 11:11 to play and the Crusaders holding a seven-point advantage, Varner picked up her fourth foul and was forced to the bench for most of the duration. A 6-0 Panther run, capped by a Sami Tucker put back on a fourth chance attempt brought the hosts to within five, 33-28, with 10:14 5o play.
Valpo went nearly five minutes without scoring before Timmerman connected on another three. Lange then scored inside after Gerardot picked up a loose ball following a scrum at midcourt and the lead was back to 10, 38-28, as the Panthers went 5:15 without scoring.
A Tucker triple with 1:10 to play made it a six-point game, and Angela Rodriguez pulled Milwaukee to within four, 40-36, with a bucket with 52.3 seconds to play, the closest the Panthers were since 8-4 at the 12:12 mark of the first half.
Timmerman went 4-for-4 from the free throw line and Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) added three more in the final 47 seconds to secure Valpo’s first Horizon League Tournament victory since joining the conference prior to the 2007-2008 season.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Freeman added. “This was our third game in five days. We were dragging and it became evident as the game went along that it was going to be a grinder to the end.”
Lange finished with eight points while Gerardot had six points, seven rebounds, a career-high four steals, and three assists. Richards also pulled down six boards and added three steals.
Lindfors led Milwaukee (9-21) with 13 points and 10 rebounds, the lone Panther to register double figures.
Valparaiso (10-20) advances to the quarterfinal round of the Horizon League Championship on Wednesday evening, heading north to Green Bay, Wis. to battle the top-seeded University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix.
“I told our kids that if we were headed to Green Bay tonight I’d be one happy guy,” Freeman concluded. “I’m quite happy to be headed to Green Bay.”
Tip-off at the Kress Events Center is set for 7 p.m.
Game Notes: Milwaukee leads the all-time series 14-6 and had won five straight meetings prior to the contest, including the two regular season meetings this year … Varner now has 10 career double-doubles … the win, Valpo’s 10th of the year, marks the most since posting 16 victories in 2008-2009 … Varner’s 13 rebounds give her 276 for on the year, moving her into second on the Crusaders’ single season charts … Richards had three steals, giving her 80 on the year, tying her with Sharie Toelke (1992-1993) for fifth on the single season charts.