Monday, March 19, 2012

Liberty bows out to Notre Dame in NCAA Tournament

You wonder what would have happened if Liberty had faced the Irish on St. Patrick's Day.....

But luck had nothing to do with this one, which was more about No. 16 seed Liberty pitted against the NCAA runner-up in its own building with a team that has all the talent to be a national champion. We'll spare you the detail other than the Irish scored the first 11 and outscored the Lady Flames 44-19 in the first for an end result of  74-43.

We take this chance to salute the marvelous collegiate career of Avery Warley, who leaves Liberty as the Big South Conference's all-time leading rebounder with 1,282 boards. Warley also tied the Big South career record with her 132nd game played.

As for the Lady Flames (24-9), all they did was win their 14th Big South title in the last 16 years. The first goal of every team is to rule their own conference, and no Division I team does this with as much regularity as Liberty.

The trick now is to do a bit more in the non-conference schedule to avoid the type of NCAA Tournament seeding that makes it difficult to advance. This year, for example, since Notre Dame was the only No. 1 seed that hosted the first two rounds, a case can be made that the Lady Flames drew the toughest opening-game assignment in the entire tournament.

While it will be impossible to replace Warley, there are plenty of reasons why Liberty could make some early season noise. For the first time in three years, the Lady Flames should start the season with an experienced point guard. And they still have Devon Brown, who overcame personal tragedy to put together another first-team All-Big South campaign and often played her best in Liberty's biggest games. Brown had 24 points and a career-high 14 rebounds in the Lady Flames' come-from-behind 81-73 victory over High Point in the Big South title game. She even distinguished herself in Sunday's NCAA Tournament loss to Notre Dame, finishing with a game-high 16 points.

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